That the House call on the government to show support and appreciation for the brave men and women serving in the Canadian Armed Forces by reversing its decision to take away from the soldiers fighting against ISIS the tax benefit which provides them with $1,500 to $1,800 per month for the hardship and risk associated with their deployment, and to retroactively provide the payment to members stationed at Camp Arifjan whose tax relief was cancelled as of September 1, 2016.
He said: I will be sharing my time this morning with my friend and colleague, the member for .
Before I get into my comments, I want to extend our condolences to the friends, family, and service members who work as our SAR techs, our search and rescue technicians, for the loss yesterday of Master Corporal Alfred Barr. He was a member of 435 Squadron based out of 17 Wing Winnipeg. Master-Corporal Barr was on a training exercise near Yorkton, Saskatchewan, and there was an accident, which is going to be investigated. Our sincerest condolences go to his friends and family.
All of Canada knows that our SAR techs play an important role. They epitomize the bravery of our first responders as they rescue Canadians whether at sea, on land, in our lakes, or in the high Arctic. The 435 Squadron out of Winnipeg goes anywhere and everywhere to save those who need their assistance. It was an unfortunate accident and one that we are very saddened by.
Members of the Canadian Armed Forces are a part of Operation Impact. These troops are stationed in Kuwait and they are part of the fight against ISIS, the terrible terrorist organization that is wreaking havoc across the Middle East and is a threat to us here at home. It came to light to the opposition back in September that these soldiers have had their danger pay taken away from them.
Hardship allowances and danger pay benefits are given to troops when they are deployed and in operation. These troops are putting their lives on the line. Our air force members fly over enemy territory with the support of logistics officers. If it was not for our ground crews getting those planes in the air, whether to do reconnaissance missions, refuelling missions, or out there with our Auroras where the action is and feeding that intelligence to the overall operation, they would not be able to do the job that they do on the ground. It is important that we support these troops.
There is nothing to stop ISIS terrorists from walking across from Iraq and targeting Canadians, Americans, and other allies stationed in Kuwait. We know for a fact that as the fight in Mosul continues, ISIS is on the run. ISIS is being pushed out by Iraqi security forces and the peshmerga with the support of Canadian special operation forces and other allies. As those ISIS rats are fleeing from their holes in Mosul, they are trying to find other places of refuge and Kuwait has become an optimal target for them. We have over 300 Canadian Forces members stationed there.
It is important that Canadians understand that the hardship and risk allowance these soldiers receive, the tax-free income and bump up in pay, is not just about the risks these soldiers face by being deployed to a theatre of operations. It also takes into consideration the extra hardship that is placed upon their families back home, whether it is their parents, spouses, partners, or kids. They need to have the support because of the extra costs associated with their loved ones not being with them. These soldiers are gone for anywhere from six to eight months at a time and there are extra costs at home associated with things like yard maintenance, house upkeep, taking kids to hockey games, extra babysitting costs. Extra costs that usually do not exist are involved because of one of the spouses being deployed offshore.
This is about fairness. This is about making sure we have the benefits available to support the families who are at home. Without that family support, without that resource for the families, it is hard to find Canadians who want to serve and be deployed for the very reasons that we are talking about today.
Yesterday in the House, the minister was asked a question by the member for . The member asked whether or not there would be retroactive pay for those 15 members of the Canadian Armed Forces who are stationed at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait.
I will quote what the minister said. This is from Hansard. He said:
I would also like to correct the member in terms of the previous government's actions on this. It actually sent troops into Kuwait without the tax-free allowance, something we had taken up.
That is the second time the minister has said this, and it is actually in contradiction to what the minister told me in the past in answering questions on the Order Paper. These were questions on the Order Paper that the minister himself has signed. It said we have documents signed and tabled by the minister saying that all Canadian Forces personnel serving at all Operation Impact Kuwait locations received tax relief effective from October 5, 2014, when we put our troops there, right to September 1, 2016, when he took that away from them. The fact is that tax relief was in place for the entire time we were in government.
Peter MacKay, one of our former ministers of defence, said this had come up on a couple of occasions in the past when we had troops in Afghanistan. The hardship panel, which is made up of civil servants from Foreign Affairs, Treasury Board, and National Defence, goes out there and assesses whether there is risk or hardship living conditions for which deployed troops should receive benefits. On the two occasions it came to the attention of Peter MacKay, he said no. He showed leadership. He said troops may not be down in Kandahar, but if they are up in Kabul they are still in harm's way and still supporting operations for our troops that are on the ground. That is leadership when someone just says no. It is a recommendation. It may be a policy decision by the civil service, but the minister always has the ministerial authority to say no, to say we are going to pay our troops equitably and fairly and recognize the danger they are in, in operations, and recognize the hardship their families are facing at home.
This decision took effect after our troops were already deployed, so they went over there on the promise that they were going to receive the tax breaks and the danger pay. It amounts to more than $1,500 a month, as high as $1,800 a month, which they lost after they deployed. They got there, and halfway through deployment, bang, the government made a decision. The minister did not stop it, and the money was taken right out of our troops' pockets, even though they were under the impression they were going to receive danger pay when they were at Camp Arifjan.
Family members started reaching out to us. It was first brought to our attention on September 2. One family member wrote that this treatment of our service men and women is embarrassing. Military life is exceptionally challenging: her husband makes far less money as a civil engineer in the army than he could in the private sector; their lifestyle is very unstable as they move often; and as he is regularly away for months at a time, her ability to build a career has been sacrificed because they are rarely in the same city for more than three years, and their ability to start a family has been inhibited again and again by the fact that her partner is away for extended periods of time.
She goes on to say that they choose this lifestyle anyway because they are passionate about Canada, a country worth working for, worth continuing to strengthen and build and worth sacrifice; and that to have someone pass a policy that impacts her family in such an essential manner without taking into consideration the implications on the families who readily sacrifice is shocking and disconcerting.
That was the first time we had outreach. Then more family members started reaching out to us in November, because it had not been repealed. They had reached out to Liberal members of Parliament and were getting no replies and no action. They continued to express their concerns that they were out of pocket and they were not getting what was promised to them when they deployed. One family member was told by the MP to go ahead and complain, that no one in Canada cares about them. That is disgusting. That was through one of the local newspapers.
These soldiers in Kuwait, in Camp Arifjan, deserve to be paid, not just have the danger pay reinstated, but retroactively reinstated right to September 1, when they were promised they would receive that pay when they were deployed.
On November 10, I wrote a letter to the minister. I tried to go through the appropriate route to see if he would address it. I did not receive a reply back from the minister. I then raised it with General Vance, the chief of the defence staff, when we were sitting at committee on November 15. I raised it with the minister at committee on December 1, and I still have not received a reply. Here we are today debating it, with no action from the government. I demand that the government retroactively reinstate the danger pay for all of our troops in Kuwait before it makes it an even bigger problem by taking away the danger pay from all of the 300 members of the Canadian Armed Forces who are stationed in Kuwait today.
Madam Speaker, I first want to thank my colleague from , who is not only an expert on defence matters, but also an authority on parliamentary procedure and a resource for newer members, such as myself. I admire him a great deal.
I would like to point out to anyone who may not already know that I spent most of my working life in the Canadian Forces. I was a reservist for 22 years. I commanded the Régiment de la Chaudière. I was also deployed to Cyprus under the UN flag, I participated in a NATO mission, and I taught at the École militaire in Paris. The world of the Canadian Forces is a world I know very well; I grew up in it.
I have also seen the sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform whose hearts are in the right place and who put their lives on the line in service of Canada to protect us and defend our values. I am one of their own. I am also a veteran.
Something else that is not well known outside the forces is that soldiers do not really have any input in the decision-making process. Once they are given an order, they have no choice but to follow through. They cannot say a word. A soldier is not unionized and does not have the right to reply. They have to take it or leave it. It is all or nothing, as the saying goes.
When soldiers are told that they are going to be deployed to the Middle East on a mission like Operation Impact to fight ISIS, they take a deep breath and go. They have no choice. That is how it goes.
In many cases, the soldier is the main, if not the sole, breadwinner in the family. Soldiers are often transferred from one base to another across the country, and it is very hard for the spouses to get work in their field. For every Canadian soldier deployed overseas there is a Canadian household that has to get by with one less person. It is challenging. I commend spouses of soldiers deployed overseas.
Our soldiers are not the only ones who make major sacrifices. Their spouses do too. Couples are separated for months, and soldiers' spouses do not know whether their partner will return from the mission or not. Now they have an additional source of stress: will they be able to make ends meet at the end of the month? When this cut is added to the rising energy bills in some provinces, I can completely understand why my brothers and sisters in arms and their spouses are stressed.
When we consider all of these factors, we can understand our soldiers' resentment and contempt. They are serving abroad in the fight against ISIS, a group that wants to put an end to the world as we know it, and their pay is being cut by up to $1,800 a month. The government is stabbing our soldiers in the back.
The Liberals waited until the soldiers had been deployed to announce that they would no longer be entitled to those benefits, but it gets worse. By withdrawing our CF-18s from the fight against ISIS terrorists and increasing the land component of the mission, the Liberals put our troops at increased risk. Now, the government is taking away the danger pay of soldiers deployed to dangerous areas.
I would also remind members that our partners in the alliance, the other countries fighting with us against ISIS, often share the same facilities with Canadians, which is a financial benefit to them because they have not had cuts.
The mission is then dangerous enough for an American soldier, but not for a Canadian soldier. This double standard shows just how much this Liberal government cares about our men and women in uniform. I would also like to point out that we have raised this issue with the minister several times.
My colleague from wrote to him last November to point out the egregious consequences of this decision. We also brought this issue to the Standing Committee on National Defence when the minister was testifying on the supplementary estimates. His only response was to ask his chief of the defence staff to look into it. For the minister, looking after our soldiers and their well-being means letting a subordinate deal with the issue.
How are the Liberals planning to fix the problem? By cutting compensation paid to all deployed soldiers. Apparently the does not have a lot of influence in cabinet. He has so little, in fact, that as of June, none of our soldiers will be entitled to danger pay. That will be cut off in June. None of the Operation Impact soldiers will be entitled to it. For crying out loud. That makes no sense.
Indeed, the minister is so powerful that, in September, he was unable to reverse the decision to cut the monthly pay and benefits of soldiers stationed at Camp Arifjan by $1,800. That is shameful. I am ashamed of this because it shows a lack of respect for our soldiers.
When we were in power, we made a point of simplifying the process to determine which benefits soldiers were entitled to before they were deployed. Soldiers sent to fight ISIS collected benefits for participating in a dangerous mission because they were entitled. All of our soldiers except those stationed in Qatar have been receiving danger-related benefits since the mission began. Where there is a will, there is a way.
If the Liberals do not believe me, they should listen to their own minister. He confirmed this himself in writing in part (h) of his response to Question No. 600:
All Canadian Armed Forces personnel serving at all Operation IMPACT Kuwait locations received Tax Relief effective 5 Oct 2014...to 1 Sept 2016.
All soldiers involved in the Iraqi deployment received this benefit. The minister therefore misled the House when he said that soldiers sent into Kuwait did not receive danger pay from the beginning of the mission. We have to wonder whether he is trying to hide his own incompetence or that of his colleagues.
This whole affair and these explanations leave me with one question in mind: who in this government is comfortable taking benefits away from our soldiers sent to the Middle East? We know that someone was comfortable with this decision, but we still do not know who. If this was a nuisance, this problem could have been solved relatively quickly, but that does not seem to be the case.
For months, the minister has been saying that he has tasked the chief of the defence staff with reviewing the matter. For months, all our deployed troops have lost their benefits. I will come back to my initial question: who, within this government is comfortable with this decision?
The has been awfully quiet on this. Is he comfortable with this decision? After all, the well-being of our troops seems to be the least of his concerns. He seems more interested in flying in Italian helicopters to visit the Aga Khan than concerning himself with our troops, who have the right to be treated fairly. This says a lot about the Prime Minister's priorities.
What about our millionaire who is on a spending spree, a man of endless deficits, a man with money? Actually, he does not really have any money because it is future generations who will pay. These people do not care about that.
I do not understand how the government can be so despicable to Canadians who are fighting to eradicate ISIS. As Brian Mulroney said about apartheid, the Liberals are on the wrong side of history on this issue and will eventually be judged for their lack of respect.
Who is responsible for this lack of respect? Who thought it was the right decision to cut the benefits of our soldiers who have been sent on a mission to combat ISIS? Was it the ? She loves our troops so much, that she is happy to bleed our armed forces dry by forcing them to buy an interim fleet of outdated Super Hornets that the Royal Canadian Air Force does not need. That decision is going to cripple us for decades to come.
This government's motto seems to be to do less with more. The government is showing a blatant lack of respect for our men and women in uniform.
The reality is that every government member, from the first to the last, is responsible for this appalling situation. We need not look very far to understand why our armed forces are having so much trouble recruiting. Why would anyone want to work for an employer that cuts the salary of its employees after sending them halfway around the world to a place where many people want nothing more than to see them dead? That is what a Liberal government is.
Thanks to the previous government, the troops deployed throughout the Middle East, except those in Qatar, received a tax cut while they were deployed. At some point, the Liberals will have to explain to the children of this country what they have done and tell them that this was the best they could do.
I empathize with our troops and their spouses, who must now live with an unexpected pay cut. I am ashamed of Canada because of this government. I hope that the Liberals will wake up and fix this. If they do not, we will know for sure that they absolutely do not care about our men and women in uniform.
Madam Speaker, first of all, I too would like to pass on my condolences to Master Corporal Barr's family and 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron. In fact, I actually visited the squadron not too long ago. This is actually a second loss for them, within two years of losing Sergeant Mark Salesse, who I personally served with in the same regiment.
Other members have mentioned the work our search and rescue technicians do. I can assure this House and Canadians that our SAR techs are the special forces of the search and rescue community. There are only a few who ever get selected to perform that role.
I rise to address the hon. member's motion for debate on hardship and risk allowances for members of the Canadian Armed Forces. I want to reassure Canadians that the safety and welfare of our women and men in uniform is among the government's top priorities. This is why I made this a priority in the defence policy review.
We do everything in our power to keep our personnel safe here at home and overseas. As someone who has served in a theatre of operations, I can attest to the extraordinary work of our personnel. I care about our members serving in Kuwait. After visiting them, it was clear that we needed to ensure that they are well cared for and compensated for the work they do.
I just want to make clear again that during my visit to Kuwait, within approximately a month of becoming the Minister of National Defence, our troops at Ali Al Salem Air Base did not have tax-free status. It was only in February 2016, when I came back, that we were able to work together with my colleagues, who also care about making sure our troops are well cared for, to get approval for the tax-free allowance. I want to correct some of the members. Our troops did not have tax-free status when they were actually deployed for that operation. It was in February 2016, after my visit to Kuwait.
To my surprise, there is an interdepartmental committee, based on rules set out and changed back in 2014, that had decreased some of the risk allowance. As I told the members in a letter dated February 8, not only did we share their concerns, but there were actions we were looking at taking, and we were happy to discuss it in person, as well. That was dated February 8, 2017. I have a copy of the letter here.
That is why I have been very much engaged on this issue and personally engaged in today's motion. We support the motion related to Canadian Forces members at Camp Arifjan, who were deployed when the risk level was adjusted.
Furthermore, our government is working towards effective compensation for all our troops on deployed missions. That is why I have asked the chief of the defence staff to review our approach to risk assessment and the way those payments are implemented, and I will provide details to our members when they are available.
I appreciate the opportunity to also underline how proud we are of the operational excellence of our military. Canadian servicemen and women have a long and proud tradition of performing valiantly when duty calls. Our soldiers forged their reputation as formidable fighters on the western front during World War I. Canadian troops took part in most of the major battles waged from April 1915 to November 1918, helping to secure the allies' victory.
They repeated this valour in World War II, which saw more than one million Canadians and Newfoundlanders serve in the military. More than 45,000 gave their lives, and another 55,000 were wounded. For a country of just 11 million people at that time, Canada's contribution was remarkable.
Most recently, Canadian troops proved their mettle in the first Gulf War, another important chapter in Canada's history. More than 4,000 Canadian Armed Forces personnel served in the Persian Gulf as part of the international coalition of countries that forced the invading forces of Iraq from neighbouring Kuwait.
Our brave service men and women also made their mark this century battling terrorism and helping bring democracy to Afghanistan. The mission involved over 40,000 of our personnel, the largest deployment since the Second World War. The Canadian Forces' critical role in various wars has put Canada on the world stage, earning the respect and admiration of our allies and opposing forces alike. So too has our unwavering determination to keep the peace. More than 26,000 Canadians answered the call of a newly formed United Nations to help maintain international peace and security in Korea in the early 1950s. Canadians have taken part in repeated peacekeeping missions ever since, from the Suez Canal to the Sinai and Cyprus to Bosnia and Somalia. Time and again, Canadian Armed Forces members have been willing to put their lives at risk, whether courageously defending our country's values or contributing to international peace and security.
This proud heritage carries on today as the world community continues to look to the Canadian Armed Forces in times of need. Our current operations around the globe reinforce that the Canadian Armed Forces does not let countries in a crisis down.
I can point to our personnel's work in the Middle East. This includes Operation Artemis, our counterterrorism and maritime security operations across the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman, and the Indian Ocean.
For Operation Impact, Canada's contribution to the Middle East stabilization force, the multinational coalition to degrade and ultimately defeat Daesh, the Canadian Armed Forces has deployed some 830 highly skilled personnel to conduct air operations, provide training and assistance to Iraqi security forces, increase the capabilities of regional forces, and provide medical services to the coalition forces. As of March 6, the Aurora has surveyed some 5,300 points of interest while the Polaris aircraft has delivered some 40.5 million pounds of fuel to coalition aircraft. This is what our Canadian Armed Forces personnel contribute.
Then there is Operation Frequence in the Sahel region. The Royal Canadian Air Force has a C-17 Globemaster that provides strategic airlift support to France, an important ally to us. It moves personnel and equipment from France to West Africa in the Sahel region to combat Daesh. The Canadian Armed Forces conducted its third flight under Operation Frequence late last month.
Of course, there is Canada's commitment to Operation Reassurance in eastern Europe. The Canadian Armed Forces has about 450 deployed personnel and a navy frigate in central and eastern Europe as part of NATO assurance and deterrence measures. This month, about 200 members of the Operation Reassurance land task force are participating in a multinational exercise, Allied Spirit VI, in Germany. Canadian troops will train closely with our NATO allies and partners to enhance the ability of military forces in Europe to work together. In addition to an infantry company, the LTF is providing logistics and medical support to this exercise.
Earlier this week, along with my colleague from foreign affairs, I announced the extension of Operation Unifier, our military training mission to Ukraine, until the end of March 2019. Just about 200 Canadian Armed Forces members will continue to support the professional development of the Ukrainian armed forces through a range of training activities. We also will enhance strategic institutional reform of Ukraine's defence establishment. It is clear that our outstanding Canadian troops can be counted on to do their part, wherever called on and whatever the risk.
Generation after generation of Canadians have tackled missions facing great risk. Risk is an inherent part of the important jobs that our forces members do on behalf of Canada and Canadians. Therefore risk assessment is not a process we take lightly. As I have previously stated, I have directed the chief of the defence staff, General Vance, to launch a comprehensive review of the rules around tax-free relief for military personnel. It will make recommendations about when and how best to administer the hardship allowance and risk allowance when we send our troops abroad. The highly political approach that the opposition has taken to this issue may give Canadians a false impression that our Canadian men and women are demanding more money in exchange, but this is not the case. Our women and men chose to sacrifice a great deal in order to serve their country. We want to honour that spirit of sacrifice to ensure we have a fair, transparent compensating system for them.
These are the problems that the member opposite had not fixed over the last 10 years. The Conservatives had an opportunity to do so, but they did not.
No less than 15 times in 2013 did Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Chris Alexander, and Peter MacKay promise to fix this problem, and here we are today cleaning up this mess. For 10 years, the Conservatives' lack of investment in the Canadian Armed Forces has left us with this problem. That is one of the reasons why, as part of the defence policy review, we looked at this. I asked my colleagues on the other side to work together on this so we can come up with ideas. If there are any ideas we may not have thought of, we would be able to work together. I am always open to do so and I will always continue to do so. I asked members to continue to work together and this has not been the case.
The hardship and risk for all operations must be reviewed, not just one. We want to make sure that all operations are reviewed. They must reflect the actual conditions and dangers people are exposed to in specific geographic regions and on specific operations. These levels fluctuate as the risks and hardships associated with members' roles change over time, the distinctions that can alter a member's pay and associated tax implications. The safety and security of our men and women on operations are part of a much bigger picture.
When we talk about assessing risk, we are really talking about how we care for our military family. That includes members' support networks and the families and friends who look after them. Members of the military can only perform well if they know their families are supported in their communities while they are away. Their families' welfare is critical to soldiers' peace of mind as they take on overseas assignments. I can attest to this myself.
The Canadian Armed Forces recognize the many contributions of military families and their vital role in sustaining our personnel. That is why the military family services program and the joint personnel support unit are there to keep families strong and resilient. The tools and services they offer address the various dimensions of military families' lives: physical, mental, emotional, and financial. The Canadian Armed Forces also provide access to a broad range of social support networks and professional counselling to aid families of ill, injured, or fallen because we want families to be in the best possible position to support serving members and each other.
It is difficult for people outside the forces to understand the strain on military families. One of the biggest issues they deal with is frequent moves. The government tries to offset the financial hardship that comes with moving under the Canadian Forces integrated relocation program. It provides multiple benefits to military families to pay for their relocation. As well, cost of living adjustments that reflect the realities of financial life in new locations help families when our members are on operations.
Another challenge many family members face is receiving health care as they move across country. Families of active military members do not receive medical care through the Canadian Armed Forces. Only Canadian Armed Forces members receive it. Their families depend on services provided by the provincial and territorial health care systems. They count on family physicians to make space for them in their practices, freeing up a spot, when one military family is posted, to make way for another. I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of interest and support by community leaders anxious to rally behind our serving members and their families.
The Canadian Armed Forces' military family services team benefits from the backing of groups like The College of Family Physicians of Canada, the Canadian military and veteran families leadership circle, The Vanier Institute of the Family, and the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research. My wife is a family doctor and she, too, has been part of this, making sure that she educates other doctors on the challenges of military families so they take more military families into their practices.
The Canadian Armed Forces has joined forces with these organizations to develop educational tools for health practitioners across the country. For instance, I recently helped to launch the “Family Physicians Working with Military Families” physician guide. It was developed to give physicians insight into the challenges facing military families to help doctors provide compassionate and patient-centred care. This will go a long way to ensuring members' families receive the support and services they need.
Equally important is caring for loved ones returning from military missions. Transitioning back to civilian life is often difficult, especially when a member is ill or injured. The Canadian Armed Forces work with Veterans Affairs to improve services for ill and injured military members, veterans, and their families. We are currently looking at what more needs to be done as part of the defence policy review. The Canadian Armed Forces also provide leadership in the area of mental health. We have made significant investments to help people at risk for mental health problems to provide them the assistance they need.
There is no question that we live in challenging and risk-filled times. Just as there can be no doubt about the bravery, commitment, and sacrifice of members of the Canadian Armed Forces who take those challenges on, there is also no doubt that those who dedicate their lives to keeping our values and sovereignty secure deserve the best services, the best care, and the best support possible to help them do their jobs.
Our government's response to the motion before us today reinforces that we all agree that the men and women in the Canadian Armed Forces deserve the best. Neither can there be any debate that this government is committed to supporting our troops, aviators, and sailors, both here at home and wherever they are deployed around the world. Care for forces members is a priority for our government, for our , and for me. We work to keep our service personnel and their families safe and secure wherever their job takes them.
I urge all parties to join us as we support our women and men in uniform, however they serve and wherever the operations might take them.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
In the course of debate so far this morning, I have already had a chance to make some of the points I was going to make at the outset of this speech, and I will repeat them at this point. I am very glad to hear that all sides of the House are prepared to support the motion, which does the obvious. It commits us to provide the support Canadian troops need when they are in the field doing difficult and dangerous work.
I am sorry it has become a bit of a political football, but the good part we can take out of that is that we have a commitment from the minister to act, and I hope that has been accepted in good faith on the Conservative side.
What we do internationally as Canadians is almost always part of a larger partnership. I was privileged to be part of the defence committee trip to Washington, D.C. this week. We talked about those partnerships and how those operated. One of the things we accomplished was to remind Americans of the Canadian-American partnership and to let them know there was concern in Canada about the fact that there may be inadvertent damage to Canadian-American defence co-operation and our defence relations by some of the wilder statements that had been made by the President in his campaign, and some of the things that continued to be said. In all good faith, I do not think they were really directed at Canada, but they may have those negative impacts.
Yesterday we had the great privilege of meeting with Senator John McCain, a meeting that went on for quite a long time. I think we managed to get across the fact that we could not allow our existing partnerships to be disrupted by wild talk about America first. Not only is Canada the main export market in trade for 35 states, but also on the defence industries, we have such melded industries where supply chains go back and forth across the border. America first in defence has always meant America co-operating with Canada, and we have to keep that co-operation in place.
We met with Senator Reid, who is the ranking Democrat on the Senate armed services committee. We were able to talk to him about defence jobs that would be lost in his riding if we disrupted the Canada-American defence production relationships by, again, this wild rhetoric about American first on jobs. The production chains are so integrated in Canada and the United States.
We also met with five representatives. I think one of the biggest surprises for them was when we talked about the number of immigrants in Canada and how our foreign born population was much larger than that in the United States. Again, we raised the inadvertent problems sometimes caused for Canadians who wanted to do business in the United States when the United States talked about securing its borders. I have examples from my riding of people involved in the high-tech industry who were born outside of Canada. They are trying to go back and forth to San Francisco to do their business work and they have been affected, I think, inadvertently. I do not think the President really aimed at these people, but he has caused great problems for them.
When we talk about Canadians serving abroad, as we are in this very narrow motion, we have to remember that has always been in a larger partnership, whether it is with the United States, in this case, in the Middle East, or whether it is through the United Nations in other cases, or through NATO.
Part of what we also discussed was the President's very firm insistence on a 2% GDP spending to be a good partner, self-defined by the U.S., in NATO. We were able to point out that when the United States asked Canada, we showed up in force with very professional soldiers. We showed up with people who knew how to do the difficult work they were asked to do.
One of the things we were also trying to get across was that when we talked about the current mission in the Middle East, Canadians had played a very important role in that mission, and that needed to be remembered in this discussion of relationships.
I am casting a bit broadly here because it is important that the House spends more time talking about the importance of defence and the importance of Canada's international role, particularly in this time when the U.S. President's policies are somewhat erratic, not always well thought out, especially when they are expressed in tweets.
It is very important that Canada act as a force for stability. To do that, it is very important that we have Canadian forces ready and available to serve on these international missions. This means having the training available, doing the recruitment needed, having the equipment needed, and having the support for those troops, both in the field and when they come home.
One of the things we heard from the American side is that they sometimes now question, just as they do for their own forces, their readiness. Have we actually spent enough time making sure that our forces are ready to deploy? Do they have the training? Do they have the equipment? Do they have the munitions? Are we able to transport them into the theatre of operations.
We focused on a very narrow part of this today in the motion, which is whether we are providing adequate compensation to those with difficult and dangerous work, but there is the broader question of how well we are preparing Canadians to take on those roles as part of international partnerships.
I was very proud to be part of that delegation. I think we can congratulate ourselves, rightly, in saying that what we did as a committee was represent Canada in Washington, D.C. and not represent the parties we might represent here in the House. The fact that our meeting with Senator McCain was originally scheduled for half an hour, and at that point he said it was an important meeting and extended the meeting for another half hour, indicated the importance of getting our message across to the Americans that this is an important partnership, that we intend to do our bit, and that we intend to show up when asked.
We are going to have to follow that up on our side with a budget that increases military spending. We were able to say that for once in the House we have a consensus among all the parties that we are not spending enough on those readiness functions. We are not spending enough to make sure that our military is properly equipped. There is more work to do here.
I look forward to seeing the Liberal budget and seeing what progress we are going to make toward that goal of 2% of GDP spending, arbitrary though it is.
When it comes to talking to those in my riding who serve, there is still some reluctance among those in the Canadian Forces to talk to me, as an opposition member, about what is going on, but I have to say that the atmosphere has gotten a lot better on those grounds. People do come forward and talk about the gaps they see in preparedness.
We all know, certainly with the submarine deal we had, that it took us a long time to get those submarines ready. We spent an inordinate amount of money preparing them to serve as part of these joint missions, but they are now ready. They can now serve and are now an important part of what we can contribute to those international coalitions and obligations.
The one part I am concerned about and that my party is concerned about is that one of the traditional things we always did as part of these partnerships, and which was very dangerous work, was peacekeeping work. We had a commitment almost a year ago from the minister that Canada would once again take up peacekeeping work in Africa. This would be another case when our troops would clearly be entitled to fair compensation to take on what would be very difficult missions. It is something the Americans are interested in us doing, as they said very clearly to us in the past few days when we were at the Pentagon, the Senate, or the House of Representatives.
There are some things we can do that the Americans cannot do. Some of those things are very difficult and dangerous, but they may be a little less difficult and dangerous for us as Canadians than they would be for Americans. One of those is peacekeeping, because of Canada's lack of an external colonial past. Despite the internal colonial past we have, we did not have colonies abroad. Another of those is the capabilities we have as a bilingual country with the ability to put forward forces that can work in both English and French. It is particularly important to be able to work in French in Africa.
We have to get this right if we are going to ask our members of the Canadian Forces to go do those jobs, which I believe we should ask them to do. We have to make sure they have the training, the equipment, the compensation, and the support in place before we send them to do this difficult work. I guess my disappointment with today's debate is that we are solving the problem of how we compensate them after they are in the field. I do not want to see us do that again in a future mission. I want to see this sorted out. I take the minister seriously that he is going to sort out this problem. I look forward to seeing in his budget whether we have the resources to actually send Canadians to play an important role as a counterweight to the Americans in this difficult and dangerous world.
Madam Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to the member for , who has been such a good support for me and who has led me to understand so much at the national defence committee, on which I participate with him. It has been an honour to represent the people of my riding of North Island—Powell River in this important work.
I also want to take this opportunity to highlight the dedication of the member for to the Armed Forces, and I thank him for tabling this important motion. The New Democratic Party is proud to support it, as am I.
I am glad to have an opportunity to speak to the government's decision to take away from soldiers fighting against ISIS the tax benefit that provides them with $1,500 to $1,800 per month for the hardships and risks associated with their deployment.
I cannot express how deeply I respect the members of the Canadian Armed Forces. I know that in my own family, with several members participating in different levels of the military, it is something we hold close in our hearts, as we know it is our family and families across Canada who send their family members to represent Canada in the Armed Forces. We can never underestimate what a sacrifice that is, not only for our men and women in uniform but for the men and women who support them.
It is an honour to represent 19 Wing Comox, and it is also deeply humbling. It is the backbone of the community. It is a reminder every day of the protection we enjoy. It is also a reminder of the duty these brave men and women bring to the fabric of our country. It is a reminder of the miracles achieved, even with the constant struggles of underfunding and lack of proper equipment. I deeply admire the tremendous efficiency of the military. It is also a reminder of the close-knit families and the bond that makes Comox so beautiful. It is also a reminder of all of those we have lost.
I have had the chance to forge a relationship with the wing commander in our community. I deeply appreciate the patience and understanding, as I have been taught so much about what happens in our riding and the impact it has on our community.
The battle against ISIS is about intelligence on the ground. I am so proud of the air crews from 19 Wing Comox who are directly involved in Operation Impact, which is Canada's military contribution to the Middle East stabilization force. We are talking about the 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron, which is an integral part of 19 Wing Comox.
With CP-140 Aurora aircraft, our fighting chances are much stronger against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in the Republic of Iraq. The CP-140 Aurora aircraft from 19 Wing will undertake important intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions as well as provide overland strike coordination and armed reconnaissance coordination that will provide critical information to the coalition forces. If required, they can provide search and rescue missions. As of March 4, 2017, Aurora aircraft have conducted 732 reconnaissance missions, and I am incredibly proud of that work.
Our priority in this House is to make sure that those who serve in the Canadian Forces have the training, equipment, and support they need to deal with the difficult and dangerous work we ask them to do on our behalf every day. Unfortunately, successive governments have failed to deliver proper funding to the Armed Forces to sustain the types of deployments to which they are assigned and to make sure they have the resources they need to fulfill their role and to keep themselves safe. This includes the government delivering on efficient procurement and on increasing major capital investments in the Canadian Armed Forces as a whole.
It has been a wonderful experience for me to represent my riding and the base that resides in it. I have had an incredible opportunity to tour the facilities and to meet so many people who serve us. I have been impressed by the military's flexibility, how hard the members work to make sure that Canadians are protected every day, and the pride with which they do what they do internationally. They do not give up. They make things work, regardless of how hard that may be.
It is not just about equipment. The government must also ensure adequate support services are in place for the returning troops to receive the assistance they may need. Just last night this House voted on Bill on post-traumatic stress disorder. I was very happy to see this bill move forward and have the chance to be studied in committee, so we can develop a comprehensive federal framework on post-traumatic stress disorder in Canada. This is so important to supporting our men and women in uniform, and also to supporting their families that face challenges when they come home.
Recently I had the opportunity to represent Canada at a NATO update. One of the things that I came away so proud of was the incredible reputation of the Canadian Armed Forces. We heard again and again about the willingness, the flexibility, the high level of standards and training that our men and women in uniform have. It just made me feel so proud.
We know, every day, that when we stand up in the international world, we can be proud of the people who serve this country, because they have stepped up for us again and again. I think it is so important that we need to make sure we are helping save lives on the ground now by addressing the deepening humanitarian crisis unfolding in Syria and Iraq.
Canada should be a leader in alleviating the suffering of civilians caught in this conflict. Again, what we heard repeatedly is that across the world people who are in crisis trust our amazing soldiers who stand up every day. I think it is important that we look at ways to welcome refugees coming to Canada, especially when we look at the reality of the American President backing away from his country's commitment to refugees. Canada must raise its humanitarian aid to refugee camps in the region, especially in Jordan, as the refugee crisis has continued to bring the Jordanian government and society to the brink of collapse.
This mission requires clarity. I do not know if the Conservatives, while in power, were very honest about the mission from the very beginning. They misled Canadians about our soldiers being involved in the ground combat and failed to make a case for Canada's military involvement.
Now we see the current government following in those footsteps with the latest announcement on the changes to Canada's military role. When the made the initial announcement, he left more questions than answers regarding our role in the fight against ISIS. With increased boots on the ground at the front lines, as the Prime Minister has indicated, we now have to see what commitment Canada has made to a larger military role with no end date and no parameters to define success. It is only right that our men and women in uniform know what they are being asked to do, and know what success looks like.
With Canadian troops deployed in conflict zones, those on the front lines engaging enemy forces should receive the extra tax benefit that previous deployments have received. Canadian troops have seen armed combat in this deployment, yet the government calls this mission advise and assist. We really need to know the truth here. If Canadian troops are engaged in combat operations against Islamic State fighters, how can the government justify taking away the combat tax benefit to our deployed troops?
I just want to close by saying this. I am so proud to see that all members around this House are going to support this motion moving forward. It is so important that, when we ask our men and women in uniform to potentially make the ultimate sacrifice, and when we ask those families to let them go to other countries and face huge challenges, we need to support them in the best way and make sure those families are provided the support they need.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
As the member of Parliament for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, I find it an honour and a privilege to speak to the motion put forth by my defence committee Conservative colleague. As the Conservative defence critic, the Conservative member for the Manitoba riding of is doing an outstanding job on behalf of the women and men who currently serve their country as members of the Canadian Armed Forces. It is a pleasure to work with such an informed, hard-working member of Parliament.
The motion today calls on the federal government to:
show support and appreciation for the brave men and women serving in the Canadian Armed Forces by reversing its decision to take away from the soldiers fighting against ISIS the tax benefit which provides them with $1,500 to $1,800 per month for the hardship and risk associated with their deployment, and to retroactively provide the payment to members stationed at Camp Arifjan whose tax relief was cancelled as of September 1, 2016.
We support our troops 100%. Canadian soldiers are on the front lines in the Middle East in the international war against terrorism. While I believe our soldiers are first class, they are getting second-class treatment from a who devalues the dangers they face every day. All other coalition soldiers receive special compensation through reduced taxation on their earnings. Last September, 15 soldiers serving in Kuwait were told they had to pay an additional $1,500 to $1,800 in taxes. The Liberal government had downgraded the risk level they faced, so in effect the government took away part of the danger pay they earned by increasing taxes. Soldiers thought this was unfair and appealed.
Conservatives thought it was unfair too, so when the Liberal came before our parliamentary defence committee, my colleagues and I had some tough questioning for him. I am going to now quote the minister's own words because they are unambiguous, or so Conservatives on the defence committee thought when we heard them. The Conservative member for said:
The first question I want to ask relates to Operation Impact. I sent you a letter, Minister..., on November 10, about some of our troops that are based in the air task force in Kuwait. We have 300-plus troops there, and 15 of them are at a U.S. air base, Camp Arifjan. They are not getting the same danger pay or income tax considerations as the rest of our troops in Kuwait
Are you committed to fixing this inequity and making sure that they get the same pay and benefits as all of our other troops who are in Operation Impact?
The Liberal replied:
Absolutely. There were even some additional challenges when I first came in and then when I first visited. We were able to address some of the direct things that were under my authority and also with getting the support of the Minister of Finance. For the specific ones that you're talking about, there is some work that the military has to do with Treasury Board as well, but we are working through the complexities based on how this is done to make sure there is more equity for our troops when it comes to deployments.
If members were there with me at that defence committee meeting, hearing the minister's answer, I think they, like me, would have thought that the minister meant that the 15 soldiers were going to see their pay and benefits restored. However, just like with the carbon tax and the health plan tax, when Liberals see an unfair tax situation, their default solution is to raise taxes on everybody, and that is exactly what was done. The did not help the 15 soldiers who lost the tax exemption; the Liberal Party took the exemption away from the rest of the soldiers serving in Kuwait.
For months, the has known that a small group of Canadian soldiers in the fight against international terrorism were having their danger pay clawed back while others on deployment were not. When confronted with this policy by our Conservative critic, the response by the Liberal Party was to claw back everyone's danger pay. Now, more than 300 soldiers will be losing up to $9,000 for a six-month deployment because of a puppet who prefers to take his marching orders from the Prime Minister's puppet master, Gerald Butts, rather than listen to his own conscience. It is beyond belief how quickly the current government minimizes the risk that our soldiers face in the Middle East by clawing back their danger pay. The risk of death is very real. The $1,800 per month the Liberals are ripping away from our troops and their families is peanuts to the government compared to the absence of a loved one who is proudly serving his or her country; that loss is priceless. Also, it is peanuts compared to the billions of dollars that are being wasted on the Prime Minister's foreign aid vanity projects.
When the former Conservative defence minister faced the same problem in Afghanistan, he cut through the bureaucratic red tape to ensure our troops would not get shortchanged.
In 2014, before our troops were ever deployed to Kuwait, our Conservative government ensured they would be qualified for full danger pay. I invite Canadians to fact-check Finance Canada's website.
Liberal apologists are just plain wrong trying to insinuate blame to others for this outrageous clawback policy. The first cuts by the Liberals were done on September 1, 2016. The talk on the military base in Petawawa is to get ready for summer deployment and members are asking me if their pay will be clawed back, if they will have proper uniforms, remembering the decision by the Chrétien Liberals to send soldiers to Afghanistan without proper uniforms, and what else the Liberals will take away.
If the does not stand up to the 's puppet master and take action now, a lot more troops on other missions will be impacted starting this summer. It is wrong for the Liberals to take away $1,800 a month from our troops who are in harm's way. The members of the government really need to ask if the cost of buying a seat on the United Nations Security Council is worth the price of cheapening the lives of our soldiers by clawing back danger pay.
Liberals have no problem borrowing billions, but they undervalue the women and men serving in uniform. When will the stop funding the 's out-of-control spending on the backs of our troops? The defence minister, I want to say, is a proud veteran and should know better than anyone how important danger pay is, not just to our brave women and men in uniform, but to their families back home as well. Soldiers who lived through the decade of darkness of military cutbacks knew that Liberals would cut defence spending when they got in again, but they did not ever imagine that the would literally do it on the backs of military members and their families.
On behalf of the women and men in uniform, I am asking the to quit taking his marching orders from the , fight for our troops, and reinstate all of the danger pay and benefits for all of our troops who are in the fight against international terrorism. I am proud of the work that our soldiers are doing, especially the special operations forces on the ground today, as well as the air combat mission that is taking place based out of Kuwait.
As a member of Parliament whose riding includes Garrison Petawawa, Canada's largest military base and home to the Canadian Special Operations Regiment, I am very sensitive about the treatment of our soldiers. The soldiers and their families are extended family to me. In our community, we share the highs and the lows and, at the end of the day, we stand together.
When the member for was named defence minister, there was hope among our women and men in uniform that maybe, just maybe, by appointing somebody who had actual service in the military reserves, the Liberal Party was trying to make amends for the decade of darkness. The decision to claw back the pay of soldiers serving in a war zone and the mistreatment of injured veterans has eliminated any goodwill the government may have had when the member for Vancouver South was first appointed defence minister.
The disgust of all things Liberal held by the members of the military community who lived through the decade of darkness and the politically motivated decision to disband The Canadian Airborne Regiment has transferred to a new generation of soldiers. Let us not forget the veterans' disgust at the way tomorrow's veterans are being treated. Veterans are not interested in hearing how many new bureaucrats have been hired or that empty offices are being opened in government ridings. They are not interested in listening to the Liberal Party fight the last election using the same tired campaign rhetoric that was used to confuse veterans and their families.
Mindless talking points scripted by the 's Office are not acceptable to veterans. Veterans want action. Veterans are not interested in the fake promises of the . Under the Liberals, our troops feel like they have been kicked in the stomach and their families feel cheated. I call on the Liberal government to finally do its job, reverse that abhorrent decision, and support the brave women and men who stand on guard for us.
Madam Speaker, I really appreciate the opportunity to share time with my esteemed colleague who just spoke, who has proudly represented the folks at CFB Petawawa for years. It is no accident that she has been here longer than most members of Parliament because of her advocacy for members of the Canadian Armed Forces and the military.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to clear the record on some of the misconceptions that have been put before the House by other members, but more importantly, it is an opportunity for the House to do the right thing.
Yesterday, we voted on three private members' bills that went through, and two of them actually went against what the government wanted. The people of Canada, through their elected representatives, got what they actually wanted. If members in the House are listening to the debate on today's motion, Canadians widely across this country would want members of Parliament to do the right thing again and vote in favour of the motion, because the motion corrects an injustice. Whether anyone here wants to admit it or not, it is an injustice.
When Canadian Armed Forces members are asked to serve their country overseas in a theatre of operations, the policy generally speaking is that these members would have tax exempt status for their salary while they are there. There is a process whereby they can go through a bureaucratic rigamarole, a set of rules that are set up to basically do an assessment as to whether somebody should or should not get this tax exempt status, but that does not mean it is right.
What the problem and the issue here is, and this is a pattern of behaviour that we see from the government across the way, is the Liberals hide behind the rules all the time and then they blame the rules when things politically go wrong for them. Without having the good common sense to know what the right thing to do is, when they are only guided by a set of rules because they do not have a compass when it comes to ethical lapses, we know they are going to change the rules because it must be the rules' fault because they cannot get it right because the rules are not right. They do not have a compass when it comes to genetic discrimination. They have to hide behind the rules again. They do not have a compass when it comes to Wynn's law. They do not have a compass when it comes to this issue because this is what Canadians would expect their members of Parliament to do.
Members of Parliament, especially those like me who travel great distances to come here, get thousands of dollars a year to accommodate us for our living expenses while we are away to help us do our jobs better. We are not home on Tuesday night to mow the lawn or shovel the driveway and we cannot be out of pocket for the extra living expenses that come from our being away from our homes, because those resources from our pay and salary need to support our families back in our ridings where we actually live.
This is the exact same issue. It is a different way of dealing with it, but it is the exact same issue. These men and women put their lives on the line to serve us. We can have debates about whether or not they should or should not be in a particular theatre of operations, but that is not the point. The reality is these soldiers in the Canadian Armed Forces are deployed right now and 15 of them have lost this benefit going back to September of last year. Another 300 of them are slated to lose these same benefits this year. This is absolutely unacceptable.
We need the House and Liberal members to take the bull by the horns and realize the solution is simple. Ask the and ask the , simply with the stroke of a pen, to fix this problem. This is what happened when the Conservatives were in government. It was brought to the attention at that time to the minister of veterans affairs, the minister of defence. “When the interdepartmental committee recommended the same benefits be stripped” this was back when Stephen Harper was the prime minister, “from our troops who were serving in Afghanistan, we cut through the red tape to ensure these troops received exactly what they deserve”.
I will quote what was said at the time, because the folks who were in charge at the time actually had a compass on this issue. They knew what the right thing to do was. They did not run and hide behind the rules.
“This decision about hardship and risk pay was made by officials; we believe it is incorrect, and the government intends to re-examine it.” This is from the press secretary of former defence minister Peter MacKay on April 10, 2013. “This decision was not appropriate, and we are asking for this decision to be reviewed”. This was said by the then veterans affairs minister on April 10.
“Our troops left with an agreed-upon salary, including risk benefits for those missions, and now halfway through their deployment this government is making significant reductions to the income on which they and their families depend.” That was said by Liberal Senator Roméo Dallaire.
When our troops were overpaid by a departmental error, former defence minister Peter MacKay demonstrated how we stood on guard for those who defended us, and we did not ask them to pay that back. Rather than penalize the soldiers who were deployed overseas, who were overpaid by $1,600, we had a compass that said it would be inappropriate to even ask them for the slight overpayment back. It was departmental error, an error that was no fault of the soldiers who were serving overseas and who had probably already spent or invested that money. We are not talking about millions or billions of dollars. We are talking about 15 soldiers receiving about $1,500 to $1,800 a month, and another 300 soldiers.
For a government that actually has no compass when it comes to balancing the books, and does not have one for any foreseeable future, surely the Liberal argument cannot be that we will balance the budget on the backs of soldiers and veterans. We have seen this before. However, I do not see any intention from the government across the way to balance the books.
If we ask Canadians what issue would be so compelling that the government would even consider going into debt for, surely it would be to compensate the men and women in out Canadian Armed Forces who stand on guard for us on a day-to-day basis, and those veterans who have served valiantly in the past. If there were ever a group in Canada that we needed to go into debt for or run a deficit for, those are the people we need to do that for.
We need the unanimous support of the House for this motion. The issue is not what he or she has said, or this is what was done years ago, or this is what has been done throughout the years. The issue is that there has been an injustice done to 15 soldiers serving overseas, and that there is about to be another injustice done to 300 more, we can fix that injustice. This is what Canadians elected us for and sent us to this place to do.
While I am on my feet, I want to talk a bit about something that is going on in my riding, and why this issue is so important and so near and dear to my heart. The mission in Afghanistan, the current mission notwithstanding, was a mission of a next generation of Canadians. We have to go back to the Korean War, the Cold War, and World War II for previous generations of Canadians. The last Canadian soldier killed in the mission in Afghanistan was Master Corporal Byron Greff from my riding and my hometown of Lacombe, Alberta. Right now I am asking for support from anyone across the country or who is watching today. There is a project in place to remember that sacrifice by bringing a light armoured vehicle monument to my home community of Lacombe. Stickers are being sold and there are other various fundraising campaigns. I think this will take off for the same sentiments that are being discussed in the House today.
The people of my community and of Canada really want to support the men and women in the Canadian Armed Forces. I know I can count on that kind of support from my community. I also know I can count on the same kind of support from my colleagues in the House, across all political divides, when it comes time to vote on this motion. This is the right thing to do.
Mr. Speaker, there is a difference between this government and the former Harper government. We believe it is important that we work with our global partners. In working with our global partners, it was determined this was the best way in which Canada could perform at that site. All in all, things are going quite well, and it was a smart decision made by this government.
I want to pick up on a couple of points. It is important that we recognize the role members of our Canadian Forces play. I want to quote what the said back on February 14, because it really highlights the importance of our Canadian Forces. He said:
We are focused on delivering what is necessary in terms of equipment, in terms of support, and in terms of honour and value to the extraordinary men and women who serve this country on the front lines and everywhere around the world.
This government has been consistent from day one in wanting to be there in a very real and tangible way in supporting our troops.
We have a , a decorated veteran from Afghanistan, among many other things, who has done an incredible job in picking up what was left from the Conservative Party and moving us forward. The issue we are debating today is an excellent example of that.
I listened to members across the way as they tried to change history. At times it is important we ensure that listeners and others who might be reviewing what is taking place are aware of the facts.
I pointed out a fact and the member for responded by closing her eyes, being completely blind to the truth. She continued to spread concerns or thoughts that were stretching the limits of truth.
I should give a bit of a review of what we are talking about.
We all recognize the important and incredible work that members of our Canadian Forces do for us abroad and in Canada. At times, there is a certain amount of a risk level or a hardship level that our troops have to endure. We have a special committee of individuals, which is made up of a representative from the RCMP, multiple members of the Canadian Forces, along with a government representative from Treasury Board, quite possibly, who sit on this hardship committee. There is a very robust system they have to go through to make an evaluation. When we deploy someone overseas, they look at the hardship and other risks. Based on that criteria and robust approach, they are able to come up with an assessment and a recommendation to the government.
I should have said at the very beginning, Mr. Speaker, that I will be splitting my time with the member for ,
That committee of experts understands the situations at hand. It is important to recognize that this evaluation is done after deployment.
Former prime minister, Stephen Harper, sent members of the forces to Kuwait back in September 2014. Conservative members across the way are trying leave the impression that along with that deployment went a government directive saying that hardship and risk allowance were going to be provided for them. That is not what took place. The previous government did not say that it would give a hardship and risk allowance when it deployed the troops back in September 2014.
In fact, what had actually taken place was that there was a hardship committee, which had been established for many years, that had to do an evaluation. That evaluation took place and conclusions were drawn, I believe, some time in June 2015. At the time, it was still Prime Minister Stephen Harper. There was no decision by the former government, within days or weeks or even months of receiving it, to give what we often refer to as danger pay to our men and women overseas in Kuwait. There was no decision on the Conservatives' part to make that immediate decision and give that pay.
In fact, I thought it was interesting that the former Conservative minister of defence said something to the effect of, “The Conservatives say just do it”. I would suggest that Stephen Harper did not do it. In fact, October 2014 is when the troops were sent. The Conservatives are telling our and our government to just do it. They did not just do it.
After the election came to an end and a new government was in place, a litany of priorities were brought to the table of the government. I would argue that the did his job and brought this issue to the table. It was the current who brought the issue to the attention of the Minister of Finance, and then we actually had it passed in 2016. That was just last year. It was this government that made it retroactive. The irony is that the Conservative Party is trying to take credit for what was clearly a Liberal decision based on a sound recommendation from a committee.
Now the Conservatives are trying to rewrite history and say that the government needs to do this. We have had the once again come to the table and clearly indicate to this House that this is a policy the Harper government did not want to change. We have a Liberal administration saying that it will review this policy. That is where we are today. That policy is being reviewed by this government, and at some point, there will be some results from that policy. However, the Conservatives are trying to give the impression that they are the ones who truly care about this issue, when they had a chance to act and they failed to do so. It was this government that took action and made it retroactive. The Conservatives try to come across as more sensitive than the current government. I would suggest that this is false.
We understand what is taking place. We appreciate the fact that risk levels change. If the risk factors change and it goes down, that means our men and women abroad are not having to endure the same level of personal risk or hardship, but it is not up to me to make that determination. I have confidence in the hardship and risk committee that is made up of professionals.
I believe that the government is doing what is responsible. We understand. We are the ones who made it retroactive. We understand that there is a need to review the policy. The is doing just that. At the end of the day, we will wait and see what comes of that review.
I appreciate the opportunity to share a few thoughts on the issue.
Mr. Speaker, consensus in this House can be elusive.
However, on one point we all agree: our women and men in uniform deserve our highest respect. We must support our soldiers deployed around the world. We must recognize the dangers and discomforts they face, and we must compensate them fairly for their sacrifices.
The Department of National Defence has in place an impartial and transparent process to ensure that we do. Every member deployed receives a comprehensive compensation and benefits package. Sometimes that package includes a hardship allowance and a risk allowance, two monthly payments to compensate for conditions that are more uncomfortable, more stressful and more unsafe than those on a base here at home.
Decisions regarding whether a mission warrants those allowances do not happen at the bureaucratic level. The Treasury Board Secretariat is at the table, but in the chairperson's seat is a brigadier general. All around the chairperson are lieutenant colonels, majors, RCMP officers, women and men in uniform who have been on tour, who know the realities of combat, and who have made the same sacrifices we ask of our current troops abroad.
What is more, no one on the committee is answerable to the chain of command. Everyone can make their decisions without outside influence, without fear of reprisal, and without concern for operating budgets. Cost is never a factor. The committee's sole interest, then, is to determine hardship and risk levels that reflect the actual conditions on the ground, assign hardship and risk levels that represent the true stresses and hazards in the field, and lastly, assign hardship and risk levels that are objective and defensible.
The committee looks at 21 individual factors that affect a mission’s hardship score. The committee weighs everything from the quality of drinking water and the availability and cleanliness of washrooms to the receptiveness of the local population and the demands of soldiers’ daily routines. Similarly the committee weighs six factors for the risk score: from civic instability and the threat posed by hostile forces to the presence of infectious diseases and the risk of a natural disaster. The committee examines the probability of each hazard and considers the severity of the possible impact on our troops.
The evidence for their conditions? It comes straight from the source. Thirty days after the start of a new mission, the committee requests information directly from the field. In the case of the operations in Kuwait, senior military officials submitted a 20-page report on the conditions in the theatre of operations.
A doctor familiar with the mission, and an intelligence officer with his ear to the ground in the Middle East provided insights, too. At the time, soldiers were deployed to three locations in Kuwait: first, where our CP-140 Aurora and CC-150 aircraft were based; second, where our CF-18 fighters took off and landed; and third, where a small group of staff people was posted. Effective October 2014, all three were deemed medium risk. However, as you are well aware the security situation in the region is fluid.
Circumstances change continually and, in some regards, change dramatically.
For this reason, the committee reviews levels regularly, with regard to risk and difficulty, to ensure that they continue to reflect the actual conditions of a specific operation in a specific location. When the committee reassessed the risk scores for Kuwait in March 2016, all three operations dropped slightly. Two slipped just below the medium-risk threshold. They dropped again for one of the operations six months later, when conditions had changed significantly enough to warrant yet another review.
Finally, in December 2016, the committee reviewed a combined assessment for the two locations in Kuwait where personnel are deployed for Operation Impact. The hardship level went up, and the allowances paid to soldiers went up immediately too. The risk level, however, went down.
Soldiers will continue to receive risk allowances based on the earlier, higher rate for six months following that decision. In other words, personnel will have six months' grace, until June 2017, before they see the actual risk score reflected on their paycheques. As a result, soldiers have not yet seen any changes in their pay.
For some members of the House, the issue is not about the pay itself but rather the applicable tax break. The Income Tax Act states in black and white that risk allowances for medium- and high-risk missions are eligible for tax relief. Any mission with a risk score of 2.50 or higher receives the relief automatically. Missions that score between 2.00 and 2.49 receive the relief when the designates them as medium risk.
The has always asked the for that “medium risk” designation for our troops. He has always sought that tax break for our soldiers, and he has always received it. Once a mission’s risk level falls below medium-risk threshold, however, it is out of the ’s hands.
The Income Tax Act simply does not allow for tax breaks on relatively low-risk missions. The two locations in Kuwait now fall within that category. Brigadier Generals, Commanders, Lieutenant Colonels, and representatives from the Treasury Board Secretariat agree on this.
The committee followed every rule in the book to ensure the same considerations are given to all service members everywhere. Their assessments specific to the postings in Kuwait are fair, objective, and rooted in the realities on the ground. Should those realities change, we will reassess the country’s hardship and risk levels.
In the meantime, we will continue to support our troops, and we will continue to provide first-rate compensation and benefits packages. We will continue to ensure our soldiers benefit personally, professionally, and financially from their hard, much appreciated, and much respected work.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I would like to begin today by expressing my condolences to the family of Master Corporal Alfred Barr and those he served with. He was a member of 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, part of 17 Wing Winnipeg. He died in a training accident near Yorkton, Saskatchewan, yesterday. I would like to express my sincere condolences to his family, those he served with in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and all Canadian Armed Forces.
It highlights that, regardless of whether our forces members are engaged in training missions or active missions around the world, every day they face dangers, just as our first responders do when they put on the uniform to go out and protect us, as members of the Canadian Armed Forces do. They face dangers every day. I want to express my sympathies to his family and his colleagues.
I also want to highlight and express gratitude to the member for and his deputy defence critic, the member for , for putting this motion forward today in Parliament. Quite frankly, I am having a tough time believing that we are actually spending a day in Parliament debating whether our forces, deployed overseas in danger zones, are going to have tax-free benefits taken away from them. I find it unbelievable that we are actually debating that.
With a simple stroke of a pen, the could advise the that this can be done. It is that simple. We heard this morning from other members of a similar situation that happened with the hon. Peter MacKay. He made sure that a wrong was righted with respect to Canadian Forces members and tax-free allowances for danger pay. It is incredible to me that we are actually spending time debating this issue today.
Base Borden is in close proximity to the area that I represent. The base is an integral part of the community. It employs 3,200 military members and 1,500 civilian members. It also houses the military generation training group, which 16,000 Canadian Forces members go through annually, and many of them spend a lot of time in the community. The city of Barrie and all surrounding cities in central Ontario, in fact, have a great affinity for the base and the contributions it makes to all communities in central Ontario. I want to recognize as well Colonel McGarry, who is the base commander, and honorary Colonel Jamie Massie for the work that they do in ensuring that all of the military and civilian communities integrate extremely well, as they do.
Why are we here today? The answer is simple. Our forces members have been notified that they are going to have some tax-free allowances taken away from them. A CTV story in September indicated that 300 Canadian Forces personnel in Kuwait were losing a tax break of up to $1,800 a month after the military downgraded the risk assessment of their mission, even though some personnel regularly enter Iraq as part of their duties.
I will remind members of just how dangerous these regions are. I understand that it is not Iraq, but any time people put uniforms on, any time they are deployed around the world, the men and women who serve so bravely in our Canadian Forces are in danger. Just yesterday in Kabul, ISIS militants disguised as doctors killed 38 people in a Kabul hospital attack. Those are the types of threats that exist on a day in, day out basis.
To diminish in any way the dangers that our men and women face is disingenuous to them, a disservice to them. Regardless of where our troops are deployed, irrespective of the dangers they face, the least we can do from a monetary standpoint is ensure that they get what they deserve and, more importantly, that their families get what they deserve.
I am our party's critic for veterans affairs and I sit on the veterans affairs committee. We have heard a lot of testimony dealing with the transitional aspects of moving from military life to civilian life, PTSD, and occupational stress injuries and how they affect the mental health of our soldiers. These have an equal effect on their families, families that are struggling day in and day out dealing with the fact that their loved ones are deployed overseas, not knowing what they are doing and the dangers they are facing. Think of the added stress on those family members when they are not being compensated in the manner in which they should be.
As I was listening to the debate in my office this morning, I went through some figures. This issue really came up in February, although it has been ongoing since last September. Our defence critic has been speaking to the minister about this. He initiated an Order Paper question. I looked at the numbers this morning and found that, since February 15, almost $1.3 billion has been doled out by the Liberal government for various projects across the country, and that does not include the $650 million that was issued yesterday for reproductive and health issues. The retroactive cost of this benefit to the men and women who serve our country is roughly $3 million, and since this issue came up, the Liberal government has doled out $1.3 billion and $650 million yesterday.
Why? That is the question. Why are we not looking after our men and women in uniform? A simple stroke of the pen would solve this issue. To the families who serve, we have an obligation to help them while their men and women are serving overseas.
What does it say to the families of our men and women who serve, and to those who served, when our government will not look after their financial needs? Not properly compensating them, in this case with respect to tax-free allowances, somehow diminishes the risk that they face overseas. I would suggest that it causes incredible distrust of the government. It causes morale issues among those who are serving. In fact, it would cause morale issues for those who are here at home. It also affects recruitment and the ability to attract people to our Canadian Forces. What does it to say to our recruitment efforts if the government is not going to look after our members and diminishes the role they play by not properly compensating them? Why would I want to get involved in the Canadian Forces if I think that my government does not have my back if I am deployed, and more importantly, it does not have my family's back if I am deployed? It is a great cause for concern.
This is the third time I have said this today. We are spending all day debating this. This issue has been going on since last September. The government has said that it is doing consultations and that it is going to review it. One stroke of a pen would solve this issue.
I am asking the government, on behalf of the families of Canadian Forces members, on behalf of those who serve so bravely, to resolve the problem, please.
Mr. Speaker, for those who are listening today, the Liberal government made the decision to revoke a tax benefit that provides $1,500 to $1,800 per month to Canadian soldiers currently deployed in the fight against ISIS and stationed in Kuwait. The motion before us today asks the House to:
call on the government to show support and appreciation for the brave men and women serving in the Canadian Armed Forces by reversing its decision to take away from the soldiers fighting against ISIS the tax benefit which provides them with [this tax benefit] for the hardship and risk associated with their deployment, and to retroactively provide the payment to members stationed at [this installation] whose tax relief was cancelled as of September 1, 2016.
This seems fairly reasonable to me, and I certainly hope that all members in the House will support this, for several reasons.
I want to leave the technical reasons to the end of my speech, but I want to talk a bit about a more macro-level principle. I actually have a great amount of concern about Canadians' view of the military, its role, and its necessity, and some of the decisions that have been made in this Parliament around the military's utility and function.
Last Remembrance Day, a friend who has served in the military sent me a blog post written by the wife of a deployed soldier. In it, she tried to describe their relationships and the expectations of the struggles borne by both of them. For him it is the mental and physical anguish faced by somebody who is deployed, and for her it is the loss and the loneliness that inevitably punctuate their relationships. What really struck me about this post was that it closed with this “it is worth it because” statement: that the faith placed in their trials is for the sustainment of the greater good. What really struck me about it was that the woman who was writing this post was writing it from a place of it being a personal struggle for the two of them, one that should be borne in private. Letting our men and women in uniform get to the point where the struggles they are bearing become something that is private and that the entire community and our country do not support or get behind is a source of great worry and should be of great shame for all Canadians.
I am concerned that it is both a blessing and a curse that, as a country, we are three generations removed from any sort of major conflict within our own borders or full-on global warfare. A lot of Canadians, especially younger generations of Canadians—certainly my cohort and my contemporaries—live in a world where we think war is something that happens someplace else. We think that the peace and the freedoms we have in Canada are static and unchanging and that they cannot be threatened.
If there is one thing I have learned in the six years of acting as an elected official and having gone to some of the conflict areas and having talked to people and been involved in votes regarding the deployment of our men and women in uniform, it is that this assumption and generality could not be further from the truth. The reality is that many of the rights we enjoy here in Canada are fragile and they have to be maintained. While we rely on and value innovators and entrepreneurs in our country who grow our economy, the reality is that the people who maintain those freedoms are our men and women in uniform. I sometime think that we are getting to a point in the history of our country when we are forgetting that. It becomes removed from our everyday thinking. I see it in things such as, across two governments, allowing our bureaucracy to drag its heels on procurement, making very poor decisions. Cabinet ministers have to be right on top of their bureaucrats because they are going to put up decisions that make sense to them, that are made in a vacuum, and that are not in the best interests of our men and women in uniform. I really feel this is what happened here today. I feel that a bureaucratic committee sat around and made a decision for some men and women in uniform who are standing up for what is good and right and protecting our freedoms, and the bureaucrats are not really appreciating the actual cost of that.
I spoke to a friend this morning who has served in several deployments as part of the military, and I asked why this is important.
He made the point that it is all great for this committee to make the decision, or for us to sit here and debate this and vote against it one way or another, but “...as you sit in your nice offices, we're sitting here smelling open pit burns”. I had to ask him what that was. It is when our troops have to burn their sewage with jet fuel.
They have F-16 Hellcats flying in at two o'clock in the morning, wonderful mess hall food going through them with a level of gastrointestinal distress, chemical alarms, air raid sirens, and the risk of car bombs coming in. We get to wear civilian clothes. They do not. Kuwait, where these men and women are stationed right now, is not Canada, everything costs more for them. If they do get a pass, things are going to cost a lot more.
To paraphrase the conversation, they might not be getting shot at every day, but “the risk is really high”. There is a cost both financially and emotionally that is borne by our men and women who are over there and by their families back at home.
Bureaucrats might be sitting in the government lobby right now looking at some sort of technical matrix around risk assessment levels. I am looking at the fact that American soldiers are getting this. I am not quite sure about the difference in salary levels, fair enough, but they are certainly getting tax exemption status.
I pulled up our travel advisory for Kuwait. It talks about a high risk of terrorism. This is not an environment that we would perhaps willingly go into that our men and women in uniform are going into, so this small tax exemption is something that is absolutely reasonable. Going back to my earlier statement, it shows that Canadians understand the true cost of bearing this burden by our men and women in uniform.
I have a few other points, very quickly. The government is probably going to post a budget with close to a $50-billion deficit. To my colleague's point, I cannot understand why it would not, with a stroke of a pen, support our men and women in uniform with this decision. There is precedent for this decision. When we were in government, we had a similar discussion around troops who were deployed in Afghanistan. A decision was made to do essentially what the motion today calls for.
The one thing I want to highlight that was really concerning for me is that the decision to revoke this tax benefit was made after troops had agreed to deploy. In cutting the benefits, the Liberals have cheated our troops and their families out of hard-earned money that they expected, counted on, and deserved. I cannot imagine sending someone out to serve in such a stressful situation, asking them to serve our country and to acknowledge the fact that Canadian freedoms are not a static thing, and then say, “Oh, by the way, a committee of bureaucrats has changed your risk level and you're not getting this, what you budgeted for”.
Our men and women in uniform and their families have to make tough decisions when it comes to budgeting. For some people in the chamber, $1,500 to $1,800 a month might not seem like a lot, but it sure is to the families of these people.
It is really shameful that we are having this discussion here today. I am embarrassed that I have to stand here and say the government is about to post this giant deficit, giving money to everything but this. I just do not understand.
This is the second time where elected officials have had to intervene in a situation like this. I would suggest that the process does not work and there are some seriously out of touch DND bureaucrats who are making these decisions. When I looked through the letter justifying this, which the sent my colleague from Manitoba who is our defence critic, I could tell that a bureaucrat wrote the letter. There is no compassion in it. It is all, “we applied a matrix and blah, blah, blah, risk level”. The Department of National Defence spends billions of dollars on bureaucrats telling us why we cannot build ships. Surely, they can give $1,500 a month in tax benefits to our men and women who are actually doing what DND is supposed to do. I really feel like this is a no-brainer.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
As the motion before this House today acknowledges, Operation Impact carries risk and our fight against ISIL carries risk. All deployments involve an element of risk, and on that there really is no debate.
I am happy to speak in support of the motion this afternoon and also to support our government, which is also in favour of the motion.
Whatever the mission, we cannot eliminate risk entirely. What we can do is protect our troops by preparing them well. This means, of course, giving them the right training and equipment to do their job. It also means making sure that they receive timely mental and physical health care that meets their specific needs.
The military health services that Canada provides are mission-tailored. They are different for every deployment, and their size and nature differs on a case-by-case basis.
How is that done? The and the Canadian Armed Forces consult the host country and our allies on the ground. They look at things like geography, from the location of our operations and the isolation of our troops to the harshness of the environment. They also take into consideration factors such as the presence or absence of ally medical facilities in the region, the travel restrictions imposed by local authorities, and ease of travel. They also analyze every security threat.
All of these considerations, not to mention the number of Canadian military personnel who will be deployed, help to determine the services that are put in place for our men and women in uniform.
As members can well appreciate, these services can take any number of forms. The driving force, however, is always the same, which is to ensure that members have access to excellent care and support before, during, and after a mission.
Before they can confirm their assignment, CF members have to go through a pre-deployment screen with our military health professionals. The purpose of this screening is to flag any pre-existing condition that could lead to problems during the mission. A simple earache, for instance, can be very disruptive to deployed members, and it can keep them from doing their job effectively. For a pilot, however, it could even cloud his or her judgment and have catastrophic consequences. Members also get dental screenings prior to departure as well as vaccinations against current and emerging infectious diseases in the region where they will be deployed.
Another important purpose of the pre-deployment screening is to make sure that each member is well and ready to go on mission from a psychosocial perspective. Lessons learned from past missions have taught us that most stress injuries are not caused by trauma alone. We know that the risk of stress injuries is higher when a member has experienced mental health issues prior to deployment, such as chronic anxiety problems, or when a member is in a difficult social or family context, such as tensions in a marriage or stress associated with taking care of an ill parent. Part of the pre-deployment screening process is to help members identify any pre-existing concern that should be addressed prior to deployment.
Personnel also go on a half-day training with a group of peers as part of the road to mental readiness program. This training gives members new techniques to cope with stressors; new tools, such as goal setting, visualization, and self-talk to build resistance; and new strategies to harness their inner strength to rebound from possible challenges during the mission.
Another key lesson that CF members take from this training is knowing when they feel good and when they should seek help.
The Canadian Armed Forces have cleared away many obstacles to seeking help. For too long, asking for help was seen as a sign of weakness. Our CF members suffered in silence for fear of losing their colleagues' trust or jeopardizing their career.
However, the organization has changed. Much progress has been made toward creating a culture in which everyone is comfortable saying they are not okay. At no point are Canadian military members left on their own without any resources, not even after their role in a mission is over.
As for people who leave the military for medical reasons, the and the Canadian Armed Forces work closely with Veterans Affairs Canada and other partners to facilitate a successful transition to civilian life.
These measures are taken so that injured or sick CF members and their families have access to benefits, services and compensation.
For other soldiers, the return home can, in and of itself, be a significant stressor. Readjusting to life in Canada and reuniting with loved ones after experiencing radically different realities can be hard, so the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces make sure to provide adequate support at that point as well. Within three to six months, members have a post-deployment screening with physical and mental health professionals, whose role is quite simply to make sure that they are well in all aspects of their lives, to help them transition to a normal life, to rebuild healthy relationships with their families, and to help flag any signs of an operational stress injury.
For serving members who need help, the Department of National Defence has made excellent specialized services available. There are 26 mental health clinics and seven operational trauma and stress support centres located on military bases across Canada. In all, there are 33 sites to ensure that ill and injured personnel receive high-quality support, regardless of the communities they return to in Canada. Personnel can also call the 1-800 number 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. All of these services, of course, are free of charge.
One of Canada's most valuable and cherished resources is our women and men in uniform. The unfortunate reality is that some become ill or injured while in service. The Canadian Armed Forces are dedicated to ensuring that each and every one of these members receives high-quality care and support. Not only are the Armed Forces duty bound to do so, they are proud to help our sailors, soldiers, and aviators get the most from their careers and their lives.
Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to contribute to today's discussion on how Canada shows support for the members of our Armed Forces. I would like to take a few moments today to highlight some of that work and to remind my fellow members just how integral the Canadian Armed Forces are to our safety and well-being. As parliamentarians, as the representatives of our fellow Canadians, our first responsibility is to those here at home. It is to the safety and security of our country and its citizens and their prosperity.
For the Canadian Armed Forces, the priority is the same. While their international operations tend to get the most attention, there are tens of thousands of military men and women working here at home every day in defence of our country and our continent, on land, at sea, and in the air. The most familiar of these, and one of the most important, is undoubtedly our contribution to the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD. As the world's first and most successful bi-national command, it is an important link with our American friends to the south and a critical piece in the system of systems that defends our airspace and provides surveillance of our maritime approaches. This year, 2017, marks the 60th anniversary of this incredible partnership, and it is only growing stronger as NORAD evolves to deal with the modern security environment.
Canada is also working hard with our allies on several missions. Three have been very much in the news of late. We recently extended our commitment to Operation Unifier in Ukraine. Canada is deploying approximately 200 Canadian Armed Forces personnel to Ukraine until the end of March 2019. Through Operation Unifier, we are helping Ukraine build the capabilities it needs to maintain its sovereignty, security, and stability.
Canadian troops are good trainers and mentors, and they are putting those skills to use by sharing their knowledge and expertise with Ukrainian armed forces members. So far we have trained more than 3,200 Ukrainian soldiers, and most of them received tactical infantry training. However, Canada has also delivered more than 90 training programs since the mission began in 2015. Many taught specialized skills and capabilities, such as explosive ordnance disposal, medical training, and my personal favourite, military logistics.
Canada's assistance to Ukraine also includes non-lethal military equipment to enhance the capabilities of the Ukrainian armed forces. With more than a million Canadians of Ukrainian descent, we can imagine that this is a mission that is very important to them, but it is also a mission that is important to all Canadians.
What is happening in Ukraine threatens border security in the region, and it is deeply concerning to our NATO allies in Europe. NATO is a cornerstone of Canada's defence policy, and the strength of the alliance lies in collective defence. Threats to the security of some of our members matter to all members.
Operation Reassurance is Canada's mission in support of our NATO allies and partners in eastern Europe. As part of Operation Reassurance, we participated in NATO Baltic air policing, a defensive mission to protect our allies' airspace. The air task force also deployed on a training mission in Romania, and they worked to improve interoperability with allied air forces. That training is critical to the ability of NATO allies to fight alongside each other. It also gives the Royal Canadian Air Force invaluable experience.
Canada will be deploying another air task force to Iceland and Romania this year. The CF-18s we are sending will continue air policing duties, and they will also continue to train with our allies.
The Royal Canadian Navy has contributed to Operation Reassurance as well. Our maritime task force has kept a constant presence in the region as part of the Standing NATO Maritime Group. HMCS St. John's recently replaced HMCS Charlottetown as part of our contribution to the Standing NATO Maritime Group, and just last month, HMCS St. John's wrapped up three weeks of training in the Black Sea with allied and partner nations.
The last component of Operation Reassurance is the land task force. It first deployed almost three years ago, in May 2014, and the seventh rotation of Canadian soldiers arrived in Poland last month. They are now participating in the multinational exercise Allied Spirit VI, in Germany.
Canada is demonstrating its commitment to NATO by sending our brave women and men in uniform on Operation Reassurance. I think I speak for all of us when I say “Bravo Zulu” for the great work with our allies.
I would like to update the House on Operation Impact, which is our effort to dismantle and defeat Daesh. I think it is clear to the hon. members present that Daesh is a scourge and a threat to regional and international security. We know it, our allies know it, and the world knows it. We are doing our part in the efforts to degrade, and ultimately defeat it.
Joint Task Force-Iraq is responsible for command and control of Operation Impact, as well as for the coordination of operations at coalition headquarters. Joint Task Force-Iraq is collecting and processing intelligence, helping to plan and execute military operations, and facilitating the hosting of a tactical aviation detachment and medical facility.
In the air, the Royal Canadian Air Force has carried out 2,802 sorties from its locations in Kuwait. It has delivered fuel to allied aircraft and has carried out critical reconnaissance flights.
Meanwhile, on the ground, members from the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command are training, advising, and assisting Iraqi forces. They are developing the skills of Iraqi officers so they can effectively fight Daesh and build a more secure country and region.
We must support our soldiers deployed around the world. We must recognize the dangers and discomforts they face. We must compensate them fairly for their sacrifices.
The Department of National Defence has in place an independent and impartial process to ensure that we do. Every member deployed receives a comprehensive compensation and benefits package, and sometimes that package includes a hardship allowance and a risk allowance, two monthly payments to compensate for conditions that are more uncomfortable, more stressful, and more unsafe than those on a base here at home.
We reassess the country's hardship and risk levels on a regular basis. In the meantime, we will ensure that the people who were deployed to Arifjan when the risk level was last assessed will continue to receive the same allowances. We will continue to support our troops. We will continue to provide first-rate compensation and benefits packages. We will continue to ensure that our soldiers benefit personally, professionally, and financially from their hard, much appreciated, and much respected work.
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise today in this debate. I would be remiss if I or any of our colleagues did not recognize that we lost one of our brave men and soldiers. Yesterday Master Corporal Alfred Barr, who was a member of the 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron based in Winnipeg, died in an accident. On behalf of my friends and family, our heartfelt thoughts and condolences go to Master Corporal Barr's family, his friends, and his colleagues. I thank him his service.
We are here to talk about a serious issue today. Once again, we see the Liberal government shortchange our men and women in uniform by rolling back their tax benefits. The text of the motion before us today reads:
That the House call on the government to show support and appreciation for the brave men and women serving in the Canadian Armed Forces by reversing its decision to take away from the soldiers fighting against ISIS the tax benefit which provides them with $1,500 to $1,800 per month for the hardship and risk associated with their deployment, and to retroactively provide the payment to members stationed at Camp Arifjan whose tax relief was cancelled as of September 1, 2016.
We are taking away money and tax relief to these brave men and women who are serving us, who answer the call without hesitation when the world calls.
I will be splitting my time, Mr. Speaker, with my hon. colleague from .
I have been listening to and following along with the debate throughout the day. I am heartened to hear that the government will support the motion. I hope that by the end of the day, the Liberals will support the motion in whole and work toward retroactively ensuring that those brave men and women who are there and who had this benefit taken away from them in September will have them reapplied.
However, I am going to stay the course with my speech. Until this motion is passed, it is important that we get on record exactly what we are talking about today.
On September 1, 2016, the Liberal government ended the tax relief measures provided to 15 Canadian troops stationed at the Camp Arifjan in Kuwait. For 300 Canadian soldiers also stationed in Kuwait under Operation Impact, their benefits remained unchanged.
However, in January of this year, the departmental hardship and risk committee announced to the troops in its December 2016 quarterly meeting that all tax relief measures to CAF members deployed to Kuwait under Operation Impact would be cancelled. A bureaucratic change, a stroke of a pen, was going to impact brave men and women who put their uniforms on to serve our country so our flag could stand tall and we could remain free and indeed promote Canadian values abroad. They are facing financial hardship.
The good news is that the change will not take effect until June 1, 2017, allowing time for members and their families to adjust to this decision. How kind of the Liberals. Instead of taking time to reflect on this choice, the Liberals came up with an equally appalling solution. Instead of restoring the benefits that our troops at Camp Arifjan deserved, they decided to revoke the benefit for all our troops that were battling ISIS. I understand, through the debate, that the Liberals are reconsidering and re-examining this, but I would challenge them to agree to our motion and keep this benefit in place.
The arrogance of the Liberal government is unprecedented. The Liberals are rolling back the tax relief for our men and women who protect our Canadian values, those men and women who ensure Canada remains “The True North, strong and free”. These men and women of our Canadian Armed Forces volunteer to leave their families as they travel abroad to perform dangerous work and put themselves at risk in the service of our country. They miss important milestones such as birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, births, and deaths.
Instead of providing compensation that is a drop in the bucket for the tax-and-spend Liberals, they are choosing to take away from those who voluntarily sacrifice their lives. Instead of thanking our troops, they are telling our troops that are deployed to foreign third world countries that they are not in enough danger to justify $1,500 or $1,800 a month in additional finances.
I would like to use statistics because they tell the real story. Here is one for the House. During the last break week, from February 24 to March 5, Liberal MPs travelled throughout Canada on taxpayers' dollars spreading fluff and flowers all across the way and announcing 188 loans, grants, contributions, and government contract awards worth a combined $1.25 billion. I will repeat that for the record, $1.25 billion. Now they are going to trumpet it and say that they are spending dollars and they just announced another $650 million to be spent abroad, when indeed those who are in harm's way here at home and those who are most vulnerable and those who are wearing the maple leaf on their shoulders and protecting and promoting the maple leaf and all of our Canadian values abroad are being told that they are going to receive a pay cut. It is shameful.
The felt it necessary to cut the tax benefits of our military. This is simply unacceptable. The Liberals have known for months now that the Canadian troops who are deployed in the fight against ISIS have not been adequately compensated for the hardships and risks associated with their deployment and yet the decision was still made to cut this financial aid while the troops had already agreed to deploy. In cutting this benefit, the Liberals have cheated our troops and their families out of hard-earned money that they expected and counted on, and most of all, that they deserve.
I was not a part of the last government or the one before that, but all I have heard today and in recent months is that whenever the Liberals have to justify some of the things they are doing, they always like to say that Prime Minister Harper and his government started it and the Liberals are simply following through. They like to point fingers. It is a smokescreen and it is unacceptable. Liberals knew about this. If they believed the words coming out of their mouths, they would stand up for those who are putting their lives in danger for our country and our communities, but I guess it is acceptable to treat our heroes the way the Liberals are treating them.
Last night, something remarkable happened. The House stood in unanimous support of my bill, Bill , and collectively we sent the message that we in the chamber value the brave men and women who serve our country and our communities. Collectively we have provided hope and I look forward to working with all colleagues to ensure Bill C-211 is strengthened where necessary and passed as quickly as possible, because with every minute, every hour, every day wasted, we are losing lives.
Over the course of the preparation for Bill , I heard tragic stories from the men and women who have served our country proudly. Their stories were deeply personal and will sit with me for the rest of my life. I also had the honour of meeting with surviving friends and families of those who we lost in combat and those we lost here at home because we failed to live up to our responsibility in ensuring our soldiers are whole, that they are healthy, that they have every opportunity to integrate back into our communities and to provide for their families. I am going to say again that they are not healthy. There is tremendous stress placed upon our soldiers and their families when they are deployed, emotional, physical, and financial stress. We need to ensure that we provide every tool possible for our soldiers to be successful in their mission abroad and their mission here at home.
Taking away this tax credit from Canadians who have answered the world's call and are serving our country without hesitation is shameful. It flies against what we all stood together for here last night and against the message that this chamber delivered to all of the Canadians who were tuning in and to members of our armed forces, our brave men and women who put the uniform on every day to serve all of us and our families.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this very important debate. I would like to congratulate my colleague from . He is working very hard for his riding and for our soldiers.
This motion deals with a very important issue, and I think it is important for us to take action on it immediately and for the government to take action on it immediately. I will start by reviewing the substance of the motion, and then I will talk about the reasons I think it is important for us to support it and also the action that needs to follow.
This is an opposition motion put forward by the Conservative Party. It calls on the government to restore a tax benefit that is traditionally given to soldiers who are in a dangerous situation in the midst of a deployment. The government removed that money with respect to some of our Canadian Armed Forces involved in the fight against Daesh, and this motion calls for the restoration of that money and, importantly, calls for it to be done on a retroactive basis. It is not just to restore the payment of that money going forward, but to go back and provide that danger pay that should have been given to our soldiers ever since it was removed.
As we discuss this motion and scrutinize whatever government action comes out of it, it is very important to underline that retroactive component as well. We are not just talking about restoring the payment going forward. On this side of the House, we recognize that an injustice has been done to our brave men and women in uniform, and that injustice needs to be remedied not just going forward but also we need to address the past injustice in the context of the ameliorative action that may be taken as we go forward.
It is our position that this danger pay should not have been cut, and I will identify a number of specific reasons why that is the case.
First of all, this is an issue of basic fairness. I do not mean fairness just in the sort of objective sense of treating people as is due, but I mean fairness specifically in the sense of following through on commitments that have been made. If soldiers are committed to a dangerous deployment with the understanding that they will receive danger pay, and then if that danger pay is withdrawn, in some cases without even giving them a proper level of notice to plan their personal finances accordingly, it is a real injustice. It is an injustice objectively not to pay danger pay in these cases, but also simply in the very specific sense of not following through on commitments that had been made, and not honouring expectations that were put in place. We can see that, yes, this does represent a real injustice.
In general, the government should honour the commitments that it makes to government employees. In particular, when we have soldiers in the midst of a dangerous deployment and are not here in Canada to be involved in advocacy because they are in the field, to then undertake policy changes midstream after they have been deployed that negatively affect them financially, very clearly, members should recognize the fundamental injustice of that. Again, it is an injustice that requires a remedy both going forward and also with what happened in the past. That is why this motion specifically has that retroactive element.
A second reason it was not right for the government to do this and why this needs to be addressed going forward is the issue of the morale of our forces. We have heard on this side of the House some discussion from our troops about the impact the withdrawal of danger pay has had on their morale. It can convey a sense that our soldiers are not being properly supported, and that clearly has a negative effect on morale. It is certainly not a message we want to see sent.
The responsible thing for us to do is to not only support our troops, but also to take every opportunity we have to express our support and not to pursue the kind of policy change that the withdrawal of this danger pay was, which negatively affects the morale of our troops in the midst of an ongoing deployment. This is something that I think we have to be very careful about. The policy direction that was taken just was not right, and we need to see that remedied and addressed again in terms of what happened in the past and also what happens going forward.
I also want to speak about a related issue, that of fairness. There is the issue of fairness in terms of following through on commitments, but also in recognizing that this is a dangerous situation, and therefore, providing the danger pay that is normally given in the context of proper recognition of the nature of that situation.
In the current context, we are living in a world where there is not quite simply a front line and then anyone behind the front line is not involved in the action. Warfare today is much more complex. We know that all of our troops deployed in the fight against Daesh are facing a great deal of danger from different kinds of attacks they may be subject to. The purpose of danger pay is to recognize the added challenge, stress, and potential impact on them and their families associated with being in this kind of position. It is to recognize that and to properly compensate for it. That is part of the understanding of and the commitment we make to those who are part of our military.
It also reflects basic notions of fundamental justice, that we pay what is due to them in light of the situation we ask them to be in. Therefore, this is fundamentally the right thing to do, to restore this money. This is why we are bringing forward the motion, because it addresses two different issues of fairness. There is fairness in terms of giving what was promised, but also in terms of giving what is due. It is also conducive to strengthening the morale of our armed forces.
In the context of this discussion, there are a couple of general points that should be made about what the debate suggests about where we are at, more broadly, in our political conversations here.
I am frustrated, as a member of the Conservative opposition, to often hear the tendency of the Liberal government to parry proposals for individual specific solutions by saying they are doing a broader review on the subject. This was an issue in a vote that happened last night. Fortunately, we were able to pass the bill on to committee anyway, but the government was opposing the bill, not necessarily because of specific objections to the specific measures but because it said it had to wait for a broader review. Here, again, in the motion, the government is saying it has to look at a broader review when it comes to this area.
What we on this side of the House say is rather than always waiting for that broader review, why not take specific action that is necessary that responds to real issues of justice and fairness in the moment? That is what we have called for. Yes, have that conversation about the broader direction of where we are going in terms of national defence, but this is an issue of basic justice and fairness to our hard-working men and women in uniform, and let us satisfy that obligation. Let us fix that problem now and not parry that with some references to a broader review.
One of the things we see from the government is it is a big-spending government, a government that wants to spend all kinds of taxpayers' money in all kinds of different areas, yet perversely, we see it nickel-and-diming our soldiers in exactly the wrong way and wrong place. This often happens with big-spending governments. They want to spend the cupboard bare, but then they realize that the cupboard is empty when there are important, real priorities that that money needs to be spent on. The reason Conservatives advocate fiscal prudence is precisely so we can invest our resources in those vital areas when they are most needed. That is why we need to be careful with taxpayers' money, so that we have money available to use when we really need it.
Some members of the government have indicated they intend to support the motion. I welcome that, but motions are ultimately non-binding on the actions of the government, so what we are really looking for is action to implement the fullness of the motion. I hope that if the government chooses to vote for the motion, and if the motion passes the House, that it will have the integrity to implement the fullest of the motion, including the retroactive component, and to ensure that that is implemented as soon as possible. It will have the support of the opposition in moving forward in that direction. It is the right thing to do to address the danger pay issue going forward, but also to remedy it from the past.
I am proud to be supporting this motion and hope that there will be strong action by the government very soon.