Mr. Chair, it is an honour and a privilege to rise tonight to address the very serious situation of the current state of affairs in Haiti.
Let me begin by saying that the thoughts and prayers of all Canadians are with the brave people of that embattled country. We wish for them the same peace, security and stability that we have always enjoyed here at home. To that end, we have dispatched our most courageous citizens to safeguard them in their hour of need.
At the first of this week, I had the honour and the privilege to speak at Camp Gagetown. While I was at Camp Gagetown I also had the honour to see some of our men who were getting ready to go to Haiti. I want people to know that our men from Petawawa were also in Camp Gagetown, for we did not have enough there to send to Haiti.
When I was mayor of Saint John, New Brunswick, the president of Dominica came to my council meeting one night. She asked if I would come to Dominica to see if I could set up a local democratic type of government. I was honoured to have been asked that privilege. When I hear what is happening in Haiti, it was like Dominica.
I was flown into Dominica along with my city manager. We met with the mayor at that time. Young people were not educated, like Haiti. There were people with guns on the streets. We were told to stay in the hotel and not to go down the street, not even a block.
I was really dismayed to see the way it was in Dominica. Before we were through--and it took a couple of weeks to work with the local government and some of the churches--we were able to get the children into schools. I was very, very pleased. Today, Dominica is doing quite well, it really and truly is. I am really honoured that I had a role to play.
On television in the past couple of weeks, Secretary-General Kofi Annan was being interviewed about Canada. He was asked if Canada should put more men and money into the military. He smiled and said yes.
I also had the opportunity to go to St. Petersburg, Russia with the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Lord Robertson spoke to us via a large screen. There were approximately 54 countries represented there. He said he wanted to speak to all of us who were representing Canada. He said that at one time we were in the top three of the scale with our military and the funding and now we are at the bottom end of the scale. He told us to go back to Canada and tell our Prime Minister and our government to make the military number one. Those were the words of Lord Robertson.
It was with an open mind and a heavy heart that I listened to the remarks of the United Nations Secretary-General in this chamber this week. He called on Canada to aim higher, to play a larger role on an ever expanding international stage, because he can see what is happening in Haiti. He sees it in other countries as well. He pointed to our rich history of peacekeeping and nation building as proof of the constructive role we can and must play. He asked us to do more because the fate of the world lies in the balance.
The Secretary-General's call did not fall on deaf ears. We in the House know that Canada is never neutral in the conflict between good and evil. We do not turn our backs on injustice. We do not accept the loss of innocent lives. We do not stand idle when people are suffering. It is simply not Canadian.
Canada has always enjoyed a special place in the UN, one that we have earned through generations of tireless effort and great sacrifice. From its very founding, the UN has relied on Canada to represent the best of humanity in the worst of times. That is why Lord Robertson told us to put more money into our military and get ourselves back up into the top three.
In a recent column in the National Post , General Lew MacKenzie argued that the Haiti mission is the very type of mission that Canadians will be asked to undertake in the post-Cold War world. He notes that the massive wars of the 20th century are now thankfully a thing of the past and that the future of conflict will be smaller, more contained warfare, often among the peoples of a specific region or divided nations.
I would bow to the general's expertise and support his findings wholeheartedly, but the reality is that any debate about what Canada should do is necessarily a debate about what Canada can do. For the past decade, I have repeatedly stood in the House to call for better funding for the military.
In the year 1993-94, our defence budget was $12 billion, but four years later that total was down to $9.4 billion, a reduction of 22%, this despite the fact that in the same period our operational tempo of our armed forces, that is to say, that ratio of time spent by our military in deployed missions, rose from 6% to 23%, an increase of almost 400%. We know the effect that has on the families when the dads or the moms have to leave for six months and the children are at home. It has a very negative impact.
In short, for close to 10 years we have asked our military men and women to do significantly more with dramatically less. For the past few years, the government has prepared itself for a foreign policy and defence review, yet one has not really been undertaken.
As the former vice-chair of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs and the defence critic for the PC Party, I was repeatedly asked to prepare submissions for those reviews. Because of leadership changes and new ministerial appointments, those reviews have never been completed.
Without a comprehensive defence policy, it is impossible for us to prepare our military for the vital role that it will play in foreign policy. Without a comprehensive foreign policy, our military will not have the necessary framework in which to make equipment purchases and develop personnel training.
Canada is simply not in a position to make haphazard commitments to every crisis that emerges. Our soldiers and their families are mentally and physically exhausted. They have been asked to commit themselves to a variety of missions, each more complicated and demanding than the last. They are asked to accept the most dangerous assignments on the planet with equipment that is unreliable or unavailable. They are, in short, asked to do the impossible.
I believe that a joint foreign policy and defence policy review is a vital priority for the government. A comprehensive review is an essential first step toward preparing our military for the 21st century, but it is not the only step or even the largest.
I have already spoken of the need to increase the defence budget. I would add as a third priority the need to increase the size of our military. The burdens of our benevolence have been placed on the shoulders of fewer and fewer soldiers. Consequently, these brave Canadians are being asked to accept more missions on a more frequent basis. They are separated, as I have stated, from their families much longer than they should be. They can be asked to return to the same theatre of operations--or indeed another--within a matter of months after they come home.
The manpower shortages facing our military are just as serious as the equipment shortages and are just as damaging as the budget shortfall. We must commit, each and every one of us on both sides of the House, to a recruitment initiative designed to bring in thousands of new recruits or we risk losing thousands of those in uniform today.
The men and women of the Canadian armed forces swear a duty to us and we all owe a duty to them. We owe them a duty to provide the best equipment possible. We owe them a duty to ensure that they are adequately trained for the missions we undertake in their names. We owe them a duty to ensure that we do not commit their lives to fruitless endeavours where the risks far outweigh any potential benefits.
Our current practice is to wait until a crisis erupts before planning our response. It is ineffective, at best, and irresponsible, at worst.
Even in a rapidly changing world, where new threats to peace and security are emerging, we can predict many of the challenges we will face in the coming years. Now is the time to prepare our military for those challenges. Now is the time to purchase the equipment we will need, to recruit the soldiers we will need, and to forge the alliances we will need for the conflicts of this century.
We have a role to play in the world, one that has clearly defined our history and our values. The mission we undertake in Haiti is not unlike the missions we have undertaken in so many regions of the world. Yet it seems we are forced to scramble to find the people and equipment needed for these missions. We always seem to be moving men and women, and machines around like pieces on a chessboard.
It does not need to be this way. I have outlined here tonight a series of measures that I believe are essential for our future: a comprehensive defence policy; a larger defence budget; a targeted recruitment initiative; and strategic equipment purchases. If we commit ourselves to those actions today, we will be ready for the challenges of tomorrow.
In closing, I would like to extend my heartfelt best wishes to the men and women of the Canadian armed forces serving in Haiti and all across the globe. We pray for their success and their safe return home.