Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by apologizing to one of my constituents. I came to this House today certain that we would get unanimous approval from all corners and every party in the House on this defence review. Therefore, I have to apologize to that constituent in Penticton who said: "I watch the CPAC channel but it is always so negative". I thought today we would have something positive. I hope to address this issue with some very positive comments because I am in support of it.
A review of Canada's defence policy is long overdue. Although emphasis and approach have varied from time to time, Canada's defence policy remains much as it did 30 years ago. Therefore, I support this motion.
I look forward to reviewing the guidance documents referred to in the motion that the minister tabled this morning to determine exactly the scope of what our review will be.
I would also like to commend the government for using the committee system to undertake such an important policy review. The effective use of committees is an important means by which an individual MP can represent the views of his or her constituents in developing national defence policy.
As a member of the standing committee on defence, I look forward to the task ahead of us with the wealth and experience including military, academic and business backgrounds of those who sit on the committee. I endorse the concept of combining it with the Senate as well. The reason for this is that while we have a large number of people on the committee from eastern Canada, we only have a few who will bring a western perspective to the committee. Hopefully, with the five Senate members there will be some representation from the western provinces.
The work of this joint committee will be extremely important. Three questions have come to my mind and I am sure many Canadians have asked themselves the same questions. First, are our current Canadian forces suited for the post-cold war era? Second, do our international commitments meet our military capabilities? Third, how effective is our current defence spending? These are questions to which all Canadians would like answers.
I am reminded of during the campaign when I was in the town of Keremeos in my riding. A gentleman stood up at the back of the hall and said: "I do not believe in having a military in Canada and I do not think I should have to pay taxes for such a thing as encouraging people to go off to war and fight". My question to him at that time was: "If you do not believe in a military, do you really know what it does? Do you know the role it plays? For instance, would you object if the military were a part of an exercise to capture people who were bringing in a shipment of cocaine off the coast into Canada to sell to our youth? Would you be against a military if you were capsized on the ocean and the search and rescue technicians from Vancouver Island came to your rescue? Would you be against the policy at that point? Or would you be against a military that made certain that our sovereignty and our natural resources were not taken away by other countries like we do with our fisheries patrols?"
These are the things I do not think Canadians really sit down and think through about what the Canadian military role is and the actual importance of the things it does. It is one of the downfalls that the Canadian forces really can accept some responsibility for because they have not communicated all of their roles to all of the people of the country. That is one of the things we have to look at. These are extremely important questions and the committee must deal with them.
I have a little background in the military. I spent some time in the Royal Canadian Navy in the early 1970s and I remember at that time the military experienced a time when we were not upgrading our equipment. We were dealing with the equipment that we had and did the best we could but the government was not spending money on upgrading equipment.
I remember one story when we were called out. I was stationed on a ship on the west coast in Esquimalt and we were called out because there was a Russian destroyer just off the coast of British Columbia and our task was to go out and follow it and make sure it did not get into any mischief.
During this excursion we went out and found that this destroyer was a vessel that was much more capable than we were. It was a very technologically advanced vessel. We could not even keep up with this particular vessel because of the ships we had at that time.
The captain of the ship turned to one of boatswain mates and told him to go down to the leading seamen's mess and get the bingo crank for playing bingo on board. Everyone wondered what he was talking about but he did it. He got this bingo cage that holds the balls with a handle on it. The order was given to hoist it up the mast. Of course, everyone was wondering what the captain of the ship was up to. He looked at it and was very happy with his accomplishment and he said that the destroyer would be taking pictures of it for the next two hours and for three weeks it would be busy trying to figure out what it was.
The point I am trying to make is that although our equipment was not always the best, we certainly adapted to the situation we were in.
One of the areas I would like to talk about today, and nobody else has talked about it too much, is personnel and how we are going to cope with the changing armed forces. In particular, I would like to talk about the total force plan, the concept introduced in 1987 which I understand the hon. member for
Bonavista-Trinity-Conception participated in which has made our reserves a key component of Canada's defence policy.
The total force policy concept aims to integrate regular and reserve forces to give reserves a greater role in military capability. The total force concept was also designed to allow Canada to maintain the same level of military capability while cutting costs. Reservists are paid only when they are on active service or in training and are therefore less of a drain on the public purse.
As a result of this policy's greater reliance on reservists the levels of regular troops have declined while the numbers of reservists have increased.
In 1990-91 Canada had 88,000 regular force personnel. These numbers are projected to decrease to 75,000 in 1995-96. On the other hand, today there are about 38,000 reservists and by the year 2000 this is projected to grow to 47,000.
Presently reservists play an increasingly important role in Canada's peacekeeping operations. Reservists make up a much greater part of the replacements going on overseas missions.
As we heard today, I think the latest rotation to go overseas was composed of about 50 per cent reservists.
Some serious concerns have been raised about the increased reliance on the reserves and I hope this joint special committee will look in more detail at these issues.
In the past few years some concerns have been expressed that we are placing too many demands on reservists, especially those who have not been trained to the same extent as our regular forces.
In his review of reserve forces in 1992, the Auditor General pointed out that as reservists move up in rank, and this is through no fault of their own, they lack the training and skills as compared with those in the regular forces at an equivalent rank.
He found that reservists lacked practical experience. As an example, when a combat arms officer reaches the rank of major, it amounts to approximately 750 training days difference that the two people have attained.
We must ask, therefore, whether we are placing reserve forces in situations for which they are not adequately trained. In response to these concerns the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs recommended in 1993 that in Canadian contingents deployed in dangerous UN operations such as Bosnia, the number of reservists be limited to no more than 10 per cent of the total force. So far, there has been no problem on the ground due to lack of training, and our troops have properly carried out the tasks which have been assigned to them.
I would like to say that everyone in Canada should admire the work and courage and dedication that these reserve forces have displayed in these dangerous operations.
However, we must ensure that we are not placing unfair demands on our reserve forces. Serious concerns have been raised about the readiness of the reserves. Also, in the 1992 report the Auditor General found that only one-third of reservists would turn out during an emergency and many of those who would turn out would not be properly trained to the necessary standards. This joint committee must ensure that Canada does not sacrifice its readiness.
One major reason why reservists do not receive enough training and experience is their lack of security in their civilian employment. It is extremely difficult and a risk for many reservists to participate in training exercises because they may lose seniority at their jobs, they may be subject to losing promotions or their vacation time and in some cases they may even lose their jobs to serve the country in the reserve force.
This is an issue that I am deeply concerned about. I have a tremendous admiration and respect for reservists who have put their jobs on the line to serve Canada.
This is also a very important hurdle for the effectiveness of a total force concept. The Conference of Defence Associations has recently pointed out that if the issue of job protection is not addressed it is doubtful the total force will reach its top level of effectiveness.
The Canadian Forces Liaison Council is concerned. It is currently trying to solve this problem by emphasizing to employers that the training and discipline the reservists gain will actually benefit the employer and will far outweigh the loss in employees' time.
We must consider the point and the viewpoint of business owners very seriously. After all they face additional costs and inconveniences when their reservist employees are called for training or active duty.
This may prove to be particularly trying to small and medium sized businesses. Everyone in this House has recognized that small and medium sized businesses are going to be the areas in which we create the employment in this country. Therefore, if we are looking at a defence review we also have to realize that a number of these jobs that are created through small and medium sized businesses will also have this additional strain that some of those people will probably be reservists.
The real test of this policy, however, is yet to come. Presently many reservists serving overseas are students who are willing and able to take the time off from their education. Replacements for many of these student reservists may have to come from employed reservists for whom it will be much more difficult.
This special joint committee will, I trust, consider ways to encourage employers to permit reservists to serve in Canada. In many other countries there are laws requiring reservists to be allowed time off to train and to serve, while preserving their jobs and their seniority. The problem is that this could discourage employers from hiring reservists. We ought to be very cautious about any legislation that may do that.
In this defence policy review we should also consider ways to protect the employment of reservists, whether called up for training or active service. At minimum, I would hope that we set an example for the private sector and take measures to protect federal employees who actively serve in the reserves. By addressing this issue we can show our support to the increasing role we are asking reserves to fulfil in our defence policy.
Canada's armed forces have a commendable history of providing a well run, effective military which has performed the many tasks required of it with distinction and with honour. Whether on cold patrols, fisheries patrols off our coasts or peacekeeping duties in the war torn corners of our world, the men and women who serve Canada so well deserve our admiration and support. The realities of the present day debt and deficits however mean we have to be concerned that we are getting the best value for taxpayers' dollars.
In his 1992 review the Auditor General stated that the problems related to the ability of reservists to respond when called up have reduced the savings possible under the total force concept. I hope the special joint committee will make this one of its primary focuses.
Finally I would like to take a moment to talk briefly about a program that is close to my heart and falls under the defence budget: our national cadet program. This program with which I have been involved for several years is a useful and productive program that instils a sense of civic responsibility and national pride in young Canadians. It does not matter if they are from Valcartier, Quebec, from Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan or Alberta, they all undergo the same training program. It helps to strengthen the unity of our country.
While the program grows in popularity its budget has been decreasing. I believe it comes back to the issue of effective government spending. How many inefficient projects are we saving at the expense of this program which trains 65,000 young Canadians in leadership, citizenship and physical fitness?
This is the type of program we should encourage. It is uniquely cost effective for the government because it is a partnership between the Department of National Defence and civilian organizations like the Navy League of Canada, the Army League of Canada and the Air Force League of Canada. In communities where they are located there are local organizations that also support them through funding. In my own community of Summerland, British Columbia, the Kiwanis Club is a supporter of the cadet program.
The government has expressed a concern for youth. In the national cadet program Canada already boasts the finest youth program in the world. Over the next year I will certainly make the joint committee aware of the important role the cadet program plays in the lives of Canadians.
These are some of the issues I look forward to addressing in the upcoming defence policy review. I support the motion and I commend the government for allowing the special joint committee to consult broadly in making recommendations. I am eager to hear the input of Canadians on the issue. I hope we will respect the views of all Canadians. Through public consultation we can have an effective review of our defence policy.