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

10:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, last year, the Prime Minister of Canada said:

This is the option that was selected some time ago, because it is the only option available. ... This is the only fighter available that serves the purposes that our air force needs.

Is that or is it not still the position of the Government of Canada?

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

10:35 p.m.

Conservative

Julian Fantino Vaughan, ON

Mr. Chair, the position of the Government of Canada is that we have accepted the Auditor General's recommendation and we are following that recommendation.

The fact is that the third step in the seven step plan is that National Defence will continue to evaluate options to sustain a Canadian Forces fighter capability well into the 21st century and that is what we are doing.

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

10:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, the first step in the ten step program that I am familiar with is that we first must admit that we have a problem. I do not see a hope for recovery in that seven step program until the government admits it has a problem.

If the Auditor General said that the government has a problem, it is because it has things out of sequence. It decided to go for the F-35 without a competition, without the documentation, without a proper decision by cabinet and without cabinet having the information that it needed to have because the Auditor General said that important information was withheld from the cabinet, withheld from the government and withheld from Parliament.

Will the government finally accept that it has a problem and that it requires a review that goes back to the original question? What is the mission for this aircraft? What do we need the aircraft to do in the years after 2020? What is the most efficient and fair-minded way to do it? Why not finally accede to having a competition rather than not having a competition?

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

10:35 p.m.

Conservative

Julian Fantino Vaughan, ON

Mr. Chair, I am surprised at the bantering by the member opposite but I respect his point of view. What he needs to do is research his own party's edict for why it is that Canada is now engaged in this process. It was his government that signed Canada up to this multinational joint strike fighter program. He should be acquainted with those answers.

The member needs to remember that we will ascribe to the recommendation made by the Auditor General. We will ascertain the facts that he chose as necessary in decision making going forward. We are moving forward with that seven-step action plan.

The member opposite needs to be respectful of the Auditor General's findings.

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

May 9th, 2012 / 10:35 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Etobicoke Centre, ON

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.

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

10:45 p.m.

Conservative

Julian Fantino Vaughan, ON

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.

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

10:45 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, the Conservative government is often criticized by the NDP for working with our allies on programs like the joint strike fighter. By working with our allies we can save money, share technical expertise, mutually benefit from shared knowledge and undertake projects that would have been cost-prohibitive for us to do alone.

The Mercury Global project is another international project that the associate minister has been involved with. This project is critical to ensuring that our military members can communicate effectively to do their job and to complete their mission successfully. Could the associate minister please tell us about this project, who is involved and was it delivered on time and on budget?

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

10:50 p.m.

Conservative

Julian Fantino Vaughan, ON

Mr. Chair, Canadian Forces missions in Afghanistan and Libya highlight the secure exchange of information between headquarters. Formation of units is a critical part of the success of modern military operations. The Government of Canada is participating with its military allies in the Wideband Global Satcom system, also known as Mercury Global. This partnership provides Canada with access to satellite systems, further strengthening secure communications during our missions and cooperation with our closest military friends and allies around the world.

It enables Canada to be a part of a global satellite system of additional bandwidth and communications capabilities, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and combat support information necessary for missions today. This agreement will not only support Canadian Forces' requirements for strategic satellite communications for the next two decades, it will also be at a lower cost than the Canadian Forces would pay to maintain the status quo.

This is yet another example of our government's leadership. It demonstrates how we continue to provide value to taxpayers. At a cost of $337.3 million over the 20-year timeframe, Mercury Global represents a significant cost saving over planned expenditures on short-term lease of satellite communications capabilities.

Finally, this forward-thinking, decades-long approach is indicative of the careful consideration that National Defence and the Canadian Forces take when dealing with taxpayer dollars.

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

10:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Etobicoke Centre, ON

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

The issue of infrastructure has been discussed earlier in these proceedings, but I would be remiss not to add the western perspective to this discussion. In March of this year the minister announced a new $54 million building will accommodate the Land Force Western Area Headquarters, Joint Task Force West Headquarters and 1 Area Support Group Headquarters. This is in addition to the announcement of $3.6 million for 4 Wing in Cold Lake, Alberta in September, 2010 to modernize key infrastructure at the base.

Sir, how will this new building and infrastructure programs like these achieve the government's overall objective of ensuring the efficient and effective use of Canadian taxpayer dollars?

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

10:50 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Mr. Chair, I rise on a point of order. I know you have diligently, throughout the evening, been reminding members that they should address questions to the Chair, but this member insists on calling him sir, asking him questions and speaking to him directly, instead of directing questions to the Chair.

I wonder if he could be reminded of his obligation?

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

10:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Chair Barry Devolin

The hon. member is correct that all comments ought to be directed to the Chair.

The hon. Minister of National Defence.

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

10:50 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Chair, with respect to aging infrastructure, we have a number of bases and infrastructure projects ongoing across the country. In fact, in the last six years or more we have invested roughly $3 billion in addressing some of these infrastructure needs.

In response to the question, with respect to the new accommodations at Canadian Forces Edmonton, it is no different than some of the other investments that we have made. This is for Land Force Western Area Headquarters. The result will be a more integrated, better coordinated command team that can coordinate and lead domestic operations in Western Canada. They can track Canadian Forces operations and personnel around the world. Our largest base at CFB Edmonton has contributed mightily with respect to the Afghanistan mission and other deployments. Also, this new infrastructure will provide timely and seamless information in support of senior military and government decision makers, as well as communicate those decisions effectively.

All of these efforts are about improving this base. The construction of this new facility in Edmonton, by Pentagon Structures, will be providing 161 local jobs. This is true of all of these infrastructure investments. They have a tremendous impact on the local economies, and these investments are felt at a time like this.

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

10:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Chair Barry Devolin

This completes the time for the hon. member for Etobicoke Centre.

The hon. member for Saint John's East.

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

10:50 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

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 is 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?

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

10:55 p.m.

Conservative

Julian Fantino Vaughan, ON

Mr. Chair, the premise that the hon. member put forward is absolutely fraught with misinformation, miscommunication and misunderstandings. I give him charity for that.

However, let me inform the hon. member opposite of facts. The Globemaster project, delivered; the C-130J Hercules project, delivered; lightweight towed Howitzers, delivered; medium to heavy lift helicopters implementation, in progress; fixed wing search and rescue, in definition phase; Arctic offshore patrol ships, in definition phase; joint support ships, in definition phase; Canadian surface combatants, in definition phase; force mobility enhancement, in implementation; light armoured vehicle LAV III upgrades, in implementation; tactical armoured patrol vehicle, definition; medium support vehicle, definition; tank replacement project, implementation; military personnel management capability transformation, definition.

Mr. Chair, I am proud of the work that we are doing to support our men and women in uniform. With the NDP, none of this would happen. It is totally and absolutely non-supportive of any assets for our military.