Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Members of the committee, it is my pleasure to be here for the first time today and a true honour to serve as the Minister of National Defence.
As all of you know, I served in the Canadian Armed Forces, so I know from personal experience that we ask a lot from our men and women in the Canadian Armed Forces, and I know they deserve to have the right tools and support in return.
Last fall, the Prime Minister made public the mandate letter in which he outlined the top priorities of my portfolio. That letter is a testament to the level of importance that this government places on national defence and I would be happy to speak to any aspect of it.
To set the context for our discussion, I wish to encapsulate my priorities into three fundamental lines of effort: a new defence policy for Canada, a well-equipped and ready force, and the care of our members.
Let me take a moment to summarize each of these briefly. First of all, a lot has changed since the previous defence policy was elaborated in 2008. Look at the situation in the Middle East with the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and look at Russia with its actions in the Ukraine. We live in an era of instability, uncertainty, and surprise. Insecurity today comes in so many different forms and from so many different places.
Against that backdrop, we need to undertake a comprehensive policy review to produce a Canadian vision for defence that responds to the wide array of emerging challenges. It needs to articulate our priorities in the current security environment and provide meaningful guidance for our investments. This review will be launched shortly and I intend to have it completed by the end of 2016. Of course, the core pillars of a Canadian defence policy will remain the same: defend Canada, defend North America, and contribute to international peace and security.
This review will allow us to look at how we deliver on these responsibilities and invest in our military, so it can continue to be flexible in responding to an uncertain and evolving security environment, and provide support to United Nations peace operations. We have committed to conducting the defence policy review in an open and transparent manner. With input from academics, parliamentarians, defence experts, and allies, we will develop a vision for Canadian defence that is both credible and relevant. In this regard, I believe that this committee is particularly well positioned to offer an informed perspective on Canadian defence as the review progresses.
I recently put forward a proposal to this committee to undertake a study related to the role of the Canadian Armed Forces in the defence of Canada and North America. This input would help shape a core component of Canada's new defence policy. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this suggestion.
Second, as a government, we recognize the importance of a well-equipped military with a range of capabilities. The new defence policy will help define the future requirements of the Canadian Armed Forces over the long-term.
In the short-term, we will have to move forward on a few pressing projects. We have made a commitment to rebuilding the Royal Canadian Navy, while meeting the commitments that were made under the national shipbuilding procurement strategy. I am working with Minister Foote to design an open and transparent competition to replace the CF-18 fighter aircraft.
My department manages highly complex procurement projects and despite sound, long-term planning, these are inevitably faced with changes in scheduling and cash requirements I am pleased to say that I am currently working with my colleagues from Public Services and Procurement Canada as well as Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada to improve these processes.
Third, our military members are the backbone of our defence capability and our greatest asset. That is why I feel so strongly about the level of care they receive.
As a former soldier, I know that the success of any mission is dependent on having healthy, well-trained, and motivated personnel. I also want to ensure that Canada's sons and daughters belong to an organization that offers a safe workplace that is free from harassment and discrimination, an organization that provides the necessary care and support both during and after their time of service. Given what they sacrifice for Canadians, they deserve no less.
This is a shared responsibility between the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Armed Forces, and Veterans Affairs Canada. That is why the associate minister of defence is also the Minister of Veterans Affairs.
I'm pleased to be working with my colleague, the Honourable Kent Hehr, to strengthen the relationship and smooth the transition between our two departments. Our focus will be on streamlining, simplifying, and accelerating the transition from military to civilian life. We will also be reviewing our income support and rehabilitation measures, streamlining functions, and eliminating gaps and duplication in our programming.
Finally, recognizing the importance of mental health care, we are developing a suicide prevention strategy that will leverage existing govenment-wide initiatives and increase Canadian Armed Forces leadership involvement in existing programs. The well-being of our military members, whether they are currently serving or whether they are in retirement, is our number one priority.
Mr. Chair, members of the committee, thank you once again for giving this opportunity to appear before you today. As the Minister of National Defence, I invite all parliamentarians to help us advance the defence agenda. Our government is committed to providing the best level of support for the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces, and our work here today will serve to provide them with the required tools and supports to continue building this proud history.
On this note, I'll take any questions. Thank you.