Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise on this motion that aims to proclaim June 15 Canadian forces day.
I believe the many men and women employed with the Canadian forces deserve recognition from all Canadians. Not only do these Canadians face often very difficult conditions due to the nature of their work but they must also deal with a Liberal government that has not provided the kind of support they need.
We have heard many stories about poor equipment, inadequate health care and lack of support for our troops overseas. Earlier this week I addressed the House of Commons on the topic of Canadian peacekeepers heading toward Ethiopia. I said then and I will say again that first and foremost all Canadians involved in that effort must be properly equipped, clothed, supported, trained, led and organized.
I do hope the government has learned from the extreme hardships encountered by peacekeepers in Croatia and will ensure that our peacekeepers on this most recent mission will be provided with every opportunity to fulfil their mission safely and securely.
The report we saw on Canada's peacekeeping efforts in Croatia produced a troubling and very disturbing picture. On that occasion our peacekeepers had a lack of lumber and sandbags to adequately protect themselves from regular shelling and gunfire. They also lacked proper medical support and sufficient advance surgical team support. The UN in that case refused for weeks to examine complaints from our peacekeepers that the drinking water was contaminated.
Our peacekeepers, their families and communities deserve to know that the government has addressed all these issues and is doing everything possible to ensure that our peacekeepers are provided with all the support possible.
While I support the notion of proclaiming Canadian forces day, I would expect more from the Liberal government than merely setting aside a day for recognition. As NDP spokesperson, I am appalled by the way in which our troops and civilian defence employees have been treated.
The government does not really have an overall vision for our military. It seems that things happen on a case by case basis. Often decisions are made on the spur of the moment. We really need for our military an overall vision of what we as Canadians want our military to be and what role we want it to perform. That vision should be properly resourced and staffed. In that way people can go about their business without worrying about cuts in budgets or about not having enough people to send off on various peacekeeping missions.
Despite the Liberal mishandling of Canadian forces issues, I take my hat off to all men and women who have served and continue to serve with such commitment and dedication. These men and women have shown their devotion and love of our country. They have performed their roles very well. We must take our hats off to them.
I think particularly of the sacrifices endured by the families of military personnel. Many times the spouses and children are left at home while their loved ones are off on missions in very dangerous settings. This is indeed quite a disruption to family stability, but they all pull together and give their best because of their love of and devotion to this country and the job they are doing.
The government's announcement to finally replace the Sea King helicopters underscores its complete mishandling of the whole issue of support for our military. Every step of the way in the Liberal government's supreme bungling of the Sea King replacements has reflected the worst example of placing short term political interests ahead of the safety of Canadian forces personnel and Canadian citizens.
In the House of Commons the NDP has been at the forefront pushing for replacements for the Sea Kings. I wrote the Prime Minister in June of this year, stating:
—it would be a shame, and in fact inexcusable, to allow the political background and decisions of the past concerning new military helicopters to cause any further delay in making a speedy and proper decision at this time.
Subsequently there was an announcement that the government was moving ahead with the contract on the Sea Kings. This appearance of taking the matter off the back burner and putting it on the front burner is somewhat suspect timing as we head toward an election.
We note that the helicopters will not be available until 2005. The first part of the contract, for the airframe, will not be awarded until sometime in 2001. The second part, for the missions system contract, will not be awarded until 2002. Even today we hear concerns being expressed on the part of some of the contenders for the contract. They feel there is a question about the contracting process, that it eliminates some and enables others to be at the forefront for the particular contract.
It is obvious that political considerations of the Liberal government are still more important than the safety of our Canadian forces personnel, who will be depending on the aging Sea Kings for a long time yet to come.
I have pointed out on previous occasions that Sea Kings went into service in 1963, when Diefenbaker was prime minister, 19 current members of parliament had yet to be born and Martin Luther King had yet to give his famous speech. Sea King crashes have killed and injured Canadians, yet almost 14 years have passed since the Liberals first began the process of replacing the Sea Kings.
I am glad we are finally moving forward on that issue, but there is nothing the government can do at this point to wipe away this huge stain on its record. Over seven years ago Sea Kings started dropping out of the sky due to systems failures. The Liberals are accountable to Canadians for each and every day of those seven years that they did nothing. The recent fiasco with the Liberal government's handling of the GTS Katie is just one more example of the disaster of privatization. Canadian troops and forces equipment should be transported by Canadian forces vessels, period.
In the House on May 12 of this year I raised the issue of contracting out. A recent defence audit condemned contracting out in the military. The forces contracting out fiasco began with ill-fated alternative service delivery that has cut DND civilian workforces in Halifax, Goose Bay, Shiloh, Gagetown and throughout the country.
The October 1988 report of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs, entitled “Moving Forward: A Strategic Plan for Quality of Life Improvements in the Canadian Forces”, states:
Members of the Canadian Forces must be fairly and equitably compensated for the work they do and the risks they take. Members and their families should never have to suffer the indignity of substandard housing, nor should they be reduced to charity in order to feed their families.
The lifestyle faced by military personnel often makes it well nigh impossible to support a dual income lifestyle.
Despite all this I must again applaud the men and women who serve in the Canadian forces, both military and civilian. Civilian personnel are sometimes forgotten in this regard. They perform an integral and important role that is often overlooked in providing support throughout the service. When we look at what is happening with our civilian personnel we see the government wanting to privatize such things as the supply chain project rather than allowing in-house bids to deal with those issues.
When I think about having a day to honour the Canadian forces I also think of the reserves. Reservists play a very important role in our military. Just this past week, on October 18, many reservists wore the uniform with pride as part of reserve uniform day. Reservists have served Canada for over a century and have served on peacekeeping and humanitarian missions. On behalf of the New Democratic Party, it is my honour to commend all reservists for their commitment to their communities and their country.
In my riding of Halifax West reservists played an essential role in the recovery of Swissair flight 111 and have provided invaluable service throughout Canada, including service during the Manitoba flood, the 1998 ice storm, avalanches and forest fires.
I would urge all Canadians, as we think about a day to celebrate the Canadian forces, to take time to say thank you to the reservists who are so committed to our country. They deserve to be well trained, properly equipped and adequately funded in order to be a vital component of the forces of the future.
I am pleased to say that we would support a day recognizing the Canadian forces because they are indeed an integral part of our society. They do a lot to make Canada the kind of country of which we can all be proud.