House of Commons Hansard #120 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.

Topics

National Defence--Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:05 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

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 aerial patrols conducted by the Royal Canadian Air Force, maritime patrols in partnership with the Canadian Coast Guard and even space-based satellite systems to provide detailed surveillance and monitoring of the north on behalf of the Government of Canada.

Our government recognizes what advanced equipment and facilities can make possible in the north. That is why it is carrying through on measures to increase the Canadian Forces' capabilities and infrastructure in the region.

Six to eight Arctic offshore patrol ships, the first of which we can expect to take to water later in this decade, will provide an important presence in the area as ice-bound passages become navigable. We are also continuing the development of a berthing and refuelling facility in Nanisivik and of an Arctic training centre in Resolute, which will reinforce our presence in the area and, just as important, serve as a place where our men and women in uniform can learn to operate effectively in the north, availing themselves of both the wisdom of the Rangers and of modern technology and approaches.

The Arctic lies at the heart of our identity as Canadians. For decades, its remoteness and severe weather kept it immune from much of the change and many of the dangers affecting the rest of Canada and the world. An increased interest in the Canadian Arctic has brought with it real challenges to this precious part of our country and its inhabitants. The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces play an important and even vital role in Canada's Arctic. Canada's armed forces have developed knowledge, partnerships and capabilities that make it especially suited for work in Canada's north. This government is committed to building on these so the Canadian Forces continues to be a valuable contributor to our Arctic security.

I have a question for the associate minister. Our Conservative government made a commitment to rebuild the fleets of the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Coast Guard and, as a result, launched the national ship procurement strategy for which our government was widely commended. While much of the focus has been on the shipbuilding contract award process, what has not been as clear is the impact this will have on the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Forces as a whole. Could the associate minister explain the benefits that this will have for our Canadian Forces?

National Defence--Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:15 p.m.

Conservative

Julian Fantino Vaughan, ON

Mr. Chair, I want to also clear up my comments earlier with regard to the Canadian Surface Combatant. This is in definition phase, planned for summer 2012.

In any event, the government is establishing strategic relationships with Vancouver Shipyards and Irving Shipbuilding, the two Canadian shipyards selected for the construction of large ships, both combat and non-combat. Our government has taken a leadership role in bringing the boom–bust cycle to an end in our national shipbuilding industry. The strategy will create considerable opportunity for Canada's marine industry in all regions by contributing to the building of large ships, competing to build smaller ships and conducting life extension, refit and repair work. Industry analysts have estimated that the government shipbuilding projects would contribute directly and indirectly to some 15,000 Canadian jobs and over $2 billion in annual economic benefit for the next 30 years.

For the first time, our shipbuilding industry will have stable, secure work that will allow it to invest in the latest technology, develop highly skilled workforces and regain Canada's shipbuilding reputation. Our ships will be made in Canada by Canadians.

The previous government sat by watching our domestic shipbuilding capacity crumble as more and more Canadians lost their jobs. This government, our government, has taken a proactive role to ensure we have jobs, industrial capacity and an economically viable model. In a process that even the opposition parties have applauded, we have achieved two important goals. We have ensured the future strength of Canada's shipbuilding industry and we have maintained our domestic capacity to equip our Royal Canadian Navy, Coast Guard, research and science vessels. I believe Canadians would well be proud of the work that we are doing.

National Defence--Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:20 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Chair, this question is for the Minister of National Defence.

The brave men and women of the Canadian Forces have demonstrated leadership on a global scale and have taken on a leadership role in a multitude of missions across the world.

Maritime security offers another opportunity for Canada to continue to play a leadership role with our allies. Maritime security is an ongoing concern for not only Canada, but many of our major allies and partners.

Is the Minister of National Defence able to inform the committee of the whole of Canada's contributions to address global maritime security concerns?

National Defence--Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:20 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Chair, like the member for Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, I come from a coastal community and maritime security is now an enormous role within the Canadian Forces. It is an enormous role within Norad, with maritime approaches now falling under that command.

With respect to what Canada is doing, as was mentioned earlier by the parliamentary secretary, currently we have 1,300 Canadian soldiers deployed on 15 international missions. Global security includes the deployment of naval assets. With respect to ongoing missions, we have sailors aboard the HMCS Charlottetown making contributions to maritime security through Operation Active Endeavour, which is NATO's mission to prevent the movement of terrorism and weapons at sea, which is an ongoing mission within the Mediterranean.

The Canadian Forces are also part of successful operations such as Operation Jaguar, which completed its mandate in November of this past year with respect to counter-narcotics missions. Operation Jaguar began with a request from the government of Jamaica to deploy assets, both aviation and naval assets, in assisting in the mandate to conduct essential training and search and rescue operations, which we were speaking of a moment ago.

Also, we have had the privilege of announcing the participation of HMCS St. John's and its ship borne CH-124A Sea King helicopter in Operation Caribbe.

We have seen the Canadian Forces contribute as well to Op Martillo, a binational joint inter-agency and multinational collaboration effort with the western hemisphere.

We also know that future training operations will include our Canadian submarines, including those taking place in the Pacific. Throughout the course of these activities we are extremely proud of our sailors and all they provide with our naval and aviation assets and also working with other agencies including the Coast Guard. This is important work given the size of our coastline, the largest coastline of any on the planet. As well, this is why the associate minister has referred to the historic naval bill that will see the replacement of all of our fleet of combat vessels, in addition to icebreakers and Arctic patrol vessels.

National Defence--Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:20 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Chair, when I was with the general on the HMCS Vancouver, I saw him gather the sailors around and say to them, “It's who ought to ask for help”. At the highest level, the general has made it clear that the mental health of the soldiers, sailors and aircrew is of the utmost importance.

Could the Minister of National Defence expand once again on the investments we have made in the area of mental health?

National Defence--Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:20 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Chair, I too have had the great pleasure to stand in admiration to see our Chief of the Defence Staff, Canada's top soldier, address those brave men and women and speak to them personally and passionately about the importance of coming forward, of self-diagnosing, of recognizing that there is a need to get help but, most important, that the help is there and to do away with any stigma or any negative connotation that it is somehow unlike a soldier to ask for help.

Soldiers are the toughest, most diligent, most patriotic and passionate Canadians, but there are times in their life where they do need the help and need to reach out. That is why we continue to make these important investments to provide not only the physical surroundings, but the individuals, the personal support, the chaplains, the psychiatrists, the mental health professionals. We will continue to make those important investments in that most important asset, and that is our personnel and the help they need.

National Defence--Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:25 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Chair, I have a question for the Minister of National Defence.

In 2008, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated that the mission in Afghanistan would cost roughly $18.5 billion by 2011. I would like to know what the government's estimate is of the total cost of the mission to date.

National Defence--Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:25 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Chair, the mission itself has changed in terms of its role. We have gone from a combat mission in Kandahar province in the south of the country now to a training mission in and around Kabul.

With respect to the ongoing costs, the funding arrangement that we have in place allows for full incremental costs for the mission to date, totalling $8.7 billion. This figure includes the redeployment and the reconstitution of the mission itself and will run to the period of 2014, which is the current commitment.

National Defence--Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:25 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Chair, on another note, according to a Postmedia News report today, the government is delaying its procurement of the Arctic patrol ships that were to be delivered in 2015. Can the minister tell us when he plans to take delivery of these ships?

National Defence--Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:25 p.m.

Conservative

Julian Fantino Vaughan, ON

Mr. Chair, the actual fact is the pre-emptive work being done to ensure the production is a smooth production is ongoing. This will ensure that come the actual completion of the project, we will in essence have achieved some significant benefits with the upfront work being done in co-operation with the shipbuilder.

These offshore patrol ships are a key part of the national shipbuilding procurement strategy. The project timelines were not updated because the project did not have the opportunity to engage with shipyards and verify the predictable timelines with the national shipbuilding strategy that was not in place at that time.

National Defence--Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:25 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Chair, I would also like to have some specifics about the Nanisivik base. Can the minister tell us when he expects to start construction of the facility and whether it will be a fully-equipped deepwater port, as the government had promised?

National Defence--Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:25 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Chair, a commitment has been made by this government to put in place in the Arctic refuelling capabilities. The location chosen was Nanisivik. There has been a scaling of that project with respect to the initial announcement.

We have conducted a full-value engineering review of the project to ensure it will deliver what we require in that location within the mandated budget. Progress has been made on the project itself within the definition phase now and the interim facilities were built during the summer of 2010, including a temporary office building. Temporary deployments and operations and future military exercises will benefit from this refuelling station. The construction of these interim facilities will also provide training opportunities in the Arctic, which is an important priority of this government.

Clearly, the future arrival of Royal Canadian Navy offshore patrol ships, the eventual completion of the project of a new icebreaker and all of the navy assets that will be able to refuel will benefit from this project. This is part of a larger footprint that we see of facilities and infrastructure in the Canadian north.

National Defence--Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:25 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Chair, I would like to go back to my previous question and have the minister provide clear and specific answers.

I would like to know when he plans to start construction of the base and whether, yes or no, it will be a fully-equipped deepwater port facility, as promised.

National Defence--Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:30 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Chair, it is a deepwater port, so it will indeed be a deepwater refuelling station.

The intention is to have the capacity to refuel at that location. It is a port that was previously used for commercial purposes as well. Therefore, there is remediation work being done on site.

The largest of all the challenges is to have the tanks, and that is the actual repositories of the fuel in place. That would require a great deal of engineering and of exercise and investment. Yes, the project is moving forward and the intention is to have that refuelling capability.

National Defence--Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:30 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Chair, the minister has announced the closure of 10 recruitment centres across Canada. I would like to know if he has decided which centres will be closed and, if he has, can he give us the list of the centres and towns affected?