Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise on behalf of the people of Okanagan—Coquihalla to speak to the prebudget debate.
It is appropriate to mention that as we close the House that we have some 4,500 Canadians serving abroad in the Canadian armed forces on missions who will not be sharing this holiday season with their families. I think the House would join me in congratulating those members of the Canadian armed forces for their hard work in the year 1999 and to wish them the very best this holiday season.
My subject today on the prebudget debate will be defence. In 1994 the federal government formed the special joint committee to review Canada's defence policy to answer the question of what principles, purposes and objectives should guide our government in setting defence policy in a rapidly changing world.
The special joint committee of which I was a member studied the issue for eight months and literally interviewed hundreds of witnesses from coast to coast and internationally. The special joint committee concluded that there was a limit to which defence spending cuts and personnel reductions could go without compromising the combat capability of the Canadian armed forces.
We recommended to the Liberal government at that time in 1994 that the Department of National Defence should maintain a core budget of at least $10.5 billion and personnel levels of the regular force were not to fall below 66,700. I stress that at that time these figures were absolute minimums. Any cuts below these figures would require a corresponding decrease in the commitments of our troops and any increase in commitments would require additional funding to the department.
In response the Liberal government issued its 1994 white paper which laid out the groundwork for its declared official defence policy. In the document the government went to great lengths to state officially that it was the policy of the Liberal government to maintain combat capable forces. I quote from that 1994 white paper which states:
The Government has concluded that the maintenance of multipurpose, combat-capable forces is in the national interest. It is only through the maintenance of such forces that Canada will be able to retain the necessary degree of flexibility and freedom of action when it comes to the defence of its interests and the projection of its values abroad.
The white paper further states:
Canada needs armed forces that are able to operate with the modern forces maintained by our allies and like-minded nations against a capable opponent—that is, able to fight alongside the best, against the best.
Since making these lofty proclamations the Liberal government has broken its stated defence policy by consciously pursuing a defence policy that has literally stripped the Canadian armed forces of combat capability.
The Liberals have accomplished this in several ways. First, they have begun to pursue a foreign policy based on the fluffy and cuddly concept of soft power and human security. I will quote the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the defence minister's senior, who sees little value in the concept of a combat capable force. In the 1997 issue of the International Journal he stated:
A country's image is key to the use of soft power. An attractive set of values and an image as a trustworthy partner encourages other countries to consider and weigh our views.
He referred to soft power by saying that it:
—blurs, even counters, the perception of traditional power assets, such as military force.
The problem is that this idea of influencing other nations by using Canada's image as a country full of nice folks with nice values just does not work.
Let us look at how influential the foreign affairs minister was with the military junta that took over Pakistan recently. Does the Minister of Foreign Affairs really think Saddam Hussein or Slobadan Milosevic will really mend their ways after hearing about Canada's great values? It just will not happen.
Ironically even the creator of the soft power concept, Joseph Nye, understood that soft power meant nothing without hard power or military assets to back up that concept. Also the Liberal government slashed defence spending a whopping 24% to just over $9 billion, far below what was recommended in the 1994 special joint committee report. This has literally gutted the Canadian armed forces.
I believe many of my Liberal colleagues across the way, in particular those who sit on the defence committee, would agree with this point. The Liberal members, the Reform members and the Conservative member supported the defence committee's first report to the House calling for significant increases in defence spending as a percentage of GDP over the next five years. The finance committee has recognized the urgency of the situation and has recommended a five year increase for national defence.
The results of these massive cuts to defence spending were very predictable. Personnel had to be cut to 60,000, far below that which we recommended in the special joint committee and a dramatic drop from the 87,000 personnel we had in 1987.
According to the Conference of Defence Associations that appeared before the defence committee today, this number has fallen to about 56,000 or 57,000 because national defence cannot afford to replace the people it is losing through attrition.
As we all know manpower is essential to our combat capability. The army is particularly hard hit with personnel at only 65% of what is needed to achieve combat capability. The Conference of Defence Associations told the defence committee today that Canada's forces would be hard pressed to fulfil the Liberal government's 1994 white paper commitment to field a combat capable brigade size force. It argued that the Canadian army is really only combat capable at the company level, which is about 150 troops.
In Canada, with a population of some 30 million people, we are only capable of fielding a company of 150 personnel that are combat capable. We have seen how stretched our two battalions are in Kosovo and Bosnia. We have to bring home our battalion of 1,300 troops from Kosovo because we cannot effectively sustain two battalions in the region.
The army is getting so desperate that two weeks ago, members might have read in the press, Colonel Howard Marsh advised the government contrary to the government's own white paper on defence that it should cut the army to 10,000 personnel from the current 20,000 and make up the difference by using high tech gadgets. This idea is absolutely ludicrous.
The Conference of Defence Associations stated today that even with the army at its current size of 20,000 it is far too small. High tech gadgets will not make up the difference for the crucial role played by highly trained individuals in the army.
Just last month the Conference of Defence Associations stated during hearings before the finance committee that the Canadian forces were on the verge of a major breakdown in combat capability, unless the defence budget was increased by at least $500 million, climbing to $1.5 billion over the next few years.
It is important for me to mention again the mismanagement of the Sea King helicopters by the Liberal government. We have been waiting for six years for a replacement for the Sea King helicopter. Canadians still wait and this is unacceptable. We probably will not have replacement helicopters until the year 2008. They are literally falling apart. Pieces are flying through the air from Sea King helicopters. They need to be replaced and they need to be replaced now.
The Liberal government has broken its stated defence policy which claims Canada must have combat capable forces. Instead the Liberal government has consciously pursued a defence policy that has stripped our Canadian forces of much of its combat capability.
Before we get to the point of no return the official opposition calls on the Liberal government to increase defence spending by at least $2 billion over the next two years to reverse this decline in the combat capability of the Canadian armed forces.