Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to thank the member for Saint John who brought forward this motion. I am sorry that the opposition cannot get together and support a motion for which every one of us could vote. It sounds like it is one word from “condemn” to “encourage”, but I guess we will have to live with that.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss the Canadian Forces. As members of the House will know, the Minister of National Defence has worked over the last five months to foster a public dialogue on defence issues. He has been very frank about the challenges, including the financial challenges, facing our military.
These issues need to be part of the public discussion. They are too important to ignore. That is why I am pleased to take part in the debate.
At the same time, it is important that any discussion of the sustainability of the Canadian Forces also recognizes its many achievements, both in Canada and internationally. I have nothing but the highest respect for the Canadian Forces. I have seen it in action both at home and abroad. I have seen it in Kosovo with you, Mr. Speaker, in Bosnia and in Macedonia and have witnessed it tremendous dedication. Our men and women in uniform have shown commitment and determination in the face of many dangers and under very difficult circumstances. They deserve the respect of all Canadians.
Right now a substantial number of Canadian personnel are serving in and around Afghanistan, as part of Operation Apollo. They have received glowing praises from their allies, including American military leaders, who recognize their professionalism, skills and their experience.
Recently the government decided not to rotate more ground troops in Afghanistan. In my opinion, the decision is a good one. It helps reduce the overstretching of the Canadian Forces and it gives some of our men and women in uniform a chance for a much deserved leave and to focus on essential training requirements.
Despite the departure of the Canadian battle group, Canada is still making a significant contribution to the campaign against terrorism. Our naval and air force personnel continue to play an important role in the campaign. The men and women who are serving on this mission have shown us that their resolve has not faltered. They remain committed to combating terrorism. If we think about our peacekeeping role, and sometimes it is peace making, we have a sizeable number of troops in Bosnia as part of Operation Palladium.
Last year I had the opportunity to visit the troops in the Balkans and I can state they are doing an excellent job. They are helping to create a safe environment so that people of Bosnia can return to their homes and begin rebuilding their lives.
As my hon. colleague has mentioned, the work of the Canadian Forces is not limited to international operations. On the domestic front, Canadian Forces have helped to ensure continental security, through Norad, and the expanded anti-terrorism unit, the JTF2, is helping Canada to meet its commitment to fighting terrorism at home and abroad.
The government has a strong commitment to the men and women who serve Canada. Putting people first has been a key phrase for defence and a great deal of progress has been made in this area in recent years.
I am proud to be a member of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs and to have played a role in framing the committee's 1999 quality of life report. I am also pleased to see that the government has put most of the committee's recommendations into action. I salute the member for York Centre, the former minister of national defence, for having the strength of character to do that.
Other recommendations are in progress and some are in the process of being implemented. They include improved housing, health care and benefits. In fact more than $100 million has been invested in upgrading military housing alone.
Defence has recognized the need to support members in the face of an increased number of deployments. As the minister noted, there have been many new initiatives to help members of the Canadian Forces and their families deal with stress related challenges.
Pay increases are another component of the department's effort to put people first. Just a few months ago, the government announced pay increases of 4% for non-commissioned members and 4.5% for general service officers, pilots, medical and dental staff. Qualify of life will remain a key priority for defence, and rightly so. Our men and women in uniform deserve nothing less.
The motion before the House talks about military spending. As the minister said, increases in defence spending between fiscal years 2001-02 and 2006-07 will total more than $5 billion. These increases include those in the December budget, which allocated $7.7 billion across departments over five years to fight terrorism and reinforce public security.
Defence has made some key investments in sophisticated new equipment. A fine example is Canada's new search and rescue helicopter. The Cormorant is a powerful craft with long range capabilities and a large load carrying capacity. It will help make the Canadian Forces one of the most effective air search and rescue organizations in the world. Yes, I have flown in one. It is a very quiet and efficient vehicle which I found to be very state of the art. The people training on the Cormorants right now are highly efficient.
The LAV III light armoured vehicles and our Coyote reconnaissance vehicles are two further examples of impressive new equipment made in London, Ontario. The department is also upgrading existing equipment. The modernization program for the CF-18 aircraft involves 17 individual upgrades, including the installation of state of the art mission computers. This cost is approximately $2.5 billion. Similarly, the incremental modernization project for the Aurora will replace its radar and the other on-board systems with the latest technology at a cost of approximately $1.4 billion.
Finally, defence is also in the process of modifying two of its Airbus aircraft to be strategic air to air refuellers. Once this work is done, they will be able to deploy anywhere in the world to refuel our fighter aircraft. That is an impressive list of equipment purchase and upgrades. Obviously in the current security environment the focus will have to remain on modernization.
It is important to recognize that the future sustainability of the Canadian Forces depends not just on government funding but also on the structure of the forces themselves. It is important to provide strategic investments where they are most needed and at the same time identify areas within the existing structure where changes can be made to improve efficiency and free up resources. The motion before us today does not recognize this point.
The minister has made it clear that he is looking for efficiencies in the system. As the minister himself has acknowledged, he has been asking tough questions, such as whether certain capabilities are still required. The Department of National Defence had adopted modern resource management techniques. The government's goal is to ensure that Canadian taxpayers have good value for their money. Through the government's efforts, the Canadian Forces has remained multi-purpose, combat capable and able to meet the challenges of an increasing complex security environment. More money will be needed in the future. Of that there can be no doubt.
The motion before the House does not recognize the important steps that the government has taken to improve the quality of life for the Canadian Forces. It does not recognize the government's continuing efforts to modernize our military equipment so that Canadian Forces has the tools it needs to get the job done. It also does not recognize the importance of internal restructuring and the government's efforts to make the Canadian Forces sustainable in the future.
When I travelled with the military I had a great experience. I was a former cadet and a former member of the reserves, which gives me no expertise whatsoever in military affairs but it did provide me with a couple of boot camp experiences and some idea of what happens to the men and women of the forces. Both units that I trained with and operated at many years ago were in the reserve area, so they left our area quite a while ago.
I managed to deal with the awards banquet in Halifax recently for the search and rescue people. That involves many people right across Canada from all areas of search and rescue, not just the military. The winner was Irish and I presented an award to him. He has been with search and rescue through the military side of it for many years and has contributed greatly.
I think it was with great pride that the Ontario Provincial Police were there. The competition is returning to Ontario and next year it will be held in Kingston. Everyone here should take advantage of that. They put on visual displays and certainly show a different side of a branch of the military that we do not recognize.
The next weekend I was back in Halifax to watch the departure of the HMCS Montreal which has become our flagship in the Arabian Sea. Although families were upset to see their loved ones going away, there was a great pride that they were doing something to address terrorism and to make sure Canada played its part on the national scene. I saw the same pride two weekends later when I, on behalf of the minister, welcomed back the HMCS Algonquin to the port of Juan de Fuca on Thanksgiving Day. I must tell the House that it was a different atmosphere. As one sailor said to me “I am a sailor and when I am on the boat I want to get away from the docks so I can sail. And when my mission is finished I want to come back to the dock and spend time with my family”.
Our reduction in our policy, not our government's policy, but certainly a recommendation of the military, was that we not rotate troops back into Afghanistan as a battle group. The reason for that could be argued over many vinyl tables and in many Legions. The fact of the matter is that they felt it was too long a stretch. When people are on their tenth rotation in places like Bosnia, when we look at the number of people who are being deployed on a regular basis to different places in the world on behalf of Canada and on behalf of peacekeeping and peacemaking, I think it was the right decision.
There was a battle group ready to go but, as some people know, they were disappointed not to be going. Not all the men and women were disappointed. Certainly some of them preferred to stay at home, but they are soldiers and they want to serve. They are air people and they want to fly. They are navy people and they want to sail. They joined the military to do that.
It is that pride, that esprit de corps that exists. People will overlook some things but they will not overlook the major things. I encourage all parties to ask for more money. Do not walk by the Minister of Finance without bumping into him and telling him that the military needs more money. We did that with the previous minister and it worked three times. We will certainly do it as part of the defence committee and as part of my job as parliamentary secretary to make sure that the military gets the necessary money it needs to operate efficiently, effectively and to maintain that pride and that spirit.
When we look at the equipment that is being replaced, the government has certainly done a few things right. It purchased 15 search and rescue helicopters, as was mentioned earlier. They are now coming on stream and doing a very efficient job. Some of them are still experiencing the odd bit of technical difficulty which can happen with any new vehicle. I bought a new car once and had it towed into the garage three times the first week. I know what happens when the computers do not work or something minor happens. Now I only buy used cars.
The government purchased 651 high tech armoured personnel carriers. We have seen these personnel carriers in action and they are state of the art. They all have night vision equipment on them. They have the ability to go places where other vehicles cannot. They usually are six wheeled and not the old tracked type vehicles. They tend to run in difficult areas and can even survive certain landmines. In Bosnia one of them drove over a landmine and one wheel was blown off. Someone put up with a lot of loud noise and some damage to their eardrums but they were not killed. The vehicles are state of the art and they are not square. They have tapered sides so that glass is scattered in different ways. They do have a much more rapid deployment and more capabilities than the vehicles we used before.
We also have 203 state of the art Coyote armoured reconnaissance vehicles which can get places in a hurry. In fact when one of the American helicopters went down in Afghanistan the only vehicle that could get there to protect it from being raided was one of our vehicles. These are things we do not talk about, but we do have professional, well trained people with good equipment.
I received letters from Americans who served in Afghanistan thanking me for the professionalism of Canadians. The Americans indicated that they were not that well trained and that a lot of them were very new. They go into the American army, stay for a short period of time because they have to or want to, and then they go right out of it again. A lot of them are not very well trained and they recognize the professionalism of the Canadian military.
The new project improved the kit of the soldier. The state of the art uniforms that were issued have a different type of reflective material that causes a pattern disruption, are very hard to identify at night and certainly very hard to identify on radar so that they are less of a target than others. They have better communications systems. That particular program is very successful within the military.
The modernization of the CF-18 is a huge undertaking. It changes the face of the CF-18s. It makes them superior to the American CF-18s. A lot of the American CF-18s, such as the Hornet aircraft, fly off aircraft carriers. Their wings fold up and that sort of thing. Ours are fixed wing, state of the art and very fast. Now that they have detection devices which are compatible with the Americans, they are superior to the Americans in most areas.
Not too much can be said about the Aurora maritime patrol aircraft. Once again it is an upgrade that makes it capable of flying farther and detecting better. It can operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week in protecting our coastlines, which are considerably lengthy.
The acquisition process was just signed to replace the 663 light utility vehicles, the small Jeep-type vehicles that have passed their time. They are 17 years old and were due to be replaced. The minister has made some moves that way and I think they have been the right moves. I want to reiterate that in the budgets of 1999, 2000 and 2001 there were significant increases in defence spending. I recognize that it is never enough, as everyone has said today, but we want to make sure, as a government and as members of Parliament, whether in opposition or on the government side, that we live up to the promises made to the over 3,000 men and women who are deployed abroad right now proudly fulfilling Canada's commitment to global peace and security.
Maybe in some of that discussion, we should take a hard look at our peacekeeping role, our peacemaking role and our going to war role. The Minister of National Defence is not afraid to ask questions. I think he may have opened a hornet's nest when he asked someone in discussing the cost of tanks why we needed tanks. There was a bit of a stir throughout the defence community because it caused people to ask questions. I think the minister will be asking a lot more questions.
He was pretty bold in his speech. I must say that his speech was well timed. The title was “A Time for Choices”. We, as a government, are at a time for choices. People here who represent their constituents, particularly people who have bases in their areas, should think about those choices and make sure they work in the best interests of the Canadian Forces.
I do not want anyone to think that I am satisfied with the money in the budget for the Canadian Forces to perform its duty. I am not. I would like to see more.