I would like to open this session of committee of the whole by making a short statement.
Tonight's debate is being held under Standing Order 81(4)(a) which provides for each of two sets of estimates selected by the Leader of the Opposition to be considered in committee of the whole for up to four hours.
For some members, this may be the first time they participate in such a debate. Therefore, I would like to explain how we will proceed.
Tonight's debate is a general one on all of the votes under National Defence. The first round will begin with the usual rotation, with the official opposition followed by the government and the Liberal Party. After that, we will follow the usual proportional rotation.
Each member will be allocated 15 minutes at a time, which may be used both for debate and for posing questions. Should members wish to use this time to make a speech, it can last a maximum of 10 minutes, leaving at least 5 minutes for questions to the minister.
When a member is recognized, he or she should indicate to the Chair how the 15 minute period will be used--in other words, what portion will be used for speeches and what portions for questions and answers.
Members should also note that they will need the unanimous consent of the House if they wish to split their time with another member.
When the time is to be used for questions and answers, the Chair will expect that the minister's response will reflect approximately the time taken by the question, since this time will be counted in the time originally allotted to the member.
Though members may speak more than once, the Chair will generally try to ensure that all members wishing to speak are heard before inviting members to speak again, while respecting the proportional party rotations for speakers.
Members need not be in their own seats to be recognized.
As your Chair, I shall be guided by the rules of the committee of the whole. However, in the interest of a full exchange, I am prepared to exercise discretion and flexibility in the application of these rules. The Chair will expect all hon. members to focus on the subject matter of the debate, the main estimates of the Department of National Defence.
I also wish to indicate that in committee of the whole, ministers and members should be referred to by their title or riding name and all remarks should, as usual, be addressed through the Chair.
I ask for everyone's co-operation in upholding the established standards to parliamentary language and behaviour.
At the conclusion of tonight's debate, the committee will rise, the estimates under National Defence will be deemed reported and the House will adjourn immediately until tomorrow.
We will now begin tonight's session of the House in committee of the whole pursuant to Standing Order 81(4)(a), the first appointed day, consideration in the committee of the whole of all votes under National Defence in the main estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2013.
For the first comment, or statement, the hon. member for St. John's East.
Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of National Defence, CPC):
Madam Chair, it is a pleasure to be here this evening discussing a great passion for many Canadians, which is the committee of the whole and the discussion around the Department of National Defence. I am joined here, ably, by the Chief of Defence Staff, General Walt Natynczyk; the deputy minister of National Defence, Rob Fonberg; as well as Kevin Lindsey, the chief financial officer from the Department of National Defence; along with our members.
I want to thank members and those tuning in at home for their attention, their affection and their interest in the department. In fact, during my time as minister of the crown, we continually focus on ensuring that we communicate regularly with Canadians, as we do with parliamentarians. In fact, this is my 25th appearance before a committee, my second with respect to a committee of the whole.
As you know, I am a strong advocate of the Canadian Forces and of the critical role that they play for Canada and the whole world. So, I am always pleased to have the opportunity to promote the important work that this government, the department, and the Canadian Forces are doing in the defence of Canada, and in support of our allies.
Over the past four and a half years, I have had the distinct pleasure of leading a tough, energetic, patriotic and committed team of defence professionals. Whether tackling the massive challenges of deploying over 40,000 Canadian Forces members who rotated through Afghanistan or working tirelessly here at home to provide emergency assistance to thousands of Canadians in their time of need, I have always been impressed by their ability to adapt and persevere, to come together as a united military and civilian defence team in the performance of their mission, no matter what the challenge or how high the tempo.
As members know, it has been another busy year for the Department of National Defence, a pivotal one. Over the past 12 months we have successfully wrapped up two international operations in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and in Libya, stood up our training mission in northern Afghanistan and continued to carry out a broad range of security missions at home and around the world; 15 in total. There are currently more than 1,300 Canadian Forces personnel in NATO and UN missions in combined ops around the world, and Canadian military personnel continue to serve our interests at home and abroad and are protecting and projecting the values Canadians hold dear.
At the same time, we have maintained an ongoing focus on building a strong, modern, capable military by investing in the tools and resources needed to meet the challenges of the future in the next 50 years and beyond.
Members will know that our Canadian government has invested almost $1 billion annually in increasing the National Defence budget since we took office in 2006. We now have an annual budget of roughly $20 billion and we have in our employ over 133,000 committed Canadians, both civilian and military.
The main estimates that we have before us this evening reflect our evolving operational context and represent the government's plan to continue the stable and responsible provision of resources to support National Defence over the next fiscal year.
We are currently in the fourth year of implementing our comprehensive 20 year Canada first defence strategy announced in Halifax by the Prime Minister in 2008. As I told a Senate committee on security and defence last week, even though we are still in the early implementation years of this visionary strategy, we have already delivered some impressive achievements across all four pillars of personnel, equipment, infrastructure and readiness.
We have not only successfully expanded the size of both our regular and reserve force, but we have also significantly improved the quality of care we provide them.
We have added $100 million to the base health budget of the Canadian Forces since 2006, bringing the annual health budget up to well over $450 million. Through the creation of the Joint Personnel Support Unit, we have helped provide streamlined one-stop service for our military personnel, our ill and injured, our veterans, as well as families through a network of 24 integrated personnel support centres located at bases around the country. Through programs, such as caring for our own, legacy of care and soldier on, we are helping provide comprehensive medical care, counselling and other services to ill and injured as well as their families through the process of recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration. Through programs like soldier on or shoulder to shoulder, we are strengthening and facilitating access to counselling, care and support services for families and their loved ones in the Canadian Forces and for members who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
However, we continue to do more. We are committed to supporting our military personnel in every sense of the word and, of course, that includes providing them with the tools they need to do their important work.
I am very pleased and proud to be here tonight with the Associate Minister of National Defence who will be speaking to some of those improvements that we have seen in the past number of years.
Our government has already made great strides in delivering modernized capabilities, programs and equipment to support military operational needs. We have initiated numerous other projects to ensure members of the Canadian Forces continue to have the necessary tools to protect Canadians and support our allies well into the future.
We have also made important investments in renewing our military infrastructure across the country by refurbishing or replacing numerous buildings, training facilities and personnel support centres to enhance the health, quality of life and effectiveness of our standing military units.
Finally, we have increased our focus on equipment maintenance, personnel, training and joint exercises, including in the High Arctic and in partnership with our allies and civilian partners to further enhance flexibility, interoperational ability and operational readiness of our military.
The government is very proud of these achievements and very proud of each and every member of the incredible National Defence team. We believe they have made a direct contribution to the outstanding operational success of the Canadian Forces in recent years. Our investments and support helped our men and women in uniform provide emergency assistance to the people of Haiti in January 2010, even while they were helping secure the Vancouver Olympics and the G20 and G8 venues in Ontario. They have helped us to stop the Gadhafi regime from attacking its own people in March of last year, even while our combat patrols were fighting insurgency in Afghanistan.
Canadians too are proud of their military’s accomplishments. They recognize the sacrifice that these extraordinary men and women make each day and they expect us to recognize and support them in their service to Canada and to Canadians.
Our government can truthfully say that our investment plan has already proven in its ability to deliver tangible benefits to the defence of Canada. The approval of these estimates is crucial to maintaining this quality of support for the years to come.
I want to assure hon. members that our estimates reflect the broader economic goals of the Government of Canada. That is why we have included the reallocation of $525 million from the National Defence budget to support government-wide efficiency efforts, slowing growth and ensuring that progress will be there in critical areas for the foreseeable future. That is why one of the key areas of DND's main estimates for the fiscal year is nearly $1.5 billion lower than the year 2011-12.
As Minister of Defence, I am committed to providing Canadians with a modern, agile, responsive and, most of all, sustainable military that reflects both the security and fiscal needs of our country. In today's economic climate, this is an ambitious objective and one that will extend well beyond the timeframe that is captured in these estimates.
As always, we have an incredible National Defence team committed to that goal. For a few years now, we have been pursuing a number of efforts to review National Defence programming in an effort to optimize our investments in capability, in effect changing the very way we do business in National Defence, so as to maximize the efficiencies of our headquarters and administration, and reallocate internal resources toward what matters most to Canadians, and that is tangible operational output. These efforts will help the National Defence team not only to operate within the fiscal environment, but also to ensure that we become leaner, more agile and better positioned to respond to unpredictable security challenges in the future.
Although the conclusion of our combat operations in Afghanistan and of NATO operations in Libya may have temporarily provided us with an opportunity to catch our breath as an institution and focus on longer-term priorities, there is simply no way to know where or when the next major crisis—or series of crises—will occur that might test the capacity, flexibility or readiness of our forces.
We owe that to our citizens. We certainly owe that to our allies. However, most of all, we owe that to the men and women in uniform who will answer the call when it comes and who will rely on the training, the equipment and support that we are investing in now to give them the ability to get the job done and return home to their families safely.
I want to take a moment to thank all of those brave soldiers of the Canadian Forces who accept this unlimited liability, this massive responsibility that we ask of them, and I thank their families for supporting them and standing behind them in this time.
I also take this opportunity to thank members present for their interest and continued support for the Canadian Forces and the defence of Canada. I welcome their questions here this evening.
Hon. Julian Fantino (Associate Minister of National Defence, CPC):
Madam Chair, I am pleased to be here this evening with my colleagues and the representatives of the Canadian armed forces to discuss a number of important issues and what they mean for the Canadian Forces and Canadians in general.
The opposition would want us to return to the decade of darkness and not provide the essential tools our men and women in uniform need to do their job.
Our Conservative government has been clear. This will not happen. With the support of the Canadian public, we are equipping the military for the challenges of today and for those of the future.
As a government, we have responsibility to keep our country strong and free. This government will continue to ensure our men and women in uniform have the support they need to protect our country and represent our interests abroad.
We have a duty to Canadians to prepare for situations and circumstances in advance so we are ready and able to deal with future challenges.
Through my many years in policing and decades of work with the Canadian Forces Liaison Council, I have a developed a deep appreciation for the professionalism of our Canadian Forces and what proper equipment and preparation means in an emergency situation both at home and abroad.
As the Associate Minister of National Defence, I oversee the procurement of major assets and equipment. Meeting this important responsibility is best done through methods I know work from my previous public service sector.
We need to provide value for the hard-earned dollars of Canadians. As trusted custodians of the public purse, we must continually balance needs against available resources and affordability. Determining this balance requires a hands-on approach. It requires that I go beyond the executive summary and immerse myself in the finer aspects of the file to witness, experience and engage in the issues first hand and up close.
This is my style. I have learned valuable lessons by immersing myself in my portfolio and personally engaging with Canadians who do the heavy lifting on a daily basis, our men and women in uniform.
In my current role, I have travelled to Afghanistan to see first hand the brave work our soldiers are doing to help rebuild the country. Our soldiers told me that the enhanced equipment they received saved lives and even better equipment on the way would save more lives, injury and trauma.
I met with our highly-skilled fighter pilots who returned from a successful mission in Libya. They told me that although their current equipment worked well today, it would not suffice in the battle space of tomorrow, and they are absolutely right.
My trip to Winnipeg to meet with search and rescue teams allowed me to see first hand how Canadians were being well-served by some of our best SAR technicians in the world. Canadians who find themselves in distress depend upon them.That is why it is important to have the right equipment ready for the task, at any time, in any weather.
In Vancouver I was proud to see first hand the hundreds of skilled workers who were in the process of modernizing our Halifax class frigates. These are Canadian workers who take their jobs very seriously. They have every right to be proud of the state-of-the-art equipment and services they provide to strengthen the effectiveness of our Royal Canadian Navy.
While touring Canadian industries that are contributing to the joint strike fighter program, I also saw first hand the benefits to Canadian workers in our economy our industrial benefits policies provide.
These experiences have given me the unique opportunity to witness the pride of Canadians as they help design and build for both our nation and allies, cutting-edge fighters for the next generation. They have told me how participation in this program ensures they have good-paying, skilled jobs in Canada well into the future.
I feel privileged to have a front-row seat to witness first hand the leadership that Canadians are taking on multiple fronts around the world.
In Washington we gathered our allies together at our Canadian embassy to demonstrate leadership on the complicated joint strike fighter file.
In Texas I heard how Canadian industry was providing unique solutions to the toughest technological challenges of today and of tomorrow. Our workers are providing aerospace skills and knowledge other nations strive to achieve.
During the Libya campaign, I met with General Bouchard in Italy. I also met other NATO commanders who praised our Canadian military that took a leading role in the international mission.
Our air crews were among the most respected, and we should be proud of their successful efforts.
Our service abroad does come at a cost and it is appropriate to acknowledge the many Canadians who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to Canada in current and past conflicts.
The repatriation ceremonies I have attended in Trenton attest to the fact that the actions on foreign battlefields have lasting impacts at home. I cannot put into words the emotion one goes through on these sad but proud occasions, which have also enhanced my resolve to provide our military men and women with the best equipment available to achieve mission success and optimum safety. Never do I want to have to explain to a grieving family that we did not do our best to provide the essential tools and support for its loved one to return home safely.
I challenge the opposition this evening to put itself in this head space and think carefully about its questions and what it has really asked this government to do.
We know that military equipment is expensive, but one must understand we cannot be penny-wise and proud foolish when lives are at stake, as is the reputation of Canada among our allies.
Being responsible for military procurement, I must balance a moral obligation with the responsibility to provide value for money. This balance is the responsibility of all members of the House and most assuredly of this government.
As I saw first hand in London, Ontario, Canadians are taking the many lessons learned in Afghanistan and elsewhere to make our light armoured vehicles safer for our soldiers. This upgrade is expensive, but the additional safety and likelihood of mission success is worth every penny.
Those who have studied military procurement understand it is very complex. It is difficult to comment definitively on these matters because often there are challenges in sharing sensitive information and to make accurate assessments. Commentary is often misunderstood, misreported and misinformed. It adds little to explaining for some why we procure such equipment.
Tonight I ask the opposition to focus as much on the why as to the how in these matters. Our government, through the Canada first defence strategy, is committed to providing the equipment our military needs. We are doing this in a fiscally responsible manner, while ensuring we meet the needs of today along with the anticipated challenges of tomorrow.
My pledge to Canadians has always been to spend their money as I would my own. I recognize the trust that has been placed in us and the importance of honouring those expectations.
Hon. Julian Fantino:
Madam Chair, I thank the hon. member, not only for his question but also for his years of dedicated service to this country. I applaud his contributions in this regard.
I would suggest that it is no secret that our military was suffering from rust out under the previous government. Early in our mandate, we released the Canada first defence strategy, which has been our guiding policy in revitalizing our military for today and the future. Our actions speak for themselves. We now have four Globemaster cargo planes that have allowed Canada to respond to humanitarian disasters and get critical people and equipment to our operations abroad. They also play an important role in moving equipment throughout Canada.
We have successfully replaced our workhorse aircraft, the Hercules, with a newer model that can carry more, fly faster, fly further and provide the strategic airlift needed. We are replacing our aging fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft to ensure we can continue to provide world-leading search and rescue services. New capability in the Arctic offshore patrol ships, which Canada has never had before, will allow us to patrol our Arctic shores and defend our sovereignty.
New joint support ships and fleet of service combatant ships will fully equip members of our Royal Canadian Navy to do the job we ask of them and they will be better able to respond to our current and future needs.
To better protect our troops, we are upgrading our light armoured vehicles with the latest protection and weapons systems. We are also replacing our vehicle fleets to make it safer for those men and women who put their lives on the line on the battlefield. We are taking possession of a new fleet of tanks to ensure we are prepared for theatres like Afghanistan, and, unlike the Liberals, we will not send our troops unprepared into lethal situations. We have successfully procured 37 lightweight towed Howitzers, which allow us to play a key role in protecting our troops in Afghanistan.
By any means, our efforts to revitalize the military and properly equip its members for their job is ambitious, successful and, unfortunately, at this time much needed. Had the previous government done its job properly, our military would have the equipment it needs. I would also like to remind the members opposite that military procurement provides thousands of jobs for Canadians and benefits our national economy. These jobs are often highly skilled, high-paying jobs that bring economic benefit to communities across this nation and I invite the hon. members opposite to get on with the program.
Mr. Chris Alexander (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, CPC):
Madam Chair, as all members know, one of the roles that these estimates allow the Canadian Forces to play is to contribute to international peace and security and project Canadian leadership abroad. As the Prime Minister said, words alone will not suffice to make this possible.
As a government, with these two ministers at the forefront, we have been engaged in rebuilding Canada's armed forces to be a modern, state-of-the-art fighting force to protect Canada's role of influence in the world and to allow us to do our part when the international community decides to act and military capacity is required. Today's investments are tomorrow's capabilities.
On a day like today, May 9, the anniversary of victory in Europe, we would do well to reflect that the last three years have brought us to an operational tempo that had last been achieved by this country only in the 1950s. In addition to the G20, the Olympics and domestic missions, about which we will hear more in tonight's proceedings, we had missions in Haiti and Libya and for over a decade we had the mission in Afghanistan, which both ministers have rightly emphasized as central to the renewal of the capacity of our Canadian Forces.
A terrible earthquake hit Haiti in January 2010, and 2,000 members of the Canadian Forces were deployed as an emergency task force to operate airfields, to provide help and assistance to those in need and to provide a backbone for a much larger international assistance mission.
All of these capabilities would not have been there without the investments we are talking about today, without the investments for the long term that are represented by today's estimates, particularly the procurement elements.
Let us look back over a mission with which I am most familiar among all the missions the Canadian Forces has undertaken, and that is the mission in Afghanistan. Let us look back at the leadership role Canada has played for over a decade at every stage of that mission.
Canada protected the Kandahar airfield as early as 2002, in the very first stages of the campaign. Operation Anaconda cleared the last serious, organized forces loyal to the Taliban out of the country. Canada promoted a NATO command of ISAF in the summer of 2003 when it was not yet a mission of the North Atlantic alliance. Our Canadian Forces took over command of that mission in 2004. Canada championed the expansion of ISAF to all parts of the country to ensure that the UN mandate, that multinational mission now including over 40 countries, ultimately covered all of Afghanistan. Our Canadian Forces took on disarmament and heavy weapons confinement. We also took over a PRT in Kandahar in 2005. Our forces faced, almost alone at first, the first wave of insurgency in 2006, and then became a crucible for successful counter-insurgency in southern Afghanistan in Zhari and Panjwai and Dand Districts. Our Canadian Forces prepared the ground for a U.S-led surge, transferring to the training mission just last year. The Canadian Forces contributed in all of these ways to a huge security gain in southern Afghanistan and across that country.
These missions were not without cost and not without sacrifice. One hundred and fifty-eight Canadian lives were lost. More than 2,000 lives were lost from allied nations, as well as tens of thousands of Afghan lives, and lives continue to be lost.
However, these sacrifices resulted in an enormous gain for that country. Afghanistan is a changed country, with a GDP per capita income ratio four times what it was when our troops first arrived. Clinics and schools blanket the country. There are new roads and infrastructure. Agriculture is on the rebound. Most important in terms of tonight's discussion is that the Afghan national security force is close to 200,000 on the army side and close to 150,000 on the national police side.
This has given the Afghan people hope. It has given Canada the rationale to focus on training. It has given all of us the possibility to talk about the transition to an Afghan lead in all parts of the country, which is under way.
There are tough days ahead and important decisions to make, but it is important on a night like tonight, when we are talking about investing in Canadian capabilities, that we not forget the achievements.
Those achievements also came in Libya last year. Many months of 2011 were devoted to this mission, to keeping Misrata open, courtesy of the Royal Canadian Navy, and to refuelling allied aircraft, courtesy of our air force, to analyzing Gadhafi's brutal attacks, identifying targets, flying over 10% of the attack missions over Libya in the case of Canada's current fighter fleet, and of course, one point we are all enormously proud of, through Lieutenant-General Charlie Bouchard, exercising leadership with determination, balance and wisdom.
As our Minister of National Defence has said, Canadians see the value of dealing with potential international security problems upstream. That is one of the reasons we engaged not only when the going got very tough in Libya and Afghanistan, but also in operations around the world that aim to prevent conflict.
All hon. members may not know that there are 1,300 Canadian Forces members deployed around the world, not just in Afghanistan, but in 17 international missions.
Right now, 57 Canadian Forces personnel are stationed in the Middle East, a critical region where the Canadian Forces have been present since the Suez crisis in 1956.
These troops are participating in four operations: in the Sinai Peninsula with the multinational force and observers, created by the 1979 Camp David and Washington peace treaties; on the Golan Heights; in various other Middle East locations with the United Nations organization responsible for overseeing the truce; and in Jerusalem and on the West Bank with the Office of the United States Security Coordinator. What are we doing with the United States in those places? The Canadian Forces are overseeing and training Palestinian Authority security forces and helping coordinate security issues between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The future of the Middle East depends on creating a climate of peace and stability. Canada is helping to make that happen.
In Africa, the Canadian Forces are making an important contribution to various UN missions. For example, 14 CF personnel have been assigned to Operation Soprano, Canada's contribution to the United Nations mission in South Sudan. Nine members of the Canadian Forces are participating in Operation Crocodile, Canada's contribution to peacekeeping in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Maritime operations are still under way. Only last year, the members of the Canadian Forces on board HMCS Charlottetown participated in the NATO mission off the coast of Libya. Now, they are part of NATO's Operation Active Endeavour to prevent the movement of terrorists and weapons of mass destruction in the Mediterranean Sea.
The fact that HMCS Charlottetown is now in the Arabian Sea region is proof of Canada's perseverance and its ongoing determination to participate in maritime operations abroad. Five Canadians are still in Haiti, two years after the earthquake.
However, we have to adapt in today's complex security environment. We have to respond to new and evolving challenges, the growing importance of the Asia-Pacific region in the global economy, threats in emerging domains like space and cyber, the human rights of populations under threat from conflict, failed institutions, or repressive regimes.
We cannot know all of the potential threats that Canada may face in the future, so we must continue to expect the unexpected. That is exactly what the Canada first defence strategy has tried to do. That is exactly what these estimates seek to support, sound and balanced investments across the four key pillars of military capability: equipment, personnel, infrastructure and readiness.
Our forces deserve nothing less. Through relief and reconstruction in Haiti, through success in Libya, through progress in Afghanistan, through global partnerships in support of international peace and security, they are achieving their objectives, our objectives, magnificently.
As a former prime minister, one who I know is very dear to the memory of our current Minister of National Defence, Sir Robert Borden, once said, “We must not forget that days may come when our patience, our endurance and our fortitude will be tried to the utmost.” That level of commitment has an honourable place in our history. That level of commitment has an honourable place in today's debate on these estimates, the Canadian Forces and how we as Canadians support them.
Mr. Chris Alexander:
Madam Chair, the question posed by my hon. colleague from Etobicoke—Lakeshore is very important because it relates to values that Canadians really care about: the security and integrity of our personal information. That is why it gives me great pleasure to reply.
Communications Security Establishment Canada is Canada's national cryptologic agency. It provides the Government of Canada with two key services: foreign signals intelligence in support of defence and foreign policy, and the protection of electronic information and communication.
It is important to note that CSEC does not target Canadians' communications. I probably should repeat this. CSEC does not target Canadians' communications, no matter where they live. In addition, legislative measures in effect protect Canadians' privacy. CSEC activities focus on foreign intelligence.
Oversight is provided by an independent commissioner, who is a supernumerary justice or a retired justice of a superior court. The current commissioner, Robert Décary, is a former justice of the Federal Court and the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada. He takes his responsibilities seriously, and he carries out his duties with impeccable diligence and intelligence.
To carry out this review mandate, the commissioner and his staff are guaranteed access to all CSEC personnel, information and documentation.
The commissioner's work involves the thorough review of selected CSEC activities using a variety of methods, such as monitoring control mechanisms, scrutinizing policies and procedures and how they are applied, reviewing training programs, reviewing the use of information, and reviewing the technology used to minimize the collection of information not relevant to CSEC's mandate and therefore safeguard the privacy of Canadians.
The commissioner's reports indicate that CSEC's activities over the past 16 years have been lawful. The commissioner has also confirmed that CSEC has taken steps to protect Canadians' privacy, as required by law.
Mr. James Bezan (Selkirk—Interlake, CPC):
Madam Chair, it is great that we are able to get together tonight to discuss the estimates for national defence. It is vital for us to remember how these funds are put to use and impact upon the safety of our country.
Over the past few years the Canadian Forces have been extremely busy and Canadians have taken notice. They have seen and heard reports of the work that has been done by our troops in places like Haiti, Afghanistan and Libya. I welcome the well-deserved attention and credit it gives to our men and women in uniform. However, in many ways, it does not give a complete picture of the work they have done and what they continue to do day in and day out on our behalf and for our benefit. The primary duty of our armed forces is to protect and defend Canadians right here at home.
This sense of priority is reflected in the very title of the guiding document of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces called the Canada first defence strategy. The Canada first defence strategy lays out six core missions that the Canadian Forces members are expected to be able to perform to keep Canada and Canadians safe. Four of them relate directly to what our friends in uniform call the home game. I would like to go over each of these briefly to underscore just how much our men and women in uniform are doing for us domestically and all too often out of sight.
The Canadian Forces members stand ready and able to respond to a major terrorist attack because of their elite counterterrorism unit, the Joint Task Force Two. The unit is ready to respond at a moment's notice because of its healthy partnerships with law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
These relationships also have been extremely valuable in assisting the Canadian Forces members in another of their assigned missions: supporting a major event here in Canada. The Canadian Forces have gained experience in this over the last few years. They supported the RCMP and local law enforcement in providing security for the Vancouver Olympics. Using everything from fighter jets to skis, they monitored and helped secure 10,000 square kilometres of some of the most challenging geography in Canada. The good work helped ensure that the focus of the games stayed where it belonged: on the athletes, not on the security.
A few months later, more than 2,800 Canadian Forces personnel successfully performed a similar task when Canada welcomed world leaders to the G8 and G20 meetings.
Another core mission that the Canadian Forces have undertaken time and again is to support civilian authorities during a crisis right here in Canada. The Canadian Forces have a long tradition in this area, particularly when the crisis in question is a natural disaster. Over the last year or so, our men and women in uniform have been called upon repeatedly to help local authorities with such challenges. In May of last year, the forces responded with roughly 800 personnel to the worst flooding the Richelieu Valley and Montérégie region had seen in over a century.
Simultaneously, nearly 2,000 troops and several aircraft were dispatched to help deal with the flooding along the Assiniboine River right in Manitoba, where they helped coordinate and carry out a broad effort in sand-bagging, evacuation, infrastructure protection and logistical assistance. On behalf of my constituents of Selkirk—Interlake, I want to thank the Canadian Forces again for the work they did along Lake Manitoba.
Later that summer, just under 400 soldiers were deployed to Souris, Manitoba, again to help reinforce dikes near the town in the face of yet more flooding. Members of the Canadian Forces spent much of July working to evacuate over 3,600 residents from several of Ontario's northern and first nation communities that were threatened by forest fires. I want to thank the members of the Canadian Forces for their heroic work right across Canada, giving us peace of mind knowing they are always standing by and ready to serve during times of need.
Regardless of which contingency missions the Canadian Forces may be undertaking at any given time, they are also responsible 24/7 and 365 days a year for the fourth mission laid out in the Canada first defence strategy: the conduct of daily domestic and continental operations. The activities carried out under this umbrella are as diverse as they are important. They are the ones the forces plan for in advance or that they carry out routinely. To call them routine does them no justice because they involve challenging and often dangerous tasks, such as search and rescue or sovereignty patrols in the Arctic. They include other less visible operations, such as Op Palaci, which sees regular forces and reserve soldiers provide avalanche control assistance to Parks Canada by firing artillery in and around Rogers Pass, or Operation Sabot, where military helicopters and their crews have supported the RCMP in its marijuana surveillance and eradication program. In 2011 alone, this cooperation led to the seizure of over 63,000 marijuana plants.
This fourth category of domestic mission also includes ongoing air defence patrols under Norad. This was another routine task that became a part of life and death on the morning of September 11, 2001. Since that day, the service performed by our fighter pilots has flown below the radar, even though Canada and U.S. fighter aircraft conduct around 200 precautionary intercepts of civilian and military aircraft every year under the direction of Norad. This close co-operation with the U.S. highlights our government's long-standing recognition that Canadian security is intrinsically linked to that of the entire continent, something that is acknowledged in the Canada first defence strategy.
In addition to their purely domestic activities, the Canadian Forces continue to work hand in hand with our single closest ally, the United States.
The defence team does this in a number of ways.
One is through Norad itself, which after more than 50 years is still the world's only binational command structure responsible to both the Governments of Canada and of the United States. It monitors and defends our aerospace and has taken on new responsibilities in keeping watch over our Maritime operations.
Another is through the Permanent Joint Board on Defense, which for over 70 years has acted as a forum for political and military engagement on a wide range of defence issues.
In today's increasingly globalized world, both Canada and the United States understand that we need to look beyond our bilateral relationship to secure a respective domestic security. That is why we are working together to build deeper partnerships in the Americas as a whole through the Inter-American Defense Board, the Conference of Defence Ministers of the Americas and a trilateral meeting of Canadian, U.S. and Mexican defence ministers. We are backing up our participation in these fora with concrete co-operation in the region, like bilateral training initiatives, disaster assistance, most notably after the earthquake in Haiti, and counter-narcotic operations in the Caribbean and eastern Pacific. All this activity contributes to a safe neighbourhood for Canada, which translates into safety for Canadians.
Our government has given careful thought to what our forces need to do to keep Canada and Canadians safe. These are clearly laid out in the Canada first defence strategy and our men and women in uniform have worked here at home to fulfill them. Time and again they have responded when our constituents have been in danger or need. The defence team has also gone beyond our borders to work alongside our neighbours and our regional partners, all in the interests of protecting Canadians. All of this hard work, long-standing co-operation and forward thinking has kept, and will continue to keep, our country safe. For this we owe the Canadian Forces our gratitude and the means to successfully continue their important work.
I have a couple of questions I would like to ask the Minister of National Defence.
Our men and women in uniform have established themselves as leaders in the world for their professionalism and dedication. They are respected among our allies and, in my opinion, they are second to none. Yet as proud as they are, there is no doubting that a lengthy mission, such as what we have experienced in Afghanistan, can indeed take its toll and they need us now to support them.
As chair of the Standing Committee on National Defence, I am glad to advise the House that our committee will be undertaking a study on the care of our ill and injured, both the visible and invisible injuries that plague many of our Canadian Forces members.
Last summer, the minister announced military health care infrastructure improvements in 17 Wing in Winnipeg, in my home province. Could the minister inform us as to how this initiative will ensure that our Canadian Forces personnel will continue to receive the full spectrum of first-class health care they so rightly deserve?
Hon. Peter MacKay:
Madam Chair, I thank the member for Selkirk—Interlake for his leadership as chair of the defence committee and the very good news he shared with us tonight that we will have the opportunity to delve in detail to deal with the issues around health care and mental health care for the Canadian Forces.
He is absolutely right when he talks about the broad array of services that are provided by the members of the Canadian Forces. They truly do stand on guard for thee. As we sit here tonight, we have members who are at the ready to respond to search and rescue, who are at sea, who continue to do important work in preparation of missions that await. We have to be there for them. There is no higher priority, I would suggest, no higher obligation for a government, for a minister of defence, than to ensure that we care for the ill and injured, and that is exactly what we do.
It is more than just money. We have seen an overall increase of $100 million into the issues around health and mental health since we took office in 2006. This is in addition to the ongoing capital of $439.6 million for the Canadian Forces health care.
We have a strong network across the country of programs, of infrastructure, that includes what the hon. member mentioned at 17 Wing in his province, a $3.9 million investment in infrastructure.
To ensure the ill and injured have first-class health care so they can get the care that they need and rightly deserve, we have opened 24 integrated personal support centres, one stop shopping for the ill and the injured that will allow our personnel, our veterans, our family members to go to those locations across the country and get the help they need.
We created the “Soldier On” program to give ill and injured soldiers and members and veterans the opportunity to stay physically fit. I commend people like Master Corporal Jody Mitic and others who have shown great leadership in this program and continue to support these efforts across the country.
We have also targeted more resources in the area of mental health. There has been discussion about this. We are continuing, and in fact increasing, our support for those in need of mental health counselling. I want to say a word about the tremendous contribution made in this regard by Canadian Forces chaplains, and that includes imams and rabbis. Non-denominational support is there for the members when they need it, in addition to the professional psychologists and psychiatrists who are there as well.
We have committed to doubling the number of mental health professionals. We continue to make investments in that regard in great strides. However, as the Chief of the Defence Staff has said, there is an acute shortage across the country, so we continue to reach out to those professional associations to work with us to ensure, in particular, that reservists, who do not necessarily live on base or near base, are also able to access those important services.
On some rotations in Afghanistan, we had up to 25% participation for reservists. Therefore, this issue is not escaping our watchful eye and we continue to make these important efforts. We know that issues around mental health and suicide are of particular attention and focus. We have to ensure those who are in need of that support receive it and that they realize there is no shame in asking for that support.
Most often it is a friend, a battle buddy or a family member who pushes and encourages the member to come forward. We want to bring these issues out into the light, out into the discussion, in the public, to ensure that no stigma, no adverse inference whatsoever is applied to those who seek this important help.
I again want to commend the Chief of the Defence Staff for his personal leadership in this regard, which was recognized by the Canadian Mental Health Association with an award two years ago to the Canadian Forces.
On the physical injuries side, which my friend rightly pointed out, those with physical injuries are also being addressed. We have made important investments in cutting edge technology. The CAREN system, the computer assisted rehabilitation environment system, is now available in Edmonton and in Ottawa.
I want to thank my colleague from Edmonton Centre who pushed very hard to see that this cutting edge technology would be made available to members of the forces. He himself, a former member, a former fighter pilot in the Canadian Forces, has shown tremendous leadership during our term in office.
All of these investments and more, investments in health technology, information systems, infrastructure across the country at bases and wings, is a testament to our commitment each and every day.
Can we do more? Yes. Will we do more? Absolutely. There is no higher priority and we are committed to serving the needs of our ill and injured as quickly and with as much diligence as possible.
Mrs. Cheryl Gallant (Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, CPC):
Mr. Chair, it is a pleasure to address the committee and speak to the need for continued investment in the well-being of Canadian Forces members, their families and our veterans.
As the member of Parliament for Renfrew--Nipissing--Pembroke, I represent one of the busiest bases in the country, CFB Petawawa, the training ground of the warriors.
The women and men of the Canadian Forces do extraordinary work in defending Canada and Canadians at home and abroad, and their operational track record over the past decade is testament to the fact.
However, we all know that delivering this kind of sustained operational excellence does not come easily. It is only possible because of the professionalism, dedication and sense of duty of our military personnel and because they accept hardships, the sacrifices and the stresses that come with serving in uniform.
Of course we do everything we can to ensure the safety of CF members in the performance of their missions but no matter how well trained they are and no matter how well equipped they may be, there will always be risks involved with military personnel. That is why we also have a responsibility to provide them, and the families who support them and depend upon them, with the care and support they need throughout their career and beyond.
I am proud to be part of a government that makes our brave women and men in uniform one of its top priorities. As stated in the Canada first defence strategy unveiled in 2008, personnel are one of the four essential pillars upon which we build our military capabilities.
Since coming to office in 2006, this government has taken steps to improve the care we provide to our personnel, their families and veterans. Our approach is premised on the belief that in order to treat our ill, injured and wounded personnel effectively we must coordinate our efforts, from recovery to rehabilitation and reintegration. For this comprehensive approach to be successful, we need to ensure that our troops, our veterans and their families can easily access services.
That is why we set up the Joint Personnel Support Unit in 2009. The JPSU is a one-stop service for ill and injured military personnel and their families through a network of 24 integrated personnel support centres on bases and wings across Canada. These centres provide much of the needed services to our military families wherever they are located by helping our ill and injured along the path to recovery and providing access to rehabilitation programs to aid in the transition to the next phase of their lives. IPFCs ensure that our troops and their loved ones have access to the same high standard of care and support across Canada.
We also recognize that we need more than infrastructure to care for our personnel and their families.
Our troops, their families and our veterans face situations that are often very complex and unique to military life. They need programs and initiatives that address these specific needs. This is especially true of those who are ill or who have been injured or wounded.
One of the first initiatives to be launched was Soldier On in 2006. Just this past weekend, the Calabogie Peaks resort hosted Ride the Valley for Soldier On. Canadian army veteran motorcycle units from across Ontario participated. This is a great program. It helps in the recovery of our ill and injured CF personnel by providing them with the opportunities to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle through sport.
This past February, the Calabogie ski resort hosted a winter sports clinic, teaching the ill and injured how to ski. In February 2013, it will be doing the same.
In the same vein, we also introduced last year the computer assisted rehabilitation environment system, or CAREN. CAREN is an advanced system that uses virtual reality software to help rehabilitate injured CF members more quickly and effectively.
To offer more comprehensive support not only to our ill and injured Canadian Forces members, but also to the family members who accompany them through their rehabilitation, we launched the legacy of care program in 2010. Legacy of care is designed to facilitate access to a broad range of services, such as adapted accommodation throughout the recovery process, or financial and educational assistance for family members.
Also, to provide better financial assistance to military personnel with disabilities, the Minister of National Defence announced just last month that the government is increasing the funding for the service income security insurance plan, SISIP, long-term disability program by $113 million.
Of course, this government recognizes that mental health is just as important as physical health. That is why we have also set up programs and initiatives specifically designed to address psychological or emotional issues, including operational stress injuries. To improve treatment for our personnel dealing with these problems, over 200 mental health practitioners have been hired in recent years through the Canadian Forces mental health initiative.
The CF also launched “Be the Difference”, a mental health awareness campaign that aims to build a culture of understanding for mental health issues within the Canadian Forces. Because of the great efforts we have made over recent years to address mental health issues, Canada has become a world leader in fighting the stigmatization of post-traumatic stress disorder and other operational stress injuries. I was pleased to learn that CFB Petawawa will soon have two psychologists working on the base providing services to our CF members closer to their homes.
This government recognizes that it is not enough to care for our ill, injured and wounded CF members. We must also care for their families. They courageously accept the risks, the burdens and the sacrifices that come with the service. We can never repay extraordinary service and any sacrifice our military families make, but we can work to improve their well-being. That is what this government has done since taking office.
In 2007 we set up the military families fund. This wonderful initiative provides our military families in need with short-term or long-term support, such as emergency financial assistance or educational opportunities. We have also introduced various resources, family liaison officers, the familyforce.ca website, and the family information line to easily link the families of our women and men in uniform with the information and services they need.
Of course, we have not and cannot forget about the families of the fallen. For them we introduced the shoulder to shoulder initiative in 2011. This program helps the families of our fallen deal with the tragedy of their loss by providing them with the services of counsellors and therapists, and by connecting them with volunteers who have lived through similar experiences.
After a decade of high operational tempo, the CF is now shifting its focus toward building the force of tomorrow, a force capable of meeting the challenges of an evolving and unpredictable security environment. We always remember that the foundation upon which we build this future force is our women and men in uniform and their families. They are without a doubt our most precious asset. That is why our approach to care is comprehensive, starting with the service and extending to the military families, the military life, and life after the service.
We have outlined this integrated approach in a newly released publication called, “Caring for Our Own”.
In the minister's opening remarks, he referenced the great work done by the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Canadian Navy, and the Canadian army.
The 1990s represented a particularly dark time for the Canadian Forces as they were put in difficult circumstances, were ill-equipped and ill-prepared, which undoubtedly had an impact on troop morale.
Since forming government in 2006, we have not only invested in the Canadian Forces through equipment and training, but have also implemented initiatives that seek to reconnect them with their proud history.
Could the Minister of National Defence inform the committee of the whole of the initiatives his department has undertaken to reconnect our Canadian Forces with their proud history and traditions?
Mr. Ted Opitz (Etobicoke Centre, CPC):
Mr. Chair, the government understands that in order to carry out the varied and difficult missions in the service of our country, the Canadian Forces need to have four important things: healthy, well-trained and motivated personnel; the right mix of equipment; the right portfolio of properly maintained physical infrastructure; and a high level of operational readiness.
That is why, in 2008, we made those elements the four pillars of the Canada first defence strategy, CFDS. It is our blueprint for building modern forces adaptive to the security challenges of the 21st century. The Canada first defence strategy outlines a 20 year investment plan to ensure that the Canadian Forces have the capabilities and the flexibility to continue serving Canadians in a security environment that is all but predictable.
The government recognizes that people are our most important asset. As a former commanding officer of a reserve infantry unit, I know that to be especially true when we consider the intense operational tempo of the past years.
Since taking office in 2006, the government increased the size of the regular force by 5,000 to reach 68,000 personnel. This allowed us to sustain our operations in Afghanistan where we deployed more than 40,000 troops over a decade, and that includes the hon. member for Pickering—Scarborough East who served there in 2007.
We also relied heavily on our reservists. In Afghanistan alone, approximately 6,000 reservists have served alongside the regular force, sharing the same stress, the same dangers and the same risks.
Now that our operational temp has slowed down, the government is taking steps to ensure that reservists are provided with adequate career transition support to facilitate their return to part-time service. In the same vein, the hon. members are fully aware that our high operational tempo has been hard on our troops and their families.
That is why we have taken many steps to improve the support we provide them, from additional funding to help with their treatment of mental and physical injuries, to initiatives aimed at improving assistance to our military families in need and programs to support the families of our fallen.
Of course, all the support we provide our personnel does not amount to much if we do not also provide them with the tools they need to do their jobs. Having the right equipment is what allows our troops to serve us to the best of their ability and it is what helps keep them safe.
This is something that the government has recognized since the day it took office in 2006. At the time, our troops were dealing with a fierce insurgency in the Kandahar region. To ensure their safety and operational success, we acquired critical capabilities, like the C-17 Globemaster III, strategic lift aircraft, Chinook helicopters and Leopard 2 tanks. These acquisitions have made a difference to our campaign against the insurgency and have saved Canadian lives.
Through CFDS, we continue strengthening the Canadian Forces by providing them with the right mix of capabilities across all three environments: on land, on water and in the air. On land, we have invested $1 billion to upgrade our fleet of third generation LAV III fighting vehicles which form the backbone of our mechanized infantry.
The upgrade of the LAV III is one of the components of a larger investment in our family of land combat vehicles program. through which we will acquire other capabilities, fleets of close combat vehicles and tactical armoured patrol vehicles. We are giving the army the tools it needs to effectively and safely conduct operations ranging from combat missions and counter insurgency to peacekeeping and domestic crisis response.
To renew our capabilities at sea, we established a national shipbuilding procurement strategy, a $33 billion investment to replace our aging naval fleet and equip the Royal Canadian Navy with a new generation of surface combatants, joint support ships and Arctic off-shore patrol ships. This will allow our sailors to continue their critical work of exercising our sovereignty, protecting our coasts and defending our interests abroad.
To ensure that the Royal Canadian Air Force has the tools it needs to operate in the 21st century, the government is looking to replace the fleet of aging CF-18s with a fighter aircraft that will give the Canadian Forces the flexibility to meet the challenges of the evolving uncertain and unpredictable security environment of the next decades.
That is why we committed to purchasing a next generation fighter capability in the Canada first defence strategy, and we remain true to that commitment.
We have also increased our investments in our third pillar, infrastructure. Having the right training facilities, landing strips, roads, docks, buildings, utilities and accommodations is absolutely essential to the work of the Canadian Forces. That is why, as part of the Canada first defence strategy, we committed to replace or refurbish approximately 25% of our holdings within 10 years and 50% within 20 years. In line with this commitment, the Department of National Defence has announced over $3 billion in defence infrastructure projects across the country since March 2009.
In the past two years alone we have initiated close to 100 projects. They include investments that directly support the operational effectiveness of our troops, such as research centres, training facilities or hangars to accommodate the new equipment. They also include infrastructure projects that provide better support to our men and women in uniform, like access to proper housing or new integrated personnel support centres on bases and wings across Canada.
While these are only a few examples, they illustrate just how far-reaching our efforts in renewing defence infrastructure have been and how important it is for us to keep investing in projects and make a real difference in the work of our troops. These investments in personnel, equipment and infrastructure must be complemented by a focus on readiness to ensure that we sustain the ability of the Canadian Forces to respond when called upon. Readiness is the difference between success and failure.
We are not only talking about how quickly the Canadian Forces can respond, we are also talking about their ability to adapt to changing circumstances. The government knows that one of the keys to readiness is to conduct regular, real-world training. That is why, for example, since 2007, the Canadian Forces conducts an annual sovereignty and security operation in the north, known as Operation Nanook, with its whole-of-government partners and more recently with international allies like the U.S. and Denmark.
Operations like this ensure that our troops remain prepared to meet whatever challenge comes their way. We need to maintain the same kind of readiness that we have displayed both at home and abroad over the past 10 years.
This level of readiness excellence sustained through sound investments is what allowed our troops to bring much needed humanitarian assistance to Haiti after it was struck by a devastating earthquake in January 2010, to intervene at the side of our allies to protect Libyan civilians last year and to quickly come to the aid of survivors when First Air Flight 6560 crashed in Resolute Bay last August so tragically. That is why we will continue our efforts to help the Canadian Forces members ensure that they arrive in ready condition whenever and wherever we need them.
By supporting the work of our troops at home and abroad, our investments through the Canada first defence strategy have produced tangible results for Canadians. It is important to continue to deliver on our commitments we made in the strategy.
Of course, we are mindful of the economic climate. We are taking steps to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of National Defence to ensure that we get the most out of every dollar invested. We cannot forget that we have a responsibility to continue building a modern and agile force suited for the security challenges of tomorrow. As we move forward with the Canada first defence strategy, we will continue to maintain our emphasis on investments in personnel, equipment, infrastructure and readiness.
I have a couple of questions for the Associate Minister of National Defence.
In 2009, as part of our Canada first defence strategy, the Government of Canada announced its plan to acquire the next generation of land combat vehicles. The family of land combat vehicles program, valued at approximately $5 billion, consists of the acquisition of three new fleets and the upgrade of the fleet of third generation light armoured vehicles, valued at an estimated $1 billion. I understand that upgrades will be performed on 550 vehicles and that this contract is a great long-term use for the industry and the economy. I was hoping that the Associate Minister of National Defence could further update us on this project and explain why the upgrade is necessary.
Hon. Julian Fantino:
Mr. Chair, I feel a sense of duty to acknowledge the service to Canada or Canadian armed forces by the hon. member. I want to thank him for his dedication to duty, having served honourably as he has for many years.
The light armoured vehicle is the Canadian army's primary fighting vehicle. It is used for quickly and safely moving infantry on the battlefield, combining defensive protection and firepower necessary to protect against such threats as mines and improvised explosive devices.
Major upgrades to the light armoured vehicles will dramatically improve the safety of our soldiers. As operating environments and future threats evolve, the Canadian Forces must be prepared to counter threats through the improvements in our vehicles and equipment. We are doing that on an ongoing basis. These improvements have been influenced by lessons learned during recent operations in Afghanistan as well as technological advancements. The light armoured vehicle upgrades will provide our troops with improved protection, mobility, firepower and surveillance in order to safely and effectively carry out their missions.
The vehicles receive a completely new lower hull, including engine, transmission, wheels, suspension and mine-resistant protection. In addition, the turret will receive a major redesign, and new fire control systems for the gunner and commander. These upgrades ensure that the light armoured vehicle remains a truly state-of-the-art combat vehicle.
The first vehicles will be delivered to the army within a year. I am proud to say that hundreds of hard-working, skilled Canadians are making these improvements in factories in London, Edmonton and across Canada. I had the great honour and privilege of being among them as we unveiled this new program, dedicated to making our men and women in uniform safer as they engage in very difficult and dangerous circumstances.
Mr. Jack Harris:
Mr. Chair, I am pleased to have another opportunity to ask some questions of the ministers and officials opposite.
I know that the members opposite are fond of referring to the Liberal era, previous to them as the “decade of darkness” when it comes to military equipment and equipping the Canadian Forces. Would the minister not agree that we are now, and have been, in what I would call “an interval of incompetence” when it comes to acquiring equipment for our Canadian Forces?
I will start with a few examples, such as the cancellation of the joint support ship program in August 2008 at the 11th hour and 59th minute of awarding a contract. We now are not going to have the first ship of the joint supply program until 2018, a 10-year delay. There is a six-year delay in the acquisition of the Chinook helicopter program, with the failure to comply with its own tendering, according to the Auditor General.
There was the failure to put forth a fixed-wing SAR procurement program that actually followed its own rule to the point that that was also shut down, with yet another delay for the acquisition of fixed wing, which is desperately needed because of our 50-year-old Buffalos, which are supposedly ending their lifespan in 2015. We will not have any replacements there until the earliest projected date of 2017. We have a total reset on the closed combat vehicle procurement, just announced the other day. Again, this is because the government failed to follow a proper procurement procedure. Of course, we have the debacle of the F-35s, which we are discussing in great detail tonight and the Auditor General has commented so roundly on.
Would either minister, or both ministers, agree that we have a serious problem in the Department of National Defence with respect to acquisition programs? They cannot seem to get it right. They do not seem to be able to follow the rules. We have a serious problem. Would he not agree with that, and will he do something to fix it? Is he going to tell us what his government and his department are going to do to fix this problem so they can get it right and do what they say they want to do, which is to make sure we have the right equipment for our forces?
Mr. Mark Strahl (Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, CPC):
Mr. Chair, I am grateful for this opportunity to address the committee of the whole and to add my voice to those who have already expressed their support for the men and women of the Canadian Forces. It is good to be here with my colleagues, the Minister of National Defence and the Associate Minister of National Defence, as well as General Natynczyk. Perhaps the greatest honour in my young political career came when I joined the general in Esquimalt to welcome home the HMCS Vancouver
and her crew from their deployment in Libya. I thank the general for being there for that.
As we know, the primary responsibility of the Canadian Forces is to protect and defend Canada. This is a vast country, covering 10 million square kilometres and bordered by over 200,000 kilometres of coastline. These numbers are staggering, and it is awe-inspiring to think that roughly 40% of the land mass and 75% of the coastline is contained in our rugged Arctic.
This region has an important historical and symbolic significance to the cultural makeup of our country. As we know, with each passing year more and more northern Canadians are affected, one way or another, by their changing environment. As waterways are becoming increasingly navigable, traffic into and through their region is on the increase. The potential for new transportation and trade routes is becoming a reality, just as the desire, from both inside and outside of Canada, to access the vast resources found in the Arctic increases.
Obviously this is a time of tremendous and, some would say, unequalled opportunity. Mindful of that opportunity, in 2009 our government released its northern strategy on behalf of all Canadians, from the north and the south, to ensure that together we could carefully monitor and protect our Arctic environment, promote and support both economic and social development in the north, improve and devolve governance so that more decision-making is in the hands of northerners and continue exercising Canada's sovereignty in the north so that we can deliver on these goals.
To achieve this vision, our government is working through provincial, territorial and local governance structures. Our government is working with northern Canadians so that they can achieve sustainable improvements to their economic, environmental and social well-being over the long term and exercise the same kind of control over their own future as Canadians do in any other part of the country.
The National Defence team plays a valuable supporting role in the north, collaborating seamlessly with northern communities and with other government departments such as Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and learning from northern residents about how to work and survive in this beautiful and often forbidding part of our country. They have tapped into this fountain of knowledge and experience through the Canadian Rangers program. The Rangers, made up of over 4,000 Canadians of mostly Inuit, first nations and Métis descent, give the Canadian Forces an important and permanent presence in the north. They exercise our sovereignty by reporting unusual activities, collecting local data in support of the Canadian Forces and patrolling our country's Arctic.
Just last month, they and a number of their military colleagues wrapped up Operation Nunalivut, which saw them conduct sovereignty patrols over thousands of kilometres in some of the most remote and inhospitable land on earth. The Rangers also play a valuable role in mentoring and educating troops from the south about how to manage, respect and, ultimately, care for the north. Clearly, they are crucial to Canada's Arctic. This is why our government has taken steps to give them new equipment—including new GPS units, radios, binoculars and survival equipment—to help them better perform their important role. It is why we are committed to expanding the Canadian Ranger program to over 5,000 members, a target our government has made great progress on in the last five years and one that it is now close to meeting.
We are also looking beyond our borders for partners, because we have learned that partnership is not only a way of life in the north, it is the key to success. That is why we recently worked through the Arctic Council to establish a legally binding Arctic search and rescue agreement, something the Canadian Forces continue to lead on, including through a multinational tabletop exercise hosted by Canada last fall. It is why the Chief of the Defence Staff recently hosted a meeting of his counterparts from other northern countries to discuss issues of common interest, particularly support to civilian authorities, and it is why we regularly invite our Arctic neighbours to participate in some of our military training in the region, most notably Operation Nanook, our largest annual Arctic exercise.
This exercise showcases our sovereignty as the Canadian Forces brings together local, territorial and federal stakeholders and it highlights the need for co-operation in a place where no one can hope to succeed alone.
This fact was tragically reinforced during last year's Operation Nanook when First Air flight 6560 crashed near Resolute Bay and the Canadian Forces, working with civilian authorities and other partners, were able to rescue the three survivors and quickly get them to the hospital.
Initiatives like Operation Nanook allow lead departments and the Canadian Forces to combine traditional indigenous knowledge and know-how on the ground with more modern capabilities like aeri