House of Commons Hansard #50 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was forces.

Topics

National Defence—Main Estimates, 2010-11
Business of Supply
Government Orders

8:35 p.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Chair, we all know that the CC-130 Hercules is the workhorse of the Canadian Forces' fleet of transport aircraft. It provides support to domestic and humanitarian aid operations and flies daily missions in Afghanistan. These aircraft have been called the lifeline of deployed forces, as they transport equipment, troops, and supplies to, from, and around theatres of operations.

For example, in Haiti, these aircraft carried much needed equipment, humanitarian relief supplies, and military and civilian personnel into the devastated country. They were also used to transport Canadian citizens back to Canada in the first few weeks following the earthquake.

In Afghanistan, CC-130 Hercules are a vital part of our military task force, and they continue to be a mainstay of the NATO airlift in Afghanistan.

Renewing the tactical airlift fleet is an important element of the Canada first defence strategy and of the commitment to rebuild the Canadian Forces into a first-class modern military. Could the minister please provide us with an update on how this project is progressing?

National Defence—Main Estimates, 2010-11
Business of Supply
Government Orders

8:35 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Chair, I thank the member for Wetaskiwin, whom I know is a strong supporter of the Canadian Forces.

He is absolutely right. The refurbishment, or the replacement and renewal, of our tactical air fleet is a big priority for our government. We have made important investments. In fact, a contract valued at approximately $1.4 billion for 17 new Hercules aircraft was awarded to Lockheed Martin. That included the acquisition of the aircraft and the initial set-up. The funds allocated for the capital program itself are just over $3 billion.

With respect to receipt of these aircraft, I am pleased to report on the delivery schedule. The aircraft are expected to begin delivery as soon as the next few weeks. This will be ahead of schedule. We are working very closely with industry on many fronts to see that this is the case. These aircraft are needed. The aircraft in the previous fleet have been the workhorses, as he has described quite accurately, of the Canadian Forces when it comes to tactical lift. These, in conjunction with the C-17 aircraft, make the Canadian air force a very capable, quickly deployable force, as we saw in Haiti and as we have seen in other missions when have been able to get there, have boots on the ground, and have a strategic effect. This type of aircraft is so critically important.

This contract, as others, required a lot of input from a lot of departments. There is incredible coordination that goes on in contracts such as this, but I am pleased to report that this contract has gone extremely well. We will take receipt of those new aircraft at CFB Trenton very soon.

National Defence—Main Estimates, 2010-11
Business of Supply
Government Orders

8:40 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture

Mr. Chair, I proudly served in our Canadian Forces for 20 years in the branch of the electrical mechanical engineers, also known as EME. If there is one subject I know and understand, it is combat vehicles. The technicians I was responsible for were responsible for fixing and repairing all the army's equipment and also for purchasing new equipment.

Last summer, the minister made an announcement that the government would spend roughly $5 billion to support our army in the acquisition of a new generation of land combat vehicles. I would like to ask the minister if he could update the House on these projects, particularly given that our role in Afghanistan will be changing next year.

National Defence—Main Estimates, 2010-11
Business of Supply
Government Orders

8:40 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Chair, I would be pleased to do so, and I want to begin by thanking the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell for his service as a member of Parliament and for his service in uniform. He is one of a number of members of this House who have provided that service to the Canadian Forces.

The Canada first defence strategy has been referred to a number of times this evening already. This very much includes a plan to acquire a new family of combat vehicles and systems. Last summer, we announced plans to produce the next generation of land combat vehicles. In part, this will include the current fleet of LAV IIIs that will be upgraded. We, in fact, have three new fleets of combat vehicles to be acquired: close combat, or CCVs, tactical armoured patrol vehicles, or TAPVs, and the force mobility enhancement, or FME, vehicles.

One of the lessons we have seen in Afghanistan is that this type of vehicle, these highly protective combat vehicles, are so important to ensure that our troops are able to have the right mix of equipment to patrol in these very volatile, very dangerous areas. We have seen the effects, the sad impact IEDs have had on human lives throughout Afghanistan. One of the proud things we are doing, in addition to equipping our soldiers, is a lot of demining, something that Canada is well known for around the world.

We continue to ensure that we have the proper equipment and the proper mix. We continue to invest to ensure that we have the proper protective gear for our men and women in uniform. Certainly light armoured vehicles, the LAV IIIs, have been one of the workhorses in the fleet. The close combat vehicles and the new tactical patrol vehicles, as well, will form part of that fleet, as will the force mobility enhancement project. All of those are well under way. All of those we will be delivering in the future for the Canadian armed forces.

National Defence—Main Estimates, 2010-11
Business of Supply
Government Orders

8:40 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Chair, the Bloc Québécois was opposed to extending the mission until 2009. So we are just as firmly opposed to the Government of Canada extending the current mission past 2011.

We believe that Canada has done its part, and that it is up to the other NATO countries to take over. Canada must inform the other NATO countries as quickly as possible that it will withdraw its military troops when the mission comes to an end in 2011, as the House has called for, so that they can take over.

I have three questions for the minister. The government confirmed that Canada's military mission in Afghanistan will end in July 2010.

What preparations are being made for the withdrawal of Canadian troops?

Has the minister made it clear to his NATO counterparts that Canada will withdraw after July 2010?

And when the military mission comes to an end in July 2010, does the minister plan on leaving a small contingent of officers and soldiers to help train the Afghan national army?

National Defence—Main Estimates, 2010-11
Business of Supply
Government Orders

8:45 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Chair, I guess I will begin by saying that the hon. member is wrong.

We have consistently spoken in terms that are reflective of the parliamentary motion. He has quite rightly indicated that he voted against the extension of the mission. He has voted against the expansion of the budget for the Canadian Forces.

That very much reflects his view and the view of his party. That is unfortunate, quite frankly. He and his party do not support the mission. Clearly, by their actions and votes, they really do not support the Canadian Forces, do not want them to succeed, and do not want the country to succeed. I guess that is consistent with the philosophy of the Bloc Québécois.

We, on the other hand, continue to make important investments in the Canadian Forces, particularly in personnel, particularly to enable and empower them to do the important work our country expects and asks of them.

Therefore, we will certainly respect the parliamentary motion, but we, as a government, this Conservative government, has every intention of continuing to invest and to bring our Canadian Forces budget to historic levels in terms of their support.

This is why we have the Canada first defence strategy. We are making important strategic investments in equipment and personnel across the board to see the Canadian Forces continue to shine and do this important work for which much respect has been garnered throughout the world.

The Canadian Forces, in my view, are one of the reasons our country today enjoys such a stellar reputation internationally.

National Defence—Main Estimates, 2010-11
Business of Supply
Government Orders

8:45 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Chair, I disagree with the minister. The fact that we oppose extending the mission in Afghanistan does not mean that we do not support our soldiers. Quite the opposite, in fact.

I would like to ask the minister another question. As a result of Canada's involvement in the conflict in Afghanistan, the number of operational stress injury victims is rising steadily, as the minister knows. Post-traumatic stress disorder, which is linked to psychological trauma resulting from military service, appears in a large number of deployed soldiers. According to some of the witnesses who appeared before the Committee on Veterans Affairs, about one in six soldiers is afflicted with post-traumatic stress. Some experts believe that percentage may be even much higher.

I think that we need to work harder at solving this problem. We need to do more for our soldiers because this issue can have a major impact on families, on husbands, wives and children if we do not do a better job of screening soldiers for post-traumatic stress. As the minister knows, people dealing with post-traumatic stress may be very difficult to identify because once they return from a mission, it can take months or even years for post-traumatic syndrome to develop.

What does the Department of National Defence plan to do about this? What does the minister plan to do to ensure better screening practices and better treatment for people afflicted with post-traumatic stress? We also heard witnesses talk about how the husbands and wives of soldiers struggling with post-traumatic stress received very little support or information about the situation, which led to a high rate of separation and divorce among soldiers.

I would like the minister to tell us whether the government really wants to work harder to reduce the number of soldiers afflicted with post-traumatic stress and whether he can implement measures to respond to this phenomenon that is, sadly, on the rise.

National Defence—Main Estimates, 2010-11
Business of Supply
Government Orders

8:50 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Chair, the reality is that we have learned some very hard lessons over a number of years, going back to the very earliest times in which Canadian soldiers found themselves in combat and in more recent generations, whether it be in Bosnia, Rwanda, and other peacekeeping missions around the world, and certainly in Korea, from which there have been Canadian soldiers who have taken those wars home with them, with psychological injuries. There are those who have suffered that type of post traumatic stress upon return, which sometimes does not show up for years. It is very much an affliction that brings itself forward in many different forms.

Having said that, as a country I am proud to say that those working within the field, psychologists and mental health professionals, have become world leaders with respect to the treatment of post traumatic stress. In fact, there are some very talented people who have made major breakthroughs in treatment and also in terms of an aspect that I think sometimes we do not talk enough about, that is, addressing the stigma attached to mental health.

Again, I applaud the chief of the defence staff for the steps he has taken in raising awareness and speaking in a very direct and personal way to our soldiers about the need to self-notify and to work with each other. In particular, we have to support the families who are very often the first to notice the change or effect upon a soldier's return from deployment.

Today the Canadian Forces, as I mentioned earlier, when I do not believe my friend was here, we have over 370 full-time mental health care professionals working full time on these issues. We are creating the best caregiver-to-patient ratio within NATO circles, and we will continue to improve our ability to recognize and treat those afflicted with post traumatic stress.

What it needs is greater public awareness, greater participation from those in the profession itself to bring to bear their experience. We are making tremendous strides, but what is needed always is the injection of budgets. The hon. member continues to vote against budgets that increase national defence and allow us to hire more officials. He has voted against the mission. He has voted against the Canadian Forces on every occasion.

It is actions that matter. It is about standing in this place, which we have the opportunity to do when budgets and budget allocations are brought forward. He has not demonstrated by his actions that he supports those necessary injections of budgetary allocations to help address this important issue.

National Defence—Main Estimates, 2010-11
Business of Supply
Government Orders

8:50 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Chair, I will refrain from commenting on the minister's remarks, but I thank him for his response concerning people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, because that is an important phenomenon that must be given as much attention as recruiting new soldiers for combat.

The government is increasing military spending dramatically. In fact, Department of National Defence expenditures reached $21.3 billion in 2009-10, which puts Canada in 13th place globally. The government's $490 billion expenditure over 20 years is unique, since no other sector receives such guarantees for the future. Consider instead all the cuts we are seeing in other departments. They also show where the federal government's priorities are, since DND expenditures are 20 times higher than those of Environment Canada. We recognize the government's approach to the environment and its priorities in that regard.

We must also criticize the fact that the Conservative government continues to increase its defence budgets while it is limiting funding for international aid. Despite the fact that environmental needs are much greater and Canada is having a hard time fulfilling its international commitments regarding international aid, DND's budget is the only one that will continue to increase in coming years.

Are we to understand that the government sees armaments as far more important than international development?

National Defence—Main Estimates, 2010-11
Business of Supply
Government Orders

8:50 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Chair, to touch very briefly on the previous subject, I do want to assure the hon. member that we will continue to make important investments when it comes to supporting our men and women in uniform on the subject of post-traumatic stress and any psychological injury. These should be treated as an injury, and that is very much the approach we take. There is also awareness within the Canadian Forces of de-stigmatizing these types of afflictions.

With respect to the budget itself, I believe the member may have misspoken, because under the Canada first defence strategy, the Conservative government has actually committed over $490 billion over the next 20 years. We are seeing this take effect already, including a $7.7 billion increase over the budget year. This is in addition to specific resource allocations for specific equipment. Half of that budget, I will be quick to add, goes to the salaries and employment of those both in and out of uniform who work at the Department of National Defence.

This strategy in the budget for 2010 will allow us to continue these important measures, these important investments that enable and support the fundamental tenets of the Canadian Forces. While the budget of national defence continues to go up, we are seeing a continued number of individuals who are interested in having a career within the Canadian Forces. Many Canadians will have seen the recruiting ads that talk about the great capabilities and great career opportunities that exist within the Canadian Forces.

This strategic review we are undertaking right now will ensure that we are making the right investments and that we are doing so efficiently, as other departments are as well. We will continue to ensure that the Department of National Defence budget rises every year. I hope the hon. member will support those increases and demonstrate perhaps a more open mind when it comes to the work that is done by the—

National Defence—Main Estimates, 2010-11
Business of Supply
Government Orders

8:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Assistant Deputy Chair Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé, a quick question please.

National Defence—Main Estimates, 2010-11
Business of Supply
Government Orders

8:55 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Chair, I thank the minister again for his answer, but he just gave a shopping list of future military spending without having presented a real foreign and defence policy in the House.

In the absence of such a policy—and we have not seen one in the House—I feel it is irresponsible to proceed with such major purchases when the House has not had the opportunity to examine their repercussions. I feel it is not right for the government to keep on reinvesting such huge sums in the armed forces without setting clear parameters for military spending by targeting needs that reflect current geopolitical issues.

Does the minister not feel that any purchase over $100 million should be studied in the House to ensure that such purchases are thoroughly checked and examined and that they meet identified needs?

National Defence—Main Estimates, 2010-11
Business of Supply
Government Orders

8:55 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Chair, on the contrary. There is a great deal of detail. The Canada first defence strategy is very detailed. The member should read it. I would be very pleased to give him a chance to do so.

Perhaps I will have my colleague walk him over a copy of the Canada first defence strategy and he can inform himself. We have obviously put forward in the Canada first defence strategy a very detailed analysis of the needs.

Clearly this is going to be a live document, a living tree, if you will, Mr. Chair, but the money is there and is locked in. The strategy talks about rebuilding the four pillars of the Canadian Forces: our personnel, our equipment, our infrastructure, and our readiness. It is laid out in sufficient detail for industry, for Canadians, for our allies, for all to see.

This is an unprecedented period of visionary leadership within the Canadian Forces. We are working very hard to keep up all of those commitments and to stand on the shoulders of those great generations in the Canadian Forces who went before those who are currently serving.

National Defence—Main Estimates, 2010-11
Business of Supply
Government Orders

8:55 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Mr. Chair, I will be sharing the last five minutes of my speech with the member for Newmarket—Aurora as well as the member for Barrie.

I would like first of all to recognize the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell and the member for Edmonton Centre who have taken on the leadership role and served our country in uniform and continue to serve our country in the House of Commons. Also, on behalf of my constituents and the men and women of the Canadian Forces whom I represent, I would like to thank the Minister of National Defence for his leadership and the excellent work he has done on behalf of our communities.

It is an honour for me to be able to say a few words about the men and women of the Canadian Forces. As the member of Parliament for Westlock--St. Paul, one of the greatest honours I have had has been to represent the men and women of CFB Edmonton as well as the men and women of CFB Cold Lake.

The people, the sailors, soldiers, airmen and airwomen, are the Canadian Forces' most important resources. They are what our military is all about. They are the reason the Canadian Forces make all Canadians so proud. They are the reason the Canadian Forces have earned so much respect from our allies and friends, so much gratitude from Canadians in distress at home and so much appreciation from the likes of the Dutch, the Afghans, the Haitians and many more.

What the Canadian Forces accomplish on our behalf in the name of Canada is simply remarkable. They face situations that most of us can barely imagine. They do it with professionalism, dedication and courage going beyond what is expected. They get the job done and they do it for us.

They put their country and compatriots before self so that we Canadians can be as safe as possible from the many threats of a volatile and unpredictable world.

From the moment this government took office, the Canadian Forces have been one of our highest priorities. Through the Canada first defence strategy we committed to deliver a strengthened and combat capable military, but this commitment is first and foremost a commitment to the men and women of the Canadian Forces. That is why the government is investing the resources needed to expand the size of our military and provide the necessary care for our men and women in uniform.

Despite demographic and retention challenges, the Canadian Forces are growing. Our military's recruitment efforts are delivering very impressive results with recruitment targets having been regularly met for the past few years.

This is in large part a testament to the amazing work that our military accomplishes for Canada. Young men and women from across the country are inspired by the Canadian Forces. They are wondering what it would be like to put on a uniform and represent their country. They are curious to explore the possibilities offered by a military career and are coming through the doors of recruitment centres.

Even some veterans who bring valuable experience with them are coming back to service with a new enthusiasm. The Canadian Forces have enrolled over 6,500 new regular force recruits each of the last three years, and recruitment efforts are on track to achieve our recruiting target once again this year.

During the last fiscal year the regular forces grew by 2,200 personnel, the highest net increase we have seen in several years. Over the past four years the regular force has grown by over 5,000 to reach over 68,000 men and women, close to the 70,000 objective set by this government.

This is great news. The government also remains committed to increasing the size of the reserve force, which is an essential component to the Canadians Forces. The government recognizes the remarkable contribution of reservists. That is why we passed legislation two years ago to protect the civilian jobs of reservists who are called upon to deploy on a Canadian Forces mission.

Reservists currently account for approximately 20% of the Canadian Forces personnel serving in Afghanistan. That is correct, 20%. These men and women take time away from their jobs to participate in this mission. Their contribution is crucial to augment the contingent of regular force personnel that are deployed.

With the Afghanistan mission winding down next year and with the total reserve force steadily growing, the number of active reservists will be drawn down slightly. Vacancies that have been filled by reservists these past years due to the shortage of regular force personnel are now being staffed by regulars again. That is only because of the amazing success of recruiting by the regular force.

Still, as effective as it may be, recruitment is only part of the equation. To expand and strengthen the Canadian Forces also requires efforts to retain the skilled and experienced personnel who are currently serving and efforts to attract the right personnel to fill military occupations that are under stress.

Our military includes an increasing number of personnel eligible for their pension, and recruitment and training for technical trades demands constant attention. That said, the Canadian Forces attrition rates remain relatively stable, lower than what is seen in our allies' militaries and, in fact, even in the Canadian private sector.

Moreover, our military has developed a comprehensive retention strategy that targets both new and long-serving members of our military. Action has been taken to reduce the number of voluntary releases during early stages of new military careers. The Canadian Forces has also prioritized the number of trades to fill. Several occupations in the Canadian Forces are currently under stress for a number of reasons, including competition with the civilian sector, long training periods and perception of the occupation among potential recruits. Many of these occupations need to be filled by well-trained individuals with highly specialized skills. We are talking about trades that are absolutely essential to the functioning of a modern military, trades like aerospace control operator, medical technician or naval communicator.

The Canadian Forces is targeting a number of occupations and implementing measures to help attract personnel, such as subsidized education and adjustments to pay levels. A targeted campaign has been developed to advertise military trades under stress. This campaign has garnered impressive results by generating an impact that is beyond expectations.

In addition, information campaigns across the country are targeting occupation shortfalls in the Canadian Forces. The Canadian navy, for example, recently sent three new display buses on the road. They contain interactive presentations demonstrating some of the navy's employment opportunities, including engineering and naval electronics.

Combined, these measures have already helped address shortfalls in many Canadian Forces' occupations, including physicians, engineers and pilots.

While I am speaking about these crucial trade shortfalls, let me make my own recruiting drive. I ask members to take this message back to their young constituents who are looking for an exciting way to make a living. Let them know that their military offers not only immense tradition but also adventure and unlimited career opportunities.

Having the right mix of people in the Canadian Forces also means taking care of our men and women in uniform and their families. The government recognizes that this is one of the core responsibilities. Our serving men and women and their families have particular needs that require thoughtful attention. They face many challenges resulting from the regular deployments and postings. On average, personnel who remain in the Canadian Forces for 20 years will move approximately five times over the course of their career. They will have to find a school. They will have to find daycare for their children. Many of their spouses will be continually looking for new employment. They are also confronted with unique health care needs related to injuries suffered in operations.

The least our country can do is to make sure the Canadian Forces personnel and their families receive appropriate support and care. This is a moral obligation for our society.

Over the past year, several measures have been taken to improve support provided to our men and women in uniform, including health care.

Last year, for example, the Minister of National Defence announced the establishment of the joint personnel support unit. The unit encompasses a network of integrated personnel support centres located across the country. The centres coordinate a range of services and case management programs for ill and injured Canadian Forces personnel, former personnel, their families, and the families of the deceased. They contribute to reducing the gaps and overlaps in the service so that no Canadian Forces member is left by the wayside.

The Canadian Forces has also initiated a series of programs and measures to help enhance how it identifies, prevents and treats mental health problems, such as operational stress injuries. It has launched a $52 million five-year plan that provides the funding required to hire mental health professionals and to implement a number of initiatives related to mental health. The Canadian Forces now has over 370 full-time mental health professionals and is working to hire more. In fact, when compared to our NATO allies, our military has the greatest ratio of mental health care workers to armed forces personnel.

The chief of the defence staff, General Natynczyk, launched “Be the Difference”, a mental health awareness campaign aimed at building a culture of understanding within the Canadian Forces and encouraging a strong community of support. The campaign is led by two non-clinical Canadian Forces mental health initiatives: the mental health and operational stress injury joint speakers bureau and the operational stress injury social support network.

In fact, Canada has become a world leader in fighting the stigmatization and rising awareness of operational stress injuries. These initiatives clearly demonstrate that mental health is a priority for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces. This is essential to the readiness of the Canadian Forces. Mental health is just as important as physical health, not only for the well-being of our men and women in uniform, but also for the operational effectiveness of the Canadian Forces.

Last month the government took another important step in improving health care for our military. The Minister of National Defence, as well as his parliamentary secretary, announced an agreement with the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital in Edmonton for the installation of a $1 million computer assisted rehabilitation environment, or CAREN virtual reality system. This is the second system in Canada funded by the Canadian Forces dedicated to clinical patient care, specifically in rehabilitating Canadian military personnel with both physical and mental injuries. Another will be installed this fall at the Ottawa Hospital Rehabilitation Centre.

As we continue our efforts to expand the Canadian Forces, we will continue to take good care of our military men and women. This will remain a core priority for our government, because our country asks so much of them.

Members of the Canadian Forces embody the best our country has to offer. Their commitment is unequalled and their work is praised around the world. Day after day they are defending and protecting Canadians. They are standing on guard at home and abroad. It is crucial that they be supported by their government and the very Canadians they are protecting.

National Defence—Main Estimates, 2010-11
Business of Supply
Government Orders

9:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Andrew Scheer

There is about four minutes left in this time slot, so the hon. member for Newmarket—Aurora will have two minutes and her colleague will have two minutes.