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

10 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Chair, it seems as though the minister's answers are longer than my questions, but I will continue nonetheless.

How many health care professionals and staff of the section doing research into the mental health of deployed soldiers are currently working on suicide prevention and treatment of post-traumatic stress?

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

10 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Chair, the answer is all 378 of them. All mental health issues, I believe, in one way or another, can relate to dark thoughts that individuals might have that they may share with their mental health professionals, their psychologists, their psychiatrists or their chaplain. There is heightened awareness of the importance of dealing with these issues. There is heightened awareness of improving accessibility to these services when they are needed most.

I apologize for the length of my answers. These are important issues. They are not simple issues. They are not issues that can be answered yes or no.

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

10 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Chair, I would like to know if, in recent years, some of these positions have been eliminated and if some of them are being cut at this time. I await the minister's response.

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

10 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Chair, the Department of National Defence intends to continue to increase the number of people working on this issue, in this profession. It is important to increase their numbers. That is my intention and that of all national defence staff.

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

10:05 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Chair, if possible, I would like to ask the minister a few questions about the post living differential.

Internally, some members of the Canadian Forces clearly heard talk of major cuts to the post living differential. Some were told by their superiors to start learning to live without this allowance right away.

Can the minister confirm whether or not the post living differential is going to be abolished?

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

10:05 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Chair, I am not sure what program she is referring to. Post-living differential is an issue that we have not made a final decision on.

I can tell her specifically what we have invested in with respect to mental health. Out of the entire health budget of the Department of National Defence, we have $38.6 million annually spent specifically on the subject matter of mental health care and preventive programs.

We continue to make those investments at primary clinics at locations and health clinics across the country. Throughout the entire career and deployment of Canadian Forces members, these important services continue to grow. We can only do that for personnel. We can only do that by enlisting the important services available, and we continue to look for those professionals.

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

10:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Chair Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue has two minutes remaining.

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

10:05 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Chair, the post living differential is an allowance that people receive when they are posted to locations where the cost of living is much higher. It helps them to compensate.

As a result of the rumours that are circulating, many military spouses have written to me because they are concerned that they will lose this allowance. The loss of this allowance would greatly affect their quality of life and could compromise their family's situation.

These people want to know whether or not this allowance is going to be cut. It is very important to give them a clear answer so that they can plan their lives and so that they do not have to wait until the last minute to know whether they will be receiving this money.

I would like a response from the minister.

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

10:05 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Chair, there have been changes made in the past that allowed those allowances to be separated from their pay. They are intended to provide a cushion against expenses that are incurred when members of the Canadian Forces and their families move as a result of a new assignment. In some cases they go to a new high cost area. Since April 1, 2011, these allowances have been disbursed as a separate payment. These changes are intended to increase understanding among Canadian Forces personnel that these allowances have a specific purpose. They are not part of their regular pay.

The cost of living is assessed annually on each major Canadian Forces base by a third party contractor. It is utilized in the calculation of the entitlement of each location. There have been changes in the way it was calculated over the years, but it is consistently reviewed to ensure fairness and equitable compensation benefits among members of the Canadian Forces to ensure they are properly compensated.

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

10:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Chair Barry Devolin

The time has expired.

We will continue with the hon. member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke.

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

May 9th, 2012 / 10:05 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

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?

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

10:15 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Chair, in answer to the member's question, we reinstated the names, Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal Canadian Navy. This was very well received by veterans and serving members alike. We also brought back, of importance operationally but also for the Canadian Forces, joint task force 2, which really is the successor special forces to the airborne regiment which was disbanded by the previous Liberal government. We also know that in 1968 those royal designations were stripped away, along with the individual uniforms and individual identities of Canadian Forces.

I want to commend the hon. member. I know she is extremely proud of the men and women at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa. The member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke is an ardent supporter of the men and women in uniform and their families.

I also would take this opportunity to express appreciation not only to the families but to one family member in particular, and that is Leslie Natynczyk, who is the wife of the Chief of the Defence Staff. She was recently recognized with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee medal for her incredible work in supporting wounded members, ill and injured, and their families. She is an outstanding Canadian, as is her husband. We are very proud of her work and contribution, in addition to what General Natynczyk does for the men and women in our forces.

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

10:20 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Chair, over the past year the Department of National Defence has entered into several memoranda of understanding with other nations to build upon relations between the host nation and Canada. Such partnerships offer not only the Canadian Forces but the Canadian population in general cost-effective measures to provide logistical support to our forces. I am referring specifically to the partnership forged with the government of Germany.

Could the minister provide this committee of the whole with more information about how those arrangements are made and why it is so important to have partnerships of this nature?

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

10:20 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Chair, specifically, in April 2009 the Canadian Forces established a proof of concept hub in Spangdahlem, Germany. This was done on May 13, 2010. The Canadian Chief of the Defence Staff ordered the establishment of seven operational support hubs worldwide to enable enhanced logistics reinforcement of international missions. This is an important step being taken by the Canadian Forces. The engagement and dialogue with host nations are progressing. We continue to develop appropriate instruments to establish the operational support hubs worldwide. The engagement and dialogue with host nations will allow us to have these operational hubs, which we feel are very important in a volatile and changing world.

On February 14 of this year, the German defence minister and I announced the move of the European operational support hub to Köln-Bonn airport. This initiative is about supporting funds more effectively, ensuring that this network of hubs is going to be there and available for us. It often involves simply using a corner of an airfield, a hangar, for storage purposes but it will allow Canadian Forces to improve its operational capability, to get where it needs to be quickly. As I said, challenges and flare-ups can occur, as we have seen in places around the world. This is very much about the Canadian Forces having a footprint in places and regions where we know that Canadians will be able to play an important role, where the world is looking to Canada to do more, and we are ready to shoulder that load.

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

10:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, I would say to the government members opposite that it might be easier if they had a copy of the Auditor General's report because I am going to be asking very direct questions based on paragraphs from the Auditor General's report.

On page 21, at paragraph 2.50, the Auditor General says:

As described in the following paragraphs, we observed that in the lead-up to this announcement, required documents were prepared and key steps were taken out of sequence. Key decisions were made without required approvals or supporting documentation.

Does the minister support that conclusion of the Auditor General?