The House resumed from December 11 consideration of the motion.
Mr. Claude Bachand (Saint-Jean, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, it is my pleasure to speak today and lead off the debate during this session. We have read the motion put forward by my colleague from Ontario and, of course, one could hardly oppose it. When soldiers are sent into theatres of operation, to me it seems perfectly natural that they would be suitably equipped and receive the necessary support. However, as far as the necessary support is concerned, I would like to say loud and clear right off the bat that the Bloc Québécois does not appreciate being attacked for speaking out against a mission, the government, the Minister of National Defence or any other minister.
In my opinion, a clarification needs to be made. A parliamentary debate needs to be held in this House. Just because we criticize the minister or the government about the mandate of the mission does not automatically mean we are against the troops. That is absolutely not true. It is the George W. Bush style approach that the Bloc Québécois takes issue with.
It is important for hon. members and Parliament's political parties to give their opinion. What is more, we do not appreciate being told that if we speak out against a government policy, the mandate of the mission or the Minister of National Defence, we are against the troops in Afghanistan. That is not so. Again, we were against extending the mission, but Parliament has spoken. We are not like the Conservative government, which does not listen to Parliament. We listen to Parliament.
It goes without saying that once the decision has been made and soldiers are sent there, it is important to give them the necessary equipment. I also want to mention that as far as the theatres of operation are concerned, things have changed dramatically in the past few years and many Quebeckers and Canadians still think that the current mission in Afghanistan is a peacekeeping mission. That is not the case at all. There are different missions now. I want to remind hon. members that a peacekeeping mission is probably the easiest mission, although there is a risk component.
By definition, a peacekeeping mission is a rather simple mission. After both sides have signed a ceasefire agreement, the international community, Canada or other countries provide a buffer between the two sides to ensure the observance of the ceasefire. That is not at all what is going on in Afghanistan, where the mission is more of a pacification effort. Canada is there to support Afghanistan and the Afghan government, and it wants to try and restore peace by fighting the Taliban. I should also mention that the Bloc Québécois has been stressing for the past several months the need for the mission to be not only a combat mission but also one of reconstruction and development as well as one to restore the authority of the national government. Our comments on the matter have been very balanced, and we have raised these points repeatedly. I thought it was important to remind the House of that.
That having been said, our colleague's motion also raises questions. For example, is Canada's current foreign policy clear? It has not been updated in quite a while. As far as I know, the new Conservative government has not developed any new foreign policy. The existing policy is the one put in place by the former Liberal government, and the same is true for the defence policy. This means that we are talking about policy dating back to 2005.
One of the problems that arise where equipment is concerned is that, once a foreign or defence policy has been decided on, a military capabilities plan should normally follow. Whenever an approach to theatre operations or a new vision of international relations is developed, equipment has to be provided accordingly. Unfortunately, that part has not been dealt with yet. Neither the Liberal government nor the Conservative government before us today has delivered a military capabilities plan.
What does it entail? It entails a series of purchases for which Canadian and Quebec taxpayers will have to pay, without even knowing if the equipment in question meets the defence and foreign policy requirements because the capabilities plan should normally have preceded these purchases.
This creates all kinds of problems, as we can see. Would the contract with Boeing for strategic aircraft, C-17s and Chinook helicopters, have been included in a military capabilities plan? Why are these purchases going ahead without a plan?
The C-17 strategic aircraft brings up a fundamental question: if all the equipment and all the soldiers are already in Afghanistan, what good will four big strategic airlift aircraft be? This is one of the questions that could have been asked if a capabilities plan had been submitted to Parliament and if it had discussed whether the aircraft were really needed. We could have also looked at whether military planners, for example, could push for strategic sealift instead of strategic airlift, which probably costs four or five times as much. These are the kinds of things that should have been discussed.
We more or less agree on the purchase of the Chinook helicopters. Currently, troops and materials in Afghanistan are transported by land. We know the problems that can arise, given improvised explosives, mines, etc. Soldiers are losing their lives. With a heavy lift helicopter, we could probably avoid these dangers.
We agree with some things, but not with others. What we find most troubling is that there was never an opportunity to discuss this. We have to proceed bit by bit, but when we do, the Conservative government tries to tell us that we are not supporting the troops, that we are bad for their morale. Maybe they are the ones whose policies are causing these events to happen.
There is also the issue of prisoners. They say that we are undermining morale. Why has the minister not listened to us for months? For the past year, we have been hounding the minister about the importance of copying the Dutch agreement almost entirely. According to that agreement, Dutch embassy staff and soldiers can visit detainees anytime. The minister totally ignored us. Not only did he ignore us, he misled us by saying that the Red Cross was conducting inspections and that it would report any unusual occurrences that did not comply with the Geneva convention. As it turns out, that is not really how it happens.
For a year, we did not have a real policy concerning detainees, and now the minister has a problem. Now that the Bloc is criticizing the fact that the minister misled it and all of the other parties in the House, the government is saying that we want to destroy troop morale. That is George W. Bush-style logic, and we will not buy it.
Nevertheless, the minister and the Prime Minister have made $20 billion in announcements with no defence capabilities plan, as I said earlier.
We should also talk about tactical aircraft. We agree with them a little more on this issue, but we find that the calls for tender were subject to conditions and that the government wanted to do some companies a favour. When you start playing that game, when a company knows that it is the one you want, you do not get a good deal.
I do not wish to repeat my Camaro story again, as I believe I have told it a number of times here in the House. I wanted to buy myself a nice car when I was very young. When I went to the car sales lot, I told the salesman I wanted to buy that car and only that particular car. Imagine trying to ask for a good deal after that. My father told me that that was not how it worked.
Yet, even though we are talking about $20 billion worth of procurement, that is how the government is going about it. It develops an advance contract, which means that it tells a company in advance that it wants to purchase that aircraft from that company, and only from that company. How could it possibly negotiate after the fact?
The same thing is happening in the area of strategic lift. We now see that we are purchasing aircraft and paying a higher price than our allies paid a few years ago. The higher price represents more than just indexation. We are talking about some $20 million more for each aircraft. The government seems happy to let the taxpayers pick up the tab.
I believe that we, as members of Parliament, are here to defend the interests of taxpayers. If we fail to do so, we are showing disrespect for our constituents and neglecting our responsibilities to Parliament and to Canadian taxpayers.
Of course, we cannot oppose the motion here before us, but we can speak out against some things, including much of the purchasing.
I would have liked to have a little more time to explain the submarine disaster to the House. Nonetheless, everyone here understands that, when there is no plan in place, that is what happens. Sometimes we purchase things, only to later regret it.
Mr. Peter Stoffer (Sackville—Eastern Shore, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise on behalf of the federal NDP in regard to this important motion. I thank my hon. colleague from Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke for bringing it forward due to her continued support for our troops.
I know she has a vested interest, not only as one who cares about military personnel and their families, but also, the base at Petawawa is in her riding and she knows very well what emotions the people of Petawawa have suffered over the past few years as they have lost many of their young people in the conflict and war in Afghanistan. My heart goes out to her riding, to the people and families in Petawawa and to the surrounding communities of the brave of the bravest in Canada.
Today's motion asks us to support the troops. Without reservation, I believe I can speak for everyone in the House when I say that we do. There is no question that members of Parliament support the troops and their families, but I would like to use my allotted time to ask a very important question. The question is this: what happens to the support for the troops when they take off the uniform? This is where I have some great difficulties.
I have been working on behalf of my party as the veterans affairs critic for quite some time and I worked with the previous government on the veterans charter. I offer kudos to the late Jack Stagg, the former deputy minister of veterans affairs, for bringing this issue forward. I believe the new veterans charter will go a long way to assisting veterans and their families as the modern day veteran comes along.
I also have a personal vested interest in this. As people may know, I was born in Holland and my parents and that country were liberated by the Canadian military and its allies, the British, the Poles and the Americans. It is up to us to repay that debt of gratitude.
Mr. Speaker, I notice that you yourself are a proud supporter of the legion and the veterans and their families who attend it. You should be thanked tremendously for that.
There are tremendous problems in our country for veterans and their families, not just for the veterans of World War I, World War II, Korea, the gulf war and Afghanistan, but also for our modern day veterans, those who served during peacekeeping times and the cold war. An awful lot of them, almost 4,000 to be exact, have a problem with what is called the SISIP deduction. This was something that we in the NDP had in our veterans first motion, which was adopted by the three opposition parties in the House of Commons. Unfortunately, the Conservatives voted against it at that time.
We should remember what the Prime Minister said when he was in opposition. He said that when motions are passed by the House of Commons, that should bring the direction from government to the forefront. Unfortunately, not only did the Conservatives vote against our motion, but the budget completely ignored that aspect of the motion. When there is a $14.2 billion surplus and they are not going to help disabled veterans now, when do they plan on doing it?
There is a gentlemen in my riding by the name of Mr. Dennis Manuge, who has just started a class action lawsuit with a legal team, and with members of that lawsuit right across this country, to fight the government over the SISIP deduction. Many of our injured soldiers are now facing the choice of losing their homes and equity and being forced into rental accommodations that, in some cases, are of a poorer standard. These are people who volunteered to serve their country and unfortunately were injured in the line of duty. What is being said to them? They are being told that maybe we will get around to thinking about helping them.
When the government has a $14.2 billion surplus over and above moneys required for the day to day operations of government, one would assume that of all governments, this government, a government that reportedly likes to support the troops, would have looked at this issue very seriously, and if it did not want to accept the recommendations from the NDP then it could at least accept the recommendations from the DND ombudsmen.
Two of those ombudsmen have said that the SISIP deduction has to go and that with a $290 million investment this problem will be fixed. That amount is 1.8% of the recently announced $14.2 billion surplus. One would think that in its heart of hearts the government would have come up with $290 million, not only honouring the motion passed by the House of Common but accepting the recommendations of two ombudsmen.
Just recently, Mr. Côté, the DND ombudsman, again wrote a letter mentioning that recommendation to the government. It is still being ignored by the government. For the life of me, I cannot understand this in view of the heightened awareness of our troops, those bravely serving in Afghanistan and around the world and those who have been injured and are coming home. Our troops went through one war. They should not have to go through another one when they get back home.
We have the fiscal capacity to help not just our troops but their families as well. They need to know when they sign on the dotted line that there is what we call the ultimate liability. They are willing at any time to risk their lives so that my colleagues in the House of Commons and I can have a good night's sleep. That is what it boils down to. We parliamentarians have the ultimate responsibility to ensure that their needs are met, not just while they are in the service but also after they leave the service.
It is unacceptable that disabled veterans have to go to the courts to get the government to listen. The government did not listen to two DND ombudsmen. It did not listen to the House of Commons. If the government will not listen to reason and passion on this side, then maybe it will have to listen to the courts.
What kind of a sad state of a country is it when disabled veterans collectively have to go to the courts to get a program fixed? We are talking about a 1% investment of the surplus. If we were to speak to Canadians across the country and clearly told them what the program was about and that for $290 million we could fix the program once and for all, most Canadians would assume that we would do it. But it is not even in the budget. It is a sad day in that regard.
I am hoping this motion will highlight the concern for our current troops and their families. Also, our young troops will become veterans soon. The young of the 1930s and 1940s are the veterans of today.
There is another issue I want to bring forward. On my desk right now I have 22 files concerning world war veterans within the Halifax regional municipality area of Nova Scotia. They all have something in common. They were denied hearing aids. Those people are in their eighties.
The argument we are hearing is that because they did not have a hearing test when they left the army, navy or air force, there is no audiology evidence to prove that their hearing loss has degenerated over the years. Dr. David Lyon of Dartmouth is one of the best audiologists in the country. He has sworn an affidavit and has said very clearly that there is a link between what is happening now and their consistent exposure to loud noise at the time.
Those men and women served in our wars. We cannot even get them hearing aids because of some technical argument. I remind the current Minister of Veterans Affairs who said that when it comes to the benefit of the doubt, the benefit of the doubt should go to the veteran.
There are other concerns as well. On the agent orange file the Conservatives said very clearly that if they formed the government, they would deal with that issue immediately. It has not been done yet and it is not even mentioned in the budget.
There is another most appalling issue. The widow of a veteran was assured by the then leader of the opposition who is now the Prime Minister that if the Conservatives formed the government, the veterans independence program would be extended to all widows and widowers regardless of application or time of death of the veteran. There is not a word of it in the budget.
When it comes to veterans we could speak about them all day and I would love to. Unfortunately, I have to pass the floor over to my colleagues. However, I want to end on a positive note. I thank my hon. colleague from the Conservatives for raising this issue. Any time we talk about veterans and their families is a good day in this place. However, we need more than just rhetoric. We need action. We have listed for the government some of the problems. It has the fiscal capacity to fix them. We are asking the government to fix these problems once and for all.
Mr. Rick Norlock (Northumberland—Quinte West, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, since day one, Canada's new government has been a government of action. We have been working diligently on all fronts to make Canada a stronger, safer and better country for all Canadians. This government has consistently recognized that national defence is vital to achieving this vision.
This government has stated on several occasions that it was taking steps to affirm our Canadian sovereignty, to defend our territory and to protect Canadians and their interests.
This government knows it is the men and women of our Canadian Forces who transform these national defence policy objectives into discernible action. It is our Canadian Forces who conduct Arctic patrols to assert our sovereignty and ensure our security in the north. It is members of our Canadian Forces who work day and night with their counterparts in Norad to protect our continental air space. It is members of our Canadian Forces who right now are working in Afghanistan with their colleagues from other government departments and with our coalition partners to help build a better life for the Afghan people and a safer world for Canada.
When we say that this government will work hard to assert Canadian sovereignty, defend our territory and protect Canadians and their interests, it means we will work hard to support our Canadian Forces. We cannot fulfill these responsibilities without them.
That is why I support today's motion which calls on the House to affirm its commitment to Canada's military personnel and calls on the government to continue to provide the Canadian Forces with the best possible equipment and support to carry out its responsibilities.
To be a government of action, we need to continue supporting the men and women in uniform who are defending our country and our citizens every day.
The government has already taken measured steps to boost the capacity of the Canadian Forces.
In budget 2006 we announced a sorely needed increase of some $5.3 billion over the next five years to Canada's defence budget. We also announced that part of this funding would be used to increase the military's numbers. Our military strength declined significantly over the last decade and a half while the demands we placed upon our forces did not. Today some 10,000 military men and women are working on the front lines here at home to defend our territory and protect our citizens. On any given day, there are about 8,000 soldiers, sailors and air force personnel who are training for, engaged in, or returning from missions abroad.
The military cannot continue to fulfill all of these responsibilities without placing an excessive burden on individual members and their families. That is why we are working to increase troop numbers. I must say I was very pleased to hear the Minister of National Defence say just last month that the number of applications for enrollment in the Canadian Forces is already up some 25% from last year.
This government also knows that our men and women in uniform cannot do their jobs safely or effectively without the proper equipment. That is why last June my hon. colleague, the Minister of National Defence, travelled to bases across the country to announce directly to military personnel that they would be getting the equipment that they need.
He informed our soldiers in Halifax that we plan to acquire three new joint support ships to replace the 35-year-old replenishment ships. These will be state of the art multi-role vessels that will enhance our navy's ability to fulfill its domestic maritime security responsibilities and support Canada's foreign policy objectives.
The minister then stood at CFB Valcartier and announced plans to acquire some 2,300 new medium size logistics trucks. These will replace our aging trucks that are plagued by growing maintenance problems. These trucks are the logistics backbone of our army and the acquisition of new ones will dramatically improve the capability of our land forces.
The minister also flew to Edmonton to announce plans to purchase 16 medium to heavy lift helicopters, reinstating a vital capability that aircraft crews and soldiers have done without for over a decade. With these new helicopters our forces will be better able to respond to disasters and emergencies here in Canada and they will be able to protect when deployed on missions abroad.
The final stop on the minister's trip last June was 8 Wing Trenton where he announced a boost to the air force's tactical airlift capability with the planned purchase of 17 new tactical lift aircraft. While he was there, he announced the planned acquisition of a new capability for Canada's military strategic airlift. This acquisition will mark a new era for Canada's military. It is a promise that this government is already delivering on.
Just over a month ago the Minister of National Defence, the Minister of Industry, and the Minister of Public Works and Government Services announced that a contract has been signed for four C-17 Globemaster aircraft. By the end of this summer the first of these planes will be on the very tarmac at Trenton where the Minister of National Defence made his initial announcement.
All together, these equipment and support projects total some $17 billion. But that is not all. In budget 2007 presented just last week by my hon. colleague the Minister of Finance, this new government has announced more. Supporting the development of Canada's multi-role, combat capable defence forces means not only recruiting more people and procuring new equipment, it also means taking care of the very people who fill the ranks.
The latest initiatives outlined in budget 2007 speak directly to the importance of supporting the men and women who wear Canada's army, navy and air force uniforms, and their families.
First, this budget provides for an increase to field operations allowance of soldiers exposed to hazardous and difficult conditions in their work. This increase will bring the army's allowance in line with that of the air force and the navy.
This builds on another initiative that we implemented in December which makes sure that soldiers sent home from the field due to injury continue to receive payments equivalent to the operational allowance they would have received until the end of their planned deployment.
This budget also announced initiatives for our veterans. Canada's gratitude for military service does not stop when military members retire, so our concern for their needs should not stop either. The latest budget provides money to the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve the services it provides to our veterans.
It provides money for the establishment of five new operational stress injury clinics across Canada, doubling our capacity to care for veterans, Canadian Forces members still serving, and their families who may be suffering from operational stress injuries. These clinics provide critical mental health and peer support services to those suffering from things like anxiety, depression and addiction.
The budget also provides for a veterans ombudsman to ensure that Canada's veterans are receiving services according to the standards set out in our new veterans bill of rights.
Our military members make significant sacrifices every day. In Afghanistan today they are ready to put their lives on the line to protect us and everything we stand for. In past missions they have done exactly the same. The least we can do is always make sure that they are taken care of regardless of whether they are in uniform now or were before.
The initiatives of this new government begin to address the military's needs. I say they begin to address the military's needs because these cannot be the end of our efforts. It is important to show our support for this motion today as a pledge of our sustained commitment to rebuilding and revitalizing Canada's armed forces as a symbol of our gratitude and support of our men and women in uniform.
Clearly this government has been supporting Canada's military personnel since day one. We must be diligent in supporting the Canadian Forces just as the Canadian Forces are diligent in serving us.
Mr. John Cannis (Scarborough Centre, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, before I begin my remarks, I want to acknowledge the motion put forward by the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke. I say this because we served together on the defence committee and she truly and genuinely cares, as does, I believe, every member in this House. She also has CFB Petawawa in her riding and we know of the losses that were there. I read the poem from the daughter of one of our lost soldiers and I was very moved.
I thank her also because she gives each party the opportunity to engage and express our views and to send the kind of signal that I believe she intends to send through this motion.
I felt very compelled to participate in this debate. As the son of a World War II veteran, I know what the men and women in the past and what these men and women today have gone through and are going through. We have no greater obligation, as elected representatives, than to address those needs and concerns.
However, before I go into that I want to touch a little upon the great history and the pride with which our men and women have served in the past, aside from the two major world war conflicts and others, post-World War II, our Canadian men and women have participated in some of the biggest missions the world has known.
For example, we had 1,007 troops in Egypt between the period of 1956 to 1976. We had almost 1,200 people in Cyprus and that mission was commenced in 1964. To this very day I think we have one or two Canadian troops there. In the Balkans, we had just over 2,400 people, a mission that started in 1992 and went to 1996. In Somalia, we had just over 1,400 people during the period of 1992 to 1993. Again in the Balkans, there were an additional 1,100 people on a mission that took place between 1996 and 1997. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, it began in 1997 and to this very day we are participating.
Those are big numbers for a relatively small nation such as Canada but a nation with a big heart and a great history.
When we talk about our men and women who are serving today, there is no greater responsibility, as the member and other members have pointed out, than to provide them with the equipment they need to do the work that we ask them to do. As the former chair of the defence committee and the current vice-chair, I can say that the committee has always worked cooperatively with one thought in mind: to do the right thing. Yes, we will spar and, yes, we will bring our views forward from different parties but at the end of the day I know we all speak from the same heart and we try to do the best we can.
Sometimes when we touch upon some of these issues, they might get a little bit sticky but, as the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore spoke about earlier today, we have a responsibility to the men and women who are serving us.
For example, it is hurtful for us and for Canadians as a whole when we put out information saying that nothing was done. Members know very well that is not the case. I know, for example, that between the periods of 1996 and 1997, 12 frigates were built and the Leopard tanks that are used today were provided by the previous government.
When General Hillier and the Minister of Defence appeared before the committee and talked about the $17 billion of moneys available for military procurement, I personally asked the general and the minister whether they were referring to $17 billion in new money, plus the $13.5 billion or $14 billion that the previous Liberal government put in the budget, for a total of $31 billion. The general was kind enough, as was the minister, if I may say, to acknowledge that no, it was primarily from the Liberal government.
How do we provide equipment? We do not go to the store and buy an airplane. We do not go to Wal-Mart and buy a tank. These things are planned, first and foremost, by the military and then a process is followed.
The committee went abroad and visited NATO headquarters. I will just touch upon Canadian pride. The men and women who are serving at NATO headquarters are performing senior responsibilities but they were not appointed. They competed for those positions and they won, which tells us that we rate at the top. All members of the committee were quite proud to see our men and women serving at NATO headquarters.
What did NATO tell us? They basically told us the process. We went to England to see how it did its exercise in terms of military procurement. We were learning, knowing very well that the money was there. Canada First Command under General Hillier was rolled out some years ago. I am pleased to say that the Liberal government of the day put the money there. We all know how difficult it was in the early nineties in terms of the country not having the funds available.
As the son of a war veteran, I also want to touch upon the very important issue of our veterans. Given that our country today has been blessed with tens of billions of dollars in surpluses, surely to God we can allocate some money to meet their concerns.
The present Prime Minister, then the leader of the opposition, made a commitment in writing to Joyce Carter that he would address her issue. I know the VIP program came in under our administration but along the way things changed. For example, today we have the post-traumatic stress syndrome which we might not have been aware of 15 or 20 years ago. We are taking some strides to address that concern as well.
During the Liberal administration, we were asked to address compensation for merchant seamen. We did that but we could not snap our fingers and do it overnight. We had to do assessments.
The current Minister of Veterans Affairs appeared before the committee when I was chair. The member for Sackville—Eastern Shore touched upon the subject of veterans who had been exposed to agent orange and I am glad he did. The current Minister of Veterans Affairs said that his party would solve the problem when it formed government because it had the data. We were missing just a small piece of the puzzle but it has now been a year and a half and nothing has been done. I still get letters from veterans who were exposed to agent orange. If we do not do it now when there is over $14 billion in surplus, when are we going to do it?
Mr. Bruce Stanton: What did you do when you were in government?
Mr. Bev Shipley: You should have done something while you were there.
Mr. John Cannis: Mr. Speaker, this is what I am trying to get into by way of constructive exchange.
An old Gaelic proverb goes as follows, “There is no greater fraud than a promise not kept”. I do not want to go in that direction. I want to respect the debate, honour our veterans and support them. I again thank the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke for bringing forward this motion to the House. This motion is not meant to hit below the belt but if my colleagues across the way wish to do that, I can go in that direction. However, I choose not to. I will rise above that.
We have no greater obligation than to honour the great sacrifice made by our men and women in the past and in the present.
Years ago when a veteran died, the widow would receive six months of benefits. I will use my mother who is a widow as an example. After six months, does the grass stop growing or does the snow stop falling? Surely to God, we could extend the benefits we said to ourselves, and we did. Today we need to add another element, which is the direction in which I encourage my colleagues to take during the debate.
I commend the member for the good work she is always doing, not only on behalf of her riding and on behalf of CFB Petawawa, but for all our men and women.
Mr. Brian Storseth (Westlock—St. Paul, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, our government has demonstrated its support for our armed forces from the very beginning and has showed gratitude toward our men and women for getting the job done for Canadians.
Whether it is carrying out search and rescue operations, asserting our sovereignty and ensuring the security in the north, supporting other government departments, including dealing with illegal fishing and product smuggling, and in helping us when we are hit with devastating ice storms, major floods or other natural disasters, our leader, the Prime Minister, and every man and woman in our caucus has demonstrated support of our service men and women at each and every turn.
Within this group, we are privileged to have several who have already spent a career serving in our armed forces. Even within this small group, the passion and support for our Canadian Forces personnel is unsurpassed by the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke whose motion I am honoured to stand in support of today. I know the member is extremely proud of CFB Petawawa, which is housed in her riding, as I am of the brave men and women of CFB Four Wing Cold Lake and CFB Edmonton in my riding of Westlock—St. Paul.
Duty, honour and country, those are the words that come to mind when one speaks of Canadian military service. I have already mentioned but a few of the functions that our Canadian Forces perform domestically.
We also know that in today's world our military personnel are posted abroad to protect our national interests and promote our values of freedom, democracy, human rights and rule of law. Among other things, they are working closely with our neighbours to the south to survey and protect our skies and to monitor our maritime approaches. Our soldiers, sailors and air force personnel are making a vital contribution to international peace and security all around the world, most notably today in Afghanistan.
Without a doubt, we ask a lot of our military personnel. In carrying out their jobs, they are often faced with difficult and stressful operational environments. They can find themselves dealing with harsh geography, extreme climate conditions and prolonged separations from family and friends. They are willing to put their lives on the line for our country. In recognizing the sacrifices they make for our country, I think it is only fitting that we try our best to ensure they have what they need to be successful in their jobs.
I am pleased to note that since the government took office in February 2006, we have moved quickly to begin rebuilding our Canadian Forces. Budget 2006 and this year's budget reflect that commitment.
Just last week, our Minister of Finance announced several new initiatives to bolster our military. Among other things, the government will invest $60 million to increase the field operations allowance, set up five new trauma centres to help veterans and their families deal with stress injuries related to their military service, and advance $175 million of budget 2006's $5.3 billion to the 2007-08 from the 2009-10 budget. This acceleration will help us to implement the Canada first defence plan.
The new budget demonstrates yet again that the government supports our military. It complements and builds upon our first budget which committed $5.3 billion over five years for defence to address some of the immediate needs of our Canadian Forces.
Among other things, budget 2006 funding will help support the transformation of military operations and defence administration but this funding will also help the Canadian Forces acquire new equipment so they can better carry out their domestic and international roles.
It is the last point that I would like to focus on today, if I may, equipping our Canadian Forces. As the motion before us asserts, we want to support our men and women in uniform by providing them with the best possible equipment to help them succeed in their roles.
I am proud that in June of last year the government made a firm commitment to our military personnel to acquire new equipment for them. In fact, we have already made several procurement announcements. These investments are long overdue.
Most members here will know about the government's recent announcement which finalized the contract for the strategic lift. Strategic airlift is required to carry a large number of passengers and oversized cargo long distances, not only within Canada but also between Canada and the theatre of operation.
In the past we have often had to rely on our allies to get our troops and equipment into theatre. These new aircraft will change all that. With the C-17s, the Canadian Forces will be able to better deliver equipment, supplies and personnel on their own terms, where they are needed and when they are needed.
Our military personnel will be faster and better at reaching out to all our communities, including those in the far north and the Arctic. Our disaster assistance response team, or the DART, will be capable of flying quickly anywhere in the world if called upon in the event of a natural or humanitarian disaster. They will be able to fly heavy equipment, such as generators, water purification systems and hospital units, to areas that desperately need our support.
I am pleased to note that the government has committed to meet the long overdue need to replace our aging Hercules. Our Hercules fleet has logged more flying hours than any military Hercules fleet in the world. New tactical airlift will also improve the way our Canadian Forces manage on domestic and international operations.
These planes are a lifeline for our Canadians Forces men and women who are deployed on operations. They are used for transporting equipment, troops and supplies from within their area of operation. They need to be replaced. The government is wasting no time in doing exactly that.
Similarly, this government recognizes the need to purchase new medium to heavy lift helicopters to support our troops in meeting the challenges posed by increasingly dangerous environments that today's mission presents. At home and abroad, the helicopters will allow the Canadian Forces to reach remote and isolated locations and respond more quickly and efficiently to emergencies.
To date, our Canadian Forces on operations have had to rely on our allies to provide helicopter transport. This limits our military's ability to conduct independent operations. It also means that our troops have had to opt for ground transportation when helicopters have been unavailable. This places them at a greater risk of ambushes, landmines and improvised explosive devices.
The new helicopters will significantly reduce these risks. They will also increase Canadian operational independence and enhance our credibility with key allies and international organizations.
The Conservative government has also committed to move forward with the joint ship project. We will procure three new ships to improve our military's ability to travel significant distances and stay deployed for extended periods of time. The new ships will enable naval task groups to remain at sea for up to six times longer than they can now.
Finally, our procurement initiatives include the purchase of approximately 2,300 new, medium size logistic trucks. For some time now this has been one of our military's most pressing equipment needs. These new trucks will replace the current fleet which has been in use since the 1980s and is reaching the end of its service life.
Whether deployed on operations overseas, providing assistance during domestic emergencies or in day to day operations in Canada, these vehicles will be the army's backbone, getting supplies and people where they are needed in the most efficient way possible.
I believe these procurement announcements will help the Canadian Forces in their current missions both in Canada and around the world, as well as allow the Canadian Forces to meet the challenges they will face in the decades to come.
We cannot stop there. Our military has a tradition of success and a culture of excellence, from the trenches of the Great War on the battlefields of Europe, Vimy Ridge, Somme, Ypres, to the defining moments of the second world war, the Battle of the Atlantic, the liberation of Holland and Juno Beach. These words alone spur on images of Canadian soldiers from Edmonton, Calgary, Fort Assiniboine, Cold Lake, Westlock and countless other small communities across our country helping to define our nation, while defying overwhelming odds to bring freedom and hope to people and places in the world whom had long since given up on such thoughts.
It is from these brave men and women that we have learned that it is our responsibility to protect and defend democracy, that we cannot take solace in the oceans that separate us because isolationism will not work and cannot work in a world that is continually growing smaller.
I am proud to say that this tradition that was started over a hundred years ago is still being carried on today by the men and women in Canadian Forces uniforms. I have met many of the men and women from my riding who have taken on the responsibility of carrying on this tradition. I have had the privilege to greet many of them on cold windswept nights on the tarmac and look them in the eye and thank them for their service, and on too many occasions I have looked in the eyes of their loved ones that they have left behind.
These men and women draw out an emotion in all of us that comes from our inner core. It is one of overwhelming gratitude and as we speak with them we cannot help but to ask why. The answer I consistently get back is duty, honour and country.
It is for these reasons that we must accept our duty as parliamentarians to show support not only by kind words, but by actions. Our men and women of the Canadian armed forces have demonstrated beyond any doubt that they are worthy of the crests they wear. It is now our duty to our country to honour their commitment by providing them with the equipment and resources they need to continue to excel at their job.
This is why I am proud to support this motion. Thank you Mr. Speaker and God bless.
Mrs. Cheryl Gallant (Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank all members in the House who participated in the debate on Motion No. 244 and thank the representatives of the other parties for indicating that their parties intend to support the motion.
I hope that all members of the House share my belief that an all party expression of support by the House is appreciated by the families of our serving military members. I thank the members for Vancouver Southand Scarborough Centre for their kind words regarding the poem written by Jocelyn Girouard, daughter of Chief Warrant Officer Robert Girouard, entitled, Dear Daddy, that I had the privilege of reading in the House.
If anything demonstrates the human dimension of what we do in this place, it has to be when a decision is made to send Canadian women and men to one of the world's most troubled spots and the possible tragic outcome such a decision may have.
Sometimes in the cut and thrust of debate in this place emotions rise. Members, however, must never lose sight of who exactly is being impacted by what is being said. My motion is for the friends and families, and daughters like Jocelyn Girouard, and the sons, daughters, spouses, fathers and mothers who are left behind.
As an MP elected in 37th and 38th Parliaments, this House knows that I conscientiously and sincerely represent the best interests of all Canadians in questioning the government of the day about defence policy. Never among the rank and file of the men and women in uniform was my loyalty to Canada ever questioned, and never among Canadians was my loyalty to Canada questioned in the context of my role of providing scrutiny to the government of the day. It was my constitutional role as a member of the loyal opposition in the previous parliament.
There are numerous opportunities for members of the opposition to hold the government accountable for its actions and this is a unique time. Not since the Korean war has Canada been vigorously engaged in an international conflict. From the time the previous government committed Canada to send soldiers to Afghanistan, it has been a steep learning curve.
I thank my colleague for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound for his contribution to this debate and more importantly for his support for the women and men who are currently serving overseas, not just in Afghanistan but in many other locations around the globe, including right here at home.
He reminded Canadians that when a job needed to be done, from providing flood relief in Manitoba to digging Toronto out of a huge winter storm, our troops were there.
This past summer I had the pleasure of attending the salmon spectacular in Owen Sound and had the opportunity to meet the member interacting with some of the soldiers from Meaford, which is a base in the member's riding. What they expressed was that they really appreciated, and it makes a difference, seeing the outpouring of support from Canadians, be it wearing a ribbon, wearing red on Fridays or sending the troops mail overseas.
However, one thing that was expressed was that it was not quite enough to wear the ribbon to say they supported the troops. They needed to know that Canadians understand and support what they are doing.
I would like to thank the member for Scarborough Southwest for his comments as well. He is a wonderful member to work with on the committee and the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore. He mentioned the SISIP deduction. The government is committed to ensuring that those who sacrificed so much to defend Canada do receive their fair compensation.
The member Northumberland—Quinte West mentioned the OSISS allocation in the budget. I would hope that all the members who expressed a concern over post-traumatic stress disorder will be supporting the budget as well as this motion.
In closing, I would like to ask all members of this House to not forget them and, on behalf of the women and men and their families, thank them for supporting Motion No. 244.