Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in this debate on our supply day motion from a couple of different perspectives.
Certainly from the perspective of a member of Parliament, in my riding I represent the only two armed forces bases in Alberta. There is the Cold Lake air base, which is world renowned for its Maple Flag operation, which brings countries from around the world to the best facility in the world for training and practising among air forces in the work they do flying and training for combat capability. I also represent the Edmonton garrison, of course, which is one of the Canadian super bases and certainly a base that continues to deploy soldiers around the world.
I speak from both of those perspectives because in just the few short months that I have been the member of Parliament for Westlock--St. Paul, which is now Battle River, the file in my office from Canadian Forces personnel is by far and away the largest file, with both current and retired members of the forces contacting my office.
I am sure that my colleague who just spoke and who represented the Cold Lake area before I did probably had the same experience. Certainly the amount of mail we get and the problems we recognize I think indicate just how serious the morale situation is in our Canadian armed forces and how abandoned by the government the members of our forces feel. I want to talk a little about that.
I also want to talk from a personal perspective, because my family has a long tradition of service in the Canadian armed forces, both in wartime and in the days of the Pearson peacekeeping tradition. Today my son has served for 18 years in the military. It makes me very proud as a father to support what he is doing for his country.
However, particularly in my speech I want to focus more on the enlisted ranks because I think that group has truly been let down and betrayed by the Liberal Government of Canada, going way back to the years of Pierre Trudeau and the amalgamation of the three wings of the forces and what that did to morale. It has been a constant downhill slide ever since then.
I have to say right up front how disappointed I am with the parliamentary secretary and his words and his statements, because I served in the same caucus as the parliamentary secretary for 10 years and I always knew him as a man of great principle and integrity. In his years in our caucus, he was a person who did not buckle down, who stood up and took controversial positions on things like health care because he believed in them. I believed that he was serious, that he believed what he was saying was right, yet his party sends him in here on this supply day to stand in response to almost every speaker and defend the government's position,knowing full well that the record is here, the record of his comments over the last 10 years on how Canada has treated its military.
My sympathy goes out to the member because it must be very difficult to have sold your principles to that degree: to be a member of the Liberal Party. Of course what he is doing today has to be the supreme test to see if he belongs in the Liberal Party or not. My condolences to him. It seems he does.
As I have said, I think it certainly is the non-commissioned ranks that are being shafted in the way the government is treating its armed forces. This is for a couple of reasons. Certainly the mail that I get does not come from the officer corps. Occasionally I do have a few letters from officers who, after retirement, seem to have been released from the bonds of this esprit de corps and are able to speak out. I think the officer corps has an advantage in a couple of ways.
First, the top levels of our armed forces are so overloaded that they do not face the strain our non-commissioned ranks do in doing the day to day work. We have such a surplus of officers that they do not face the redeployment pressure that I think the non-commissioned ranks do. Second, I think the officer corps has let down the non-commissioned ranks in their responsibility to stand up, speak out and defend the foot soldiers, the airmen and the seamen when they are facing the kinds of problems that they do.
I focus more on that direction because it is the families of the enlisted ranks who are being destroyed by this lack of personnel and the requirement to redeploy over and over again. It is the families of those ranks who really face that challenge and it is a huge one. If we were allowed to see the statistics of family breakdown, suicide and alcoholism in those enlisted ranks compared to the general population, I think we would be absolutely shocked and appalled at what we are doing to our armed forces personnel, who continue to be, in spite of all these things, so proud to wear Canada's uniform and stand up and represent Canada all over the world.
Second, it is the non-commissioned ranks that face the funding shortages. As an example, I will refer back to the group of servicemen who were on course in British Columbia and were awarded some $70 a day in an expense allowance. They were paid, but when they came back after the course the payment was clawed back. It was clawed back to the point where at least one of those servicemen had to mortgage his home in order to pay that back. I do not think the officer corps faces those kinds of challenges. That is why I focus on the ranks. I just think this is unforgiveable.
The parliamentary secretary actually stood up and defended and talked about the Canadians in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think it was in Afghanistan that they were recognized, where the snipers were honoured for their ability and the work they did in Afghanistan. The parliamentary secretary actually stood up and said he was so proud of them, but the government that he is speaking for today refused to allow the U.S. government to honour those guys with a service medal. Maybe he is proud of them, but his government did not seem to be proud of them. I do not understand why.
According to the Americans, they were doing an exemplary job, the best there was. Then when the Americans wanted to recognize these people on the international stage, for some reason the Canadian government did not want our soldiers to be recognized for that kind of work. It is far better to be recognized with peacekeeping medals, I suppose, but that is not what being a soldier is all about. That was really a shame.
Certainly it is again the non-commissioned ranks that face the challenges to keep obsolete equipment operational. It is the ranks that have aircraft and ships and army equipment that has to go to work. They have half the fleet cannibalized for parts for the other half in order to keep it operational. How discouraging is that? They do not have the tools. They do not have the parts. That really is demoralizing.
Here, of course, the Liberals, like they do in every department I have seen in the last 10 years, always talk the talk but never walk the walk. There is all this talk about spending money and giving money. Let us look at the shipborne helicopters if we want to see how they walk the walk. It is 11 years later and we still have not ordered the helicopters.