That the House has lost confidence in the Minister of National Defence's ability to carry out his responsibilities on behalf of the government since, on multiple occasions, the Minister misrepresented his military service and provided misleading information to the House.
He said: Mr. Speaker, usually I rise and say that it is an honour to get up and speak, but today is unfortunate in that we have to debate this motion to discuss the comments made by the and some of his other misleading comments. There is also a question of privilege that I have already raised in the House on another matter.
Today, opposition members will make the case that the has had only a casual relationship with the truth, that he has continually misled the House and Canadians, and that his behaviour is demoralizing our troops and has caused our veterans to be incredibly angry. We also know that our allies are going to have trouble taking him seriously. There is a credibility issue here. We know that the minister's reputation is now damaged beyond repair, and it is a sad state that we have had to come to this point, where a motion is required in the House to ask the minister to resign.
I expect that the will get up today and offer an apology. I expect that he will factually state what his service record is. None of us disputes his actual service record. He has served honourably in three tours in Afghanistan and one tour in Bosnia. He was a lieutenant-colonel in the reserve force, and he has always been commended for his service and for the efforts he has put in on behalf of Canada.
The minister will go on to talk about other issues. He is going to try to change the channel so that we are not talking about his comments and his embellishment of history. He is going to start talking about the defence policy review and all the great things the government is going to do, but it is really unfortunate that we cannot talk about those things, because nobody trusts the defence minister at this time.
We will be the voice for those veterans and military members who were first disappointed and then outraged, and are now in dismay and despair over the minister's conduct. It is actually demoralizing our front-line soldiers. Not only are we going to talk about the role of the minister in Operation Medusa, but we will also come to the question of privilege that I have in the House over his misleading comments and the facts revolving around our troops who are in the fight against ISIS at Camp Arifjan and having those danger pay benefits taken away and not returned in their entirety.
We will also talk about the so-called capability gap in our fighter jets and how that does not match up to what members as well as past commanders of the Royal Canadian Air Force have said. We will also touch on the minister's comments in the past that pulling our CF-18s out of the fight against ISIS was something that he never received any commentary on, even though the facts, through an access to information request, prove otherwise.
We know that under the leadership of the we have seen budget cuts in two successive budgets by the Liberals, which have reduced the spending and future investments in our military by $12 billion. Now with the minister's credibility completely undermined, by himself, I might add, there is no way that our military trusts him to actually deliver anything in the future for them.
Finally, it comes back to whether or not he has the strength at the cabinet table to get things done, to stand up for our troops, and to deliver the equipment and the budgets that they need to go forward.
One of the best comments that capsulize why our would embellish his service record in Operation Medusa comes from retired Lieutenant-General William Carr, who is the father of today's modern air force in Canada, someone we could actually call an architect. He said in a letter to the editor:
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan's search for recognition is a national embarrassment.
To the sailors, soldiers and airmen in the Department of National Defence, his image is, at best, one of an insecure veteran in a field he professes to know. For the good of the Canadian Forces, his departure would be a relief.
That sums up the calls, emails, letters, and social media posts that have inundated my office.
It is critical that we look at the code of conduct the minister is subjected to, both formerly as a serving member of the Canadian Armed Forces and now as the . The definition of “integrity” from the Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces Code of Values and Ethics states:
To have integrity is to have unconditional and steadfast commitment to a principled approach to meeting your obligations while being responsible and accountable for your actions. Accordingly, being a person of integrity calls for honesty, the avoidance of deception and adherence to high ethical standards. Integrity insists that your actions be consistent with established codes of conduct and institutional values. It specifically requires transparency in actions, speaking and acting with honesty and candour, the pursuit of truth regardless of personal consequences, and a dedication to fairness and justice. Integrity must especially be manifested in leaders and commanders because of the powerful effect of their personal example on peers and subordinates.
That is there for all to see online. There are tables that actually lay this all out. Table 2 clearly states that it is applicable to all DND employees and all members of the Canadian Armed Forces. People are expected to act above the law, to be transparent and ethical, and to have integrity.
If someone did what the minister did, under the code that both the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces have, that person would show a lack of integrity. Those in service can be court-martialled. Those are the guidelines that are applicable in the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces.
As the , as the leader of the entire armed forces as well as all employees, the minister has to be held to the highest standard and has to meet that high bar each and every day. Anything below it is a failure.
The “Open and Accountable Government” document, which lays out the code of conduct and ethical behaviour of ministers and parliamentary secretaries, says:
Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must act with honesty and must uphold the highest ethical standards so that public confidence and trust in the integrity and impartiality of government are maintained and enhanced.
This reflects on the . He has laid out in this code of conduct that he expects open and accountable government, and yet the has failed to live up to that code.
Everyone is wondering, and I hope that today the minister will explain why he felt he needed to embellish his story on Operation Medusa. This was not just a misspeaking. Video evidence shows that he first said this in 2015, when he was campaigning as the Liberal candidate to become the member of Parliament for . He said it quite openly. We do not know how many times it has been repeated behind closed doors or in meetings where he claimed to be “the architect” of Operation Medusa.
On April 18, in a speech in Delhi, the minister clearly stated it. Again, it was not just him speaking. He actually inserted it himself into his speaking notes. People can get the speech online. It has been checked against delivery, meaning that it has gone through the proper processes of being reviewed by the department and by the minister's own staff. The National Post reported on April 30, “It was [the minister] who personally inserted 'the line about Medusa' into the speech, his spokeswoman Jordan Owens said Sunday.” This was not a misspeaking. This was not an accident. This was intentional, and that is very disturbing.
It has been called all sorts of things in the media. We know that people are outraged. We understand that, because everyone expects the minister to be held to the highest ethical standards. Everybody expects that he will act with honesty and avoid deception. His story, his embellishment, his over-exaggeration of his role in Operation Medusa as the architect has also been described as stolen valour.
I received correspondence from retired Major Catherine Campbell, who served 27 years in the Canadian Armed Forces. She also served 18 years as an employee at DND. She sent a letter to the . She wrote: “I have to say that I have great respect for what you did in Afghanistan. I don't know why that wasn't honour enough for you. Apparently, it wasn't because on at least two occasions you misinformed us. You claim to have been the architect of Operation Medusa when, as a major working in intelligence, you had nothing to do with the battle plan. That honour belongs to other soldiers, your superior officers. Now, everyone knows that. Worst of all, everyone in the Canadian Armed Forces knows it and they have lost all respect for you. You know enough of the military to know that you cannot continue to lead the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces, having lost the respect and trust in this way.
Her letter continued: “I listened to your answers in question period and it was painful. Your response, perhaps drafted by the PMO, was that you made a mistake. A mistake? No, you did not make a mistake. You deliberately and intentionally misled everyone on at least two occasions. You don't get to say, 'I made a mistake and now I'm sorry.' No, I'm afraid there's only one thing for you to do under these circumstances, and that is to resign and make a heartfelt apology to the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces for having misled them and having been untruthful about the worst thing that a service member or an officer can be untruthful about in the Canadian Armed Forces.
She wrote: “I imagine you've read the manual Duty with Honour: The Profession of Arms in Canada. I recommend that the minister read it again and perhaps then he will understand what he has to do.”
That comes from one of our veterans. Long-serving members who have been there alongside the minister, serving this great country and doing what needs to be done are so disappointed.
Today's soldiers, today's troops, are also being impacted by the actions of the . One parent contacted me and asked that I not use his name because he wants to protect his family member who is currently serving. He said: “This morning, I spoke to my son about the matter stolen valour by the Minister of Defence. I have to tell you first-hand that, without any doubt, this is a matter that has directly affected the morale and confidence of Canada's front-line infantry soldiers. There is no greater betrayal to the trust and confidence of soldiers than stolen valour. The minister, by fabricating his role to his country for his own personal gain and profile, has undermined and betrayed the trust of the men and women he is supposed to represent. I wanted you to know this. As the father of a young soldier that would give his life to this country, that this deception has shaken the Canadian Forces, from the minister's office right down to the infantry soldier. If the minister has any remnant of a military officer left in his conscience, he will do the right and honourable thing and remove himself from office.”
That capsulizes what people are feeling about the minister's comments on Operation Medusa.
We also have to go to the question of privilege that I raised in this House over the minister's misleading comments on tax relief and danger pay benefits provided to our soldiers at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, and how it also applies to others. If members will recall, I have been raising this in the House for some time. It started with bringing it to the minister's attention privately. Then we brought it up at committee. Then we asked questions here in the House. He continued to say that he was going to take care of it and did not.
There actually had to be a motion brought in from the Conservative side, which received unanimous support, to reinstate the danger pay benefits to all our troops who are fighting ISIS. The answer to my Question No. 600 on the Order Paper, under the minister's own signature, clearly states that it was the Liberals in September 2016 who took away the danger pay of already deployed troops, who went there under the understanding that they were going to receive upwards of $9,000 in benefits, which have been removed. The minister continued to say it was the Conservatives who took away these benefits.
The Conservatives were not in government in September 2016. The Liberals were. The minister's answer, dated January 30, proved that the benefits were there, effective October 5, 2014, when the Conservatives were still in power, to September 1, 2016, when the Liberals took them away. The minister actually put out a press release saying that they restored them, but they did not. They only restored half of them.
We received letters from various soldiers who are serving over there. They sent a letter and there was a blast out to everyone here in the House. It said that our troops in Kuwait right now are feeling despair at this point because they do not feel valued or recognized for the risks they are facing and the hardship placed on their families here at home while they are deployed.
There is another issue I would like to raise. This information was received through an access to information request. It has to do with when the ordered our CF-18s to return home from the fight against ISIS, that we stop bombing ISIS terrorists, and that we bring them home.
The minister was over in Iraq meeting with the Iraqi defence minister and other government officials on December 20. On December 21, he met with the Kurdistan regional government. He said in an interview in The Globe and Mail on December 21, 2015, “I haven't had one discussion about the CF-18s”, not one, and yet, our access to information request clearly stated, in a wire that was sent home on December 22, in writing a summary for December 20 about Canada's , “the Iraqi minister of defence was clearly focused on Canada's decision to withdraw its CF-18 fighter jets from the coalition air strikes, asking the [Minister of National Defence] to reconsider this decision on numerous occasions”. On December 21, he said it was never once brought to his attention.
We know he was going to Erbil to meet with the Kurdistan regional government, but we know on October 21, 2015 that the chief of staff to the Kurdistan regional government said, “It was bad news for us.” Then on November 22, the foreign affairs minister of the Kurdistan regional government said, “We'd like to keep the air strikes.” This is all public information on the discussions that they had with our . He keeps saying that our allies were ecstatic about our pulling out our CF-18s. Again, it is misrepresenting the facts, misleading Canadians, and undermining his own credibility.
Finally, I want to come back to this issue of a capability gap of our fighter jets. We know that it is a fabricated issue that the minister invented to try to make commentary on why we need to sole-source Super Hornets. Lieutenant-General Michael Hood, the commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, said in committee that there is “sufficient capacity to support a transition to a replacement fighter capability based on the ongoing projects and planned life extension to 2025 for the CF-18." He also stated on November 28, “We were comfortable as an armed forces in meeting those”—NORAD and NATO commitments—“with our extant fleet. That policy has changed with a requirement to be able to meet both of those concurrently, as opposed to managing them together,”—which we've always done as a nation—“thus the requirement to increase the number of fighters available.”
Finally, we had 13 former commanders of the Royal Canadian Air Force who have written that purchasing the Super Hornets is ill-advised, costly, and unnecessary because there is no capability gap.
As members can see, the has a long track record of misleading this House and misleading Canadians, to the point that now Canadians do not believe him. We know that our troops no longer trust him and are demoralized. Our veterans are outraged that he is no longer taken seriously by our allies.
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to pass on my condolences to the families who have had losses in recent flooding in Quebec and in British Columbia. I thank all the Canadian Armed Forces members who are serving today in Operation Lentus.
There are a lot of critical issues facing the Canadian Armed Forces, and I am grateful for the opportunity to raise some of these in the House. My job as minister of national defence is to serve the women and men in uniform who so proudly serve our country. I am privileged to have this responsibility and I will continue to work as hard as I possibly can, every single day.
There are many of us in the House who have at one time felt the call of duty to serve in uniform, and we are proud of their service. The members for , , , , and all served our country in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
The members for and both served in the Royal Canadian Navy, and the latter spent a significant time in the Canadian army as well.
The members for , , , , , , and all served our great country in the Canadian army.
Many were cadets, including the member for , highlighting how the cadet program is one of the finest youth leadership programs in the country.
The member for also served in uniform, with the Indian Air Force.
I thank them all for their service. They are a credit to the uniform, and their experience is invaluable to this place.
We must always remember that when someone decides to serve their country in uniform, the whole family serves alongside them. I know there are several members with relatives who have served or are currently serving in the Canadian Armed Forces. For example, the has two sons serving as junior officers. We honour those who stand behind our troops and support them at home.
I am proud of the actions our government has taken since coming to office. Our women and men in uniform serve all Canadians, not just the government of the day. That is why our government has taken important steps to make the Canadian Armed Forces more open and accessible to all members of Parliament on behalf of the constituents they serve. We re-opened Canadian Armed Forces bases, detachments, airfields, and ships to all parliamentarians, senators, and officials from different levels of government in an effort to highlight the work our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and airwomen do on our behalf every single day. We want all parliamentarians to participate in our program so they can take their experiences and stories to their ridings and inspire a new generation to heed the call for service.
We are also taking politics out of the selection process for honorary colonels. We are appointing Canadians with deep community roots to represent our regiments, wings, and ships from coast to coast to coast.
Canada is taking a more significant leadership role in NATO than it has in decades. As one of four framework nations, we are leading a battle group stationed in Latvia as part of the alliance's enhanced forward presence initiative. This will provide meaningful deterrence against any repeat of Russia's provocative behaviour.
We have of course also renewed Operation Unifier, demonstrating solidarity with Ukraine in our training mission there. We refocused our contribution to the fight against Daesh, and Canadians are now making an even greater impact as part of the global coalition, and we are seeing results. Canadian Forces are part of a broader whole-of-government approach to the conflict in Iraq and Syria and are also making a difference in that region. I was fortunate to be able to work with the and the on the renewed Operation Impact.
Our government has taken decisions and taken action to replace our aging fleet of fighters, something the previous government had 10 years to do, but did not. It is because of that decade of decline and inaction that we no longer have a fighter fleet that can meet our NORAD and NATO commitments simultaneously.
It is certainly true that the Royal Canadian Air Force has done an admirable job in risk managing this capability gap and, yes, it has the planes it needs to continue to risk manage effectively. The previous government felt this was an acceptable situation, but we are a G7 nation, and our government has made it clear that it is not good enough to risk manage our commitments; we are going to meet them.
That is why we have taken action to address this capability gap by exploring the purchase of an interim fleet of fighters, and of course we will conduct an open and transparent competition to replace the entire fleet. I want to thank the , the , the , and our colleagues on the defence procurement committee for all their work on the fighter jets.
We have finally awarded a contract to replace our fixed-wing search and rescue planes, another important project that went in circles over the past decade. Our search and rescue technicians work day and night in dangerous conditions keeping Canadians safe. They deserve the best equipment and support possible, and I am proud of finishing this process that started under the Martin government.
I am proud of the work our chief of the defence staff and the Canadian Forces are doing to stamp out inappropriate sexual behaviour under Operation Honour. Every person who serves her or his country despite the many dangers and sacrifices of military service deserves a professional environment in which he or she is treated with respect and dignity. There is a great deal more to do, and it is essential that the Canadian Armed Forces maintain the momentum developed to date in eliminating harmful and inappropriate behaviour. Our government fully supports this work.
I have been the Minister of National Defence for about 18 months now, and it has been just as rewarding as it has been challenging. While the actions we have taken so far are indeed important, there is a lot more work to do. In the 2015 election campaign, we promised to conduct a comprehensive review of defence policy and engage Canadians and parliamentarians in the process, and we have done just that and more.
I know the official opposition does not like to deal in facts when it comes to defence, but there is a fact it cannot ignore: Canada's defence spending, as a proportion of GDP, was considerably lower when the Conservatives were removed from office than when they came in. However, it is not just about the spending numbers. It is about our outputs; it is about the Canadian Armed Forces' contribution to Canada's role in the world; most of all, it is about fully supporting our women and men in uniform and their families. That is why the defence policy review has been so important.
It has been 20 years since a real policy review was done, and it was long overdue. I believe it is important for Canadians and members of this House to understand exactly where we are starting from before we talk about where we need to be and how we plan to get there.
It is true that successive governments contributed to the current state of affairs in the Canadian Forces. I know parliamentarians of all stripes, despite the rhetoric and finger-pointing that occur here, understand that underinvestment has caused real problems, yet the state of affairs is in some ways worse than realized by most observers.
I know members understand that we cannot build the Canadian Armed Forces this nation needs through a series of short-term decisions. I know members understand that a military is not strengthened by cobbling together pieces from one budget to the next, by succumbing continually to the pressures of the urgent at the expense of the strategic, and by hoping that 20 years down the line, all of the disjointed ups and downs will somehow result in the military we need. That is why, when launching a defence policy review, we set out to take the long-term view to deliver a credible, realistic, and funded strategy for our military.
Let me state outright and up front that the Canadian Armed Forces delivers what governments ask of it every single time. It has performed superbly, regardless of the resource constraints it faces. All Canadians can be proud of the fact that our women and men in uniform answer the call of duty whenever and wherever it is found. In recent years alone, it has deployed to Iraq to contribute to the global efforts in the fight against Daesh; it deployed to Nepal just 48 hours after a tragic earthquake struck that tiny nation; and it deployed with NATO to bolster alliance resolve and deterrence against Russian actions in Ukraine.
At home, they helped the residents of Winnipeg and Fort McMurray overcome massive floods and devastating forest fires, and today they are deploying in several regions of Quebec to assist provincial and local authorities with the devastating floods in that province. The Canadian Armed Forces is an inspiring institution that makes me proud every single day. Responsive, professional, and dedicated, it is counted among the best militaries in the world. However, militaries cannot perform well forever without proper support.
Governments have a responsibility to uphold their end of the bargain, to care for their military, resource them properly, and fund them in a responsible way that meets their needs. In the past, governments have not delivered predictable, sustainable, long-term funding for the Canadian Armed Forces. It has not been a straight line.
Let me take a moment to retrace some of the twists and turns. In 2004-05, the Paul Martin government implemented annual budget increases of around $1.5 billion in successive years. After that, the budget grew incrementally, predominantly to cover the cost of the combat mission in Afghanistan, until it ended in 2011. Two deficit-reduction programs followed: the strategic review, and the deficit reduction action plan. By the time that these were were fully implemented in 2015, each reduced the annual defence budget by $1 billion, for a total of $2 billion per year. The defence escalator, which was implemented to protect the DND budget from defence inflation, was increased from 1.5% to 2% in 2011, and beginning this fiscal year, it increased from 2% to 3%. However, even that will not be sufficient to meet our future requirements.
Years of ups and downs have contributed to unpredictability for those responsible for supporting, maintaining, and sustaining the forces, and the planning for its future. The reductions have left the organization hollow in a number of areas. Fighter jets and ships are prime examples of the unfortunate link between inadequate investment and capability gaps. Canadians were told a few years ago that the government would buy 65 new jets to replace our aging fleet of CF-18s, but for the missions that we asked the Royal Canadian Air Force to undertake and our alliance commitments, 65 jets would simply not be enough; it would only be a fleet for risk managing our requirements, not meeting them. Furthermore, the $9 billion in funding that was earmarked for jet replacement by the previous government is nowhere near enough to cover the 65 jets proposed.
For the navy's new surface combatant, the previous government ended up saying that it would buy up to 15 ships. As has been well reported, the budget identified was dramatically insufficient and unrealistic. The Royal Canadian Navy deserves a clear, realistic, and fully funded commitment. Canada's naval capabilities are at a 40-year low right now. The number of operational ships in Canada's fleet has dropped by five in the past two years alone. Ships have been retired without replacement, because any plans for investment simply came too late. Without a single destroyer in its fleet, Canada will rely on the U.S. and NATO for area air defence until the introduction of our new surface combatants. Without a single supply ship, Canada is relying on the capabilities of allies and partners for its replenishment needs as well.
These examples alone would be troubling enough, but there is much more to grapple with. Closing recruitment offices made it harder to attract new recruits, and cutting the number of procurement officers made it difficult to buy, maintain, and sustain all the tools and equipment we could afford for our military. We are in the troubling position where status quo spending on defence will not even maintain the status quo of the capability.
Current funding has us digging ourselves into a hole, a hole that is getting deeper every single year. As a percentage of our GDP, we are spending less on defence today than we were in 2005. There is a list of major capital projects that are entirely unfunded. These are not nice-to-have projects; these are projects that must be completed to allow our military to keep doing what it is doing, investments that need to be made in the forces' key equipment and capabilities, and no funding has been allocated for them.
Our air force will need funding for mid-life upgrades to its Cormorant search and rescue helicopters. We are talking about a critical need to invest in a fleet of aircraft that our air force uses in operations every day to help Canadians in distress.
They also need sufficient funds to extend the life of the Griffons. These are highly reliable helicopters that have served our air force faithfully on missions at home and abroad. These helicopters are used to transport troops and materials. They have done so on humanitarian missions, on operations in Afghanistan, and now in Iraq. The Griffons can fit right into a C-17 Globemaster, so they are easily transportable and give the forces flexibility and agility in responding to crises around the world. However, if we do not fund their life extension project, we need to phase them out, because helicopters with obsolete instrumentation cannot fly in North American air space. No money was allocated to keep them running.
With the army, we discovered that no funding has been allocated to allow soldiers to keep doing some of their most important work. Without support from our allies, Canadian soldiers deployed overseas would be exposed to threats emanating from aircraft, missiles, and long-range artillery. Investments in ground-based air and munitions defence systems are required to guarantee the safety of our deployed troops, yet no money has been earmarked to provide this protection to our soldiers in the past.
There are several other examples of projects that the army needs the government to fund in order to ensure it can continue to assist Canadians during natural disasters to meet international commitments. Its fleet of heavy support equipment, such as forklifts, loaders, and excavators, needs to be replaced so that our soldiers can build camps as well as roads and shelters. The list of activities that our soldiers undertake with this equipment is long, and yet, here too, no investments were planned.
Furthermore, the army's fleet of logistic support vehicles, such as trailers and medium-sized trucks used to transport supplies and essential equipment, has been significantly degraded over time and must be replaced. These capabilities are essential to sustain our soldiers at home and abroad. Again, no investment was planned.
The resourcing problems that we have found the most troubling are the ones that have directly affected our servicemen and women. In over 25 years as a reservist, I saw first-hand the way that our governments have failed to properly equip a reserve force. Not only is there not enough equipment, but the training to use what equipment they have is lacking as well. Our reserve units are tremendously resourceful and they perform extremely well, despite having been underfunded for so long. However, that does not excuse the failure to properly resource our reservists. They deserve gratitude from the governments that deployed them away from their families and in harm's way.
Instead, when they take off the uniform, they get pension cheques delivered way too late. They have to run an obstacle course when they retire from the military, and they get shortchanged in more ways than any government would want to admit.
These are some of the problems to be solved. Before it can build anything new, Canada's new defence policy must first get us out of the hole that we are starting in.
That is why we have sought input from parliamentarians from all parties, and why we sought input during a series of expert round tables, including the industry round table. That is why we consulted Canadians across the country, through our online portal and town hall discussions. We also had round table discussions to hear from the indigenous communities, members of academia, and other expertise, on gender-related issues. We want a thorough understanding of how every facet of our defence policy would impact our own people and Canada generally.
We will act on the evidence gathered throughout the defence policy review. The process has made clear that there is the need to focus on emerging domains like space and cyber, and the need to remain a trusted and capable ally.
Canada's new defence policy will be just that. It will be a plan to get out of the hole that we are starting in. It will be a plan to build an even stronger military. It will be a plan to allocate realistic funding to those bread-and-butter projects that will keep our military running effectively and efficiently for years to come. Most of all, it will be a plan to care for the women and men who put on the uniform and serve Canada.
Mr. Speaker, before I begin the heart of my remarks, I would like to join other members of Parliament in thanking the Canadian Armed Forces for the work it has done in combatting the floods in Quebec and the Ottawa River valley today. Also, the minister did miss in his listing of those who served in the Canadian Armed Forces, the member for , a proud New Democrat member of Parliament and one of the few female veterans in the House.
It is with no pleasure that I rise today to speak to the motion and I will take no pleasure in having to vote for the motion. However, we are faced with a situation where the has lost the confidence of a broad sector of the Canadian public, certainly a broad sector of the Canadian Armed Forces and possibly also our allies. Therefore, we believe he can no longer continue to lead the Canadian Armed Forces as the Minister of National Defence.
It causes me a great deal of personal angst to have say this. The minister has treated me, as his opposition critic, with respect. As I have said before, he is someone who all members in the House honour the bravery and distinction with which he served his country in Afghanistan. However, that is not the topic today. Nor is it the topic that the minister addressed in his speech, which was a broad review of defence concerns.
The topic is what the minister has said about his service in Afghanistan, and the wound the minister has suffered is self-inflicted. We have three versions before us of what the minister's role was.
Early on, in a letter to the Vancouver Police Department, when he returned from one of his tours of duty in Afghanistan, his commander, Brigadier General Fraser, said that he was a key intelligence officer. In interviews the minister he gave to Sean Maloney, Royal Military College Professor, in the preparation of his book Fighting for Afghanistan, he emphasized his intelligence role and his liaison role with the governor of Kandahar, the national director of security, and the Afghan National Police. That probably constitutes the heart of his role and a real contribution to Canada's effort in Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, as minister, he or his government then made a decision, and we now have conflicting stories about who actually made that decision. However, at a minimum, he participated in a cabinet decision that there would be no inquiry into the transfer of detainees in Afghanistan to face torture and the Canadian role in those transfers. This is problematic. The minister would have key information for any such inquiry. He should neither have participated in the discussions about a decision not to hold an inquiry nor, even worse, if he personally made that decision. He certainly is the person who announced the decision on behalf of the government. Under the British concepts of ministerial responsibility, which we follow in the House, he is the minister responsible for that decision.
As a result of that, conflict of interest complaints were filed with the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, one of those by Craig Scott, former member of the House and a distinguished professor of law at the University of Toronto. It appears from the letter, a copy of which I received from the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, that the minister then told a second story about what his role was in Afghanistan. In this second version of his story, he said that he was merely a reservist working on capacity building with police in Afghanistan and in that capacity would have had no knowledge of the matters of transfer of detainees. If this is indeed what he told the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, it is a direct contradiction of his previous interviews he gave and his previous commanding officer.
That is why following the minister's speech I asked him very directly to let us know what he told the Conflict of Interest Commissioner about his role in Afghanistan. That is why the member for , the leader of the NDP, has written to the Conflict of Interest Commissioner and asked her to review her decision to close that conflict of interest file, and she has agreed to review that request. That is our second version.
Through whatever strange reason, the minister repeated a claim, which he previously made as a candidate in 2015, on his recent trip to India where he exaggerated, at best, his role in Operation Medusa. The Conservatives have chosen to focus almost all their discussion on this question, which is referred to as stolen valour, and that is an important question. The minister has apologized and taken back that version of what his role was in Afghanistan.
The problem is that if an apology is to be meaningful, it has to be followed by full transparency. Therefore, we need to hear from the minister, and I was disappointed not to hear this from the minister today, why the three versions of his story exist and how he reconciles those three versions of his story.
I was also disappointed not to hear the minister address directly the issue of the conflict of interest. He is following the same mode the Prime Minister followed in his conflict of interest issues when he says that he is pleased to answer all the questions of the Conflict of Interest Commissioner. Where members are accountable in a parliamentary system is in the House. Therefore, the minister needs to not only answer truthfully to the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, but the minister needs to answer truthfully and fully in the House. Unfortunately his speech this morning did nothing of the kind.
With respect to full disclosure, in my previous role before coming to Parliament, I worked for a major international human rights organization in Afghanistan. I was a researcher working in Kandahar before the minister arrived there as a reservist. Therefore, I do have some knowledge of what was going on at the time. It was very clear that the governor of Kandahar, and there were three different governors of Kandahar in very quick succession, faced very serious accusations of being involved in the torture of detainees in irregular detention centres, one of those being labelled a dungeon underneath the guest house at the Kandahar governor's palace.
These accusations were documented in Canadian documents in 2010 at the very highest level. Certainly, the former ambassador, Chris Alexander, made those allegations public. In addition, the allegations were made to the third of those governors. The one whom the minister most likely worked most closely with, Asadullah Khalid, was the governor of Kandahar from 2005 to 2008. The former Canadian ambassador made the accusations that Governor Khalid ordered a bombing that resulted in the killing of five U.N. human rights and aid workers to cover up his role in the narcotics trade in Kandahar.
I raise this question not to say that the minister was involved in torture, obviously not. Nor was he involved in the narcotics trade. No one should misunderstand me. I am not trying to cast aspersions on the minister's role in that sense. What I am trying to say is that if the minister was the liaison to these people, then he had key information about the torture of detainees and about other very illegal and despicable actions by the people to whom he was liaison.
It is very easy to consult many reports of international observers from that time who documented the use of torture in Kandahar province. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and many organizations had a look at this and were very clear that there were well-documented incidents of the torture of detainees.
Therefore, the question, which the Conservatives actually prorogued Parliament to avoid, since they were in charge of government at that time and when the minister was serving there, is what was Canada's role? Did we continue to transfer detainees into situations where we knew they faced possible torture? This would be a violation of international law and a stain on Canada's international reputation. A second part of the question, which is very important to me, is whether we used information obtained from torture for various military purposes. Again, this is a very serious question, both in the information derived from torture being highly unreliable and therefore it if was being used perhaps putting Canadian troops at risk, but also it is a very questionable practice under international law.
We know that a Conservative minister of public safety, Vic Toews, issued a ministerial directive allowing Canadian security forces to make use of information derived from torture. In his intelligence liaison role, the minister should have known that all those people whom he was liaising with faced these credible allegations of torture of detainees, and therefore when meeting the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, he should very clearly have said to her that his role placed him in a situation where he might have key information for such an inquiry.
We have a Conflict of Interest Commissioner who has traditionally interpreted her mandate extremely narrowly and has focused on financial matters almost exclusively. I believe that there is a real conflict of interest involved that is not financial.
There is also the possibility that if the minister was called to appear before such an inquiry, it might affect his ability to continue as the minister, giving him a direct personal interest in not holding such an inquiry. However, we will not know the answer to that, because the minister refuses to answer questions about who made that decision. Was it a cabinet decision? Was it his decision? We just do not have an answer. Again, I asked him earlier this morning and failed to get a response from him.
Once he had spoken to the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, he also gave interviews to journalists and is quoted as saying to Murray Brewster that he was not an intelligence officer.
We have all these questions. Knowing the minister personally, I have a hard time understanding how he got himself into this situation, because I find him very straightforward on a personal level. I find him very responsible and very open, so it is a mystery to me how he got himself into this situation and why he does not try to explain that. A simple apology, not accompanied by transparency and accountability, will simply be seen as meaningless words. We have to have those other parts to go along with the apology. I hope that the minister will still have a chance today to clear the air on these questions.
How does this affect his ability to carry on? I think we had a good example this morning in this debate when he presented quite an interesting discussion on the background of the Canadian defence review, but I do not think anyone was listening. No one was listening to the minister, because they still had those other questions in mind. They were still wondering if they could trust what the minister was saying on this because of the various versions of his role in Afghanistan.
It undermines his own credibility as minister to carry forward with this kind of work. Even if he is doing the best work, those questions, those clouds, will always remain behind him until they are answered and disposed of.
I met several members of the Liberal Party over the weekend, both back in British Columbia and in travelling back to Ottawa, who said to me that it was all just politics. I say, with respect, that it is not just politics. There is nothing more important than the ability of Canadians to trust in their ministers. This is something the wrote in the mandate letters he gave to all his ministers, that they had to achieve the highest standards of honesty and transparency. The minister still has the opportunity to do that, and I would hope he would take that position. However, what we have heard so far does not meet those standards laid out in his mandate letter for honesty and transparency. It is not just a matter of politics.
Members have also asked me what would make me happy. Of course, I do not like that question, because the question is not what would make me happy but what would benefit Canada here. How do we get a solution out of this controversy over the minister that benefits Canada? There are two ways the could proceed that I think would make Canadians happy and restore ministerconfidence. One of those two would be to order an inquiry into the transfer of detainees in Afghanistan and to allow such an inquiry to go forward. It is something the Liberals supported when they were in opposition. However, now that he is the minister, we have them refusing to hold such an inquiry.
That may be too big a step for the minister. Because I have already said it was a conflict of interest for the minister to make that decision, I need to be a little consistent. Therefore, I will offer him a second option that does not involve that conflict, which is that he should request that the assign a different minister to examine this question. He should recuse himself from participating in the discussion as to whether there should be an inquiry into Canada's role in the transfer of Afghan detainees to face torture. He should ask the Prime Minister to ask another minister to make a new decision about whether such an inquiry is warranted. I believe it is an important part of Canada's international reputation to hold such an inquiry and to clear the air on our role in Afghanistan and the transfer of those detainees.
Unfortunately, I do not believe we will get either of those. The is going to attempt to muddle on as the minister. As I said before, when he brings out the defence review, it is going to be hard for people to focus on whatever good things are in the review and whatever good things he is bringing forward when there are still questions about how the minister described his own role.
There are two problems I see when the defence review eventually comes forward. One is that there was no money set aside in the budget, which we would have expected for new initiatives in a defence review. The last budget had no money set aside. I guess we are expected to believe that when the review comes out, the government will simply increase the deficit to take on new military activities. I do not believe that is true. I believe we will see a lot of good statements about policy, which will then be put off into the future, since there is no money in the budget to actually carry them out.
The second problem I see with the defence review is the exclusion of this House from participation in the defence review. The House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence played only a very small role, one chosen by committee members, to try to give the minister some input on the review. We were certainly not asked to do that. When the defence review was going on in Vancouver, I asked to go to one of the sessions and was told that members of Parliament were not allowed to attend, because it might interfere with the session. I find that a very strange concept.
We still have no commitment from the minister that when this defence review he has referred to so much today comes forward it will either be presented to this House for a vote or be presented to the defence committee. Again, without those commitments, it is hard for me to do much more than reflect on this controversy on the minister's understanding of his role when it comes to the new defence review. What is his role? Is it just his defence review, or is it one that will garner the support of Canadians across the board?
As I said, I take no pleasure today in having this debate take place. I have only been here six years, but again, I have watched the House of Commons since I was first a candidate in the 2003-04 election, and I have never seen a motion like this before the House. We are, indeed, in a very sad situation, where we have to have a debate about whether Canadians can have trust and confidence in one of their cabinet ministers. On a personal basis, as I have spoken to the minister, this is someone I like and respect, so I take no personal pleasure in being forced to raise these questions in the House of Commons.
However, it is our duty, as members of Parliament, to make sure the government is held accountable and to the highest standards, and that is really the question before us today: Has the minister, in his role as , adhered to the highest standards of honesty and transparency that are required of any minister of the crown in Canada? If he has not, then this will inevitably affect his ability to lead the government and Canada as Minister of National Defence.
In conclusion, I say again that New Democrats will be supporting this motion, but we take no pleasure in having to do so.
Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I want to acknowledge the work of our Canadian Armed Forces members who are on the ground helping people deal with the flooding in Quebec. We hope the situation will improve as soon as possible and with as little damage as possible. I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
As a former soldier, I am pleased to speak to today's motion to give a voice to my former fellow soldiers and those who have no voice within the Canadian Armed Forces. The motion reads as follows:
That the House has lost confidence in the Minister of National Defence's ability to carry out his responsibilities on behalf of the government since, on multiple occasions the Minister misrepresented his military service and provided misleading information to the House.
We were forced to move this motion because the minister has not stopped misleading the House on a multitude of topics since taking office. No one can distort the truth for as long as he has and think that Canadians will continue to support him. Unfortunately, the jig is up for the minister, but he does not seem to be getting the message. He is hanging on to his position like someone who has nowhere else to go.
I would like to remind the Liberals that no one believes the minister. The men and women in uniform no longer believe him and they are ashamed of him. Canadians have lost trust in him as they have gotten to know him. The straw that broke the camel's back with respect to “alternative facts” was the mistruth in the speech given by the minister in India on April 18, when he again said that he was the architect of Operation Medusa.
I said “again” because the minister said the same thing in a speech in 2015 during the election campaign, when he was still an active member in the reserves of the Canadian Armed Forces. Several members of the forces are wondering why he was not called out for violating the Canadian Forces' code. Taking credit for someone else's achievements is a clear violation of the code, but this second instance did not go unnoticed.
It is shameful to see someone who was not even close to the decision-makers claim credit for their work and decisions. We are still wondering why the minister misrepresented the facts to raise his own profile. Unfortunately, the minister did not answer that question. The people on this side of the House, as well as journalists and Canadians, are waiting for an answer. However, the Liberals are not interested in what Canadians want. Liberals have very loose ethics.
The minister apologized for misstating the facts about this file, but he also distorted the truth in a number of other files without ever apologizing or explaining why he used “alternative facts”. Today, I will give a few examples. We have spoken often about what happened in India or during the election campaign in 2015, when the minister proclaimed himself the architect of Operation Medusa. However, in the past 18 months, ever since the minister took office, many other important “alternative facts” have been presented in the House and elsewhere in the course of his duties.
There was much debate in the House over the withdrawal of CF-18s from combat missions against ISIS. No one could understand the reasoning. We asked questions, but never got any answers. The minister said that there was no problem and that our allies, the Iraqis and Kurds, agreed and understood that we would do more. The minister even said that the Iraqis asked us to do more, to help in ways other than the bombings with our CF-18s. The opposite is true. The minister seemed to be the only one who was happy to see the CF-18s withdrawn.
A few weeks ago, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade proved it by way of a formal statement. It said that, contrary to what the minister had been saying for weeks in the House, the Iraqis begged Canada not to do this. The Iraqis asked Canada not to withdraw the CF-18s and said that it was very important to keep up the air strikes. The minister said the opposite. That was the first “alternative fact”.
For months, we asked that our CF-18s be redeployed to Iraq, but the minister said that it was not important and that people did not want that, when a report from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade said the opposite.
The second important “alternative fact” from the short career of my hon. friend opposite as defence minister has to do with the capability gap. For months, the Liberals fabricated a capability gap within our air force. Throughout 2016, the commander of the air force, General Hood, said there was no problem, that we had enough aircraft to carry out the mission. In fact, the Conservatives had put $450 million on the table to refurbish the CF-18s. General Hood said that, for the time being, he had the tools to do his job until 2025.
General Hood first mentioned this at the Standing Committee on National Defence. Shortly after that, the minister started talking about this so-called capability gap. Through access to information requests, it quickly became clear that the problem had been fabricated by the people at Boeing, the same people who sell the Super Hornet, during meetings at the minister's office and even the 's office. We have the facts; we know the dates. Two or three days after the meetings, a problem was raised in the House. The minister said that we cannot fulfill our NATO and NORAD missions because we do not have enough planes. On the one hand, we have the commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force saying that everything is fine, and on the other, after meeting with Boeing in offices here in Ottawa, the minister says we have a problem.
Thus, they created another “alternative fact”, a fake capability gap, instead of launching an open and transparent process to procure a new fleet of aircraft, regardless of the model. I am not here to sell one model over another. I am here to show that the defence minister has been inventing things for the past 18 months.
There is a third “alternative fact”. I am not going to speak again about what happened in India and during the election campaign. I am simply going to speak about what we have all witnessed in the past 18 months. This third fact concerns the hardship pay for our troops in Kuwait. From the beginning, the minister has said that it was the previous government that deployed our soldiers without that allowance. There can be nothing further from the truth. We have proof through written Question No. 600, which provides the facts and the details. It is clear. The Conservatives gave hardship pay to the troops deployed. There was a problem during the soldiers' deployment under the current Liberal government. The minister played with this and tried to blame the Conservatives. In the end, he granted half the pay, but not all of it. At present, our troops no longer receive this hardship pay. The government rises and tries to tell us whatever they want. However, it is written in black and white in Question No. 600. If he reads it a few times, he may be able to better understand it.
The minister once again tried to make up a story. We did our homework. My colleague from asked questions before bringing this matter before the House. We submitted written questions to the Standing Committee on National Defence. We asked the minister in person to answer the question. He never wanted to do so, and he once again gave us “alternative facts”.
At some point, the government needs to stop taking us for fools. It needs to stop talking about the minister's military history. Like my NDP colleagues, we all agree with what the minister did in Afghanistan. We do not have anything to say about that. We do not know exactly what work he did on the ground, but we know he did an excellent job. That is not the issue. Like me, he is no longer a member of the military. He is a member of the House of Commons. As defence minister, it is his duty to ensure that his authority over the troops and his attitude are beyond reproach.
Over the past 18 months, we have been told four confirmed “alternative facts”. I am only mentioning four because I am short on time. The most recent alternative fact was the last straw for members of the Canadian Armed Forces. The minister claimed to be the proud leader of Operation Medusa. That does not make any sense.
For all these reasons, the minister has lost all credibility. He lost whatever credibility he had. Yes, he is a man of honour. He is a soldier who had a wonderful career. However, as a politician, he missed the mark. We are calling for his resignation for all the reasons I just mentioned.
Mr. Speaker, at the start I want to say how much we are thinking about the flood victims in Ontario and Quebec and how much we thank our military people and other first responders for the work that they are doing.
In October 2016, I was made critic for veterans affairs, and part of my responsibility was to continue on the good work of the member for , the former critic, to restore relationships with our veterans. I can say, as somebody who represents CFB Borden or is in close proximity to CFB Borden, just how important that trust is to our men and women who serve this country. I never served my country, but I did serve my community as a firefighter. In a quasi-military organization, that trust is just as relevant as it is in our military.
The current government said that it was going to do things differently. Let me start by saying that it gives me no great pleasure to take a pound of flesh out of the , because I think he is a good and honourable man, and no one is discounting the service that he gave to our country. However, this is the government that ran on a mandate of transparency, on accountability, and on honesty. In fact, in the mandate letter that the wrote to the minister, he used the word “honesty” eight times and he used the word “accountability” six times. He used “honesty” in the context of the expectation that everything the Liberals do as a government and that he does as a minister will be done honestly.
Unfortunately, the minister has not lived up to the expectations of the Prime Minister. On not just one occasion but on two occasions, he misled the Canadian public on his role in Operation Medusa. I know the other side is arguing about the grammar that was used, but the fact is that he did it twice.
In lines of questioning last week, not only did we speak about the word “honesty” being used eight times in the minister's mandate later but also about “accountability” being mentioned six times. This is about the trust, the respect, and the integrity that the men and women in our Canadian Forces have in the since this issue broke.
I have gone to several events in my riding, many of them attended by members of the military. I was at the Battle of the Atlantic commemoration this past Sunday in Barrie, and every single person I spoke to said, “What was he thinking? What was he doing?” I have sat in this House and I have heard the line of questioning and I see what is going on today. I look over at the Minister of National Defence. He knows he was wrong. He knows what he did was not right. He knows that our Canadian soldiers deserve somebody who is going to have their back, not somebody who pats himself on his own back, and I am placing direct blame not on the minister but on the .
The does not know this is wrong. He is doing what he can to protect the minister. I believe that the minister, being an honourable man, knows that he cannot lead in his position anymore. Every time that minister steps onto a base, every time he steps onto a ship, every time he takes a flight, and every time he addresses our men and women in uniform, they will have what the minister did in back of their mind. This is the Prime Minister's fault. It is the Prime Minister who is diminishing this man's integrity and diminishing this man's respect among our troops. If the minister knows what he did was wrong, he needs to do the honourable thing and that is resign. I believe this. I believe in the honour and integrity of the minister. I believe he knows that he needs to do this, but for some reason they are hiding him.
This past weekend, we saw the running cover for the . This is no secret to us here in Ontario. We have seen a pattern of this in the Ontario legislature with the Ontario Liberals. They deny, deny, deny. They do not do anything about it. They do not take responsibility.
The current is not taking responsibility. He is the one who is putting the minister in this position, further diminishing his credibility, further diminishing his respect among the men and women of our services, and further diminishing his integrity. The Prime Minister is to blame for this situation continuing to go on the way it is, not the minister of defence.