Thank you very much.
Mr. Chair, I am honoured to appear before this committee to speak about my new role as deputy minister of national defence.
In April, I addressed this committee when I was appointed as the senior associate deputy minister.
I spent the better part of my time speaking about my personal and professional life before coming to National Defence. Of course, those details haven't changed.
Today I'll focus my remarks on what has happened since I became senior associate deputy minister, as well as the challenges that lie ahead of me as deputy minister.
First, let me say how proud I am to be speaking at this committee today with my two colleagues, the senior associate deputy minister and the associate deputy minister. I am also enormously proud to be here alongside the Canadian Armed Forces' new Judge Advocate General, Commodore Geneviève Bernatchez, who is the first woman to be named to this very important office.
Last week I assumed the role of deputy minister. I worked very closely with former DM John Forster to ensure a smooth transition, and I wish him the very best in his well-deserved retirement. As the senior associate, I saw first-hand what a hard-working, dedicated public servant John was. My first week as DM only served to deepen my admiration for all that he accomplished. His steadfast determination to deliver on programs and commitments was matched only by his dedication to building strong relationships with leaders across the defence team.
Together, under his leadership, the defence team was able to move the agenda forward. In particular, working as the mental health champion has been fulfilling for me, and I look forward to continuing in that role in the years ahead. It is important to continue discussing mental health and ensuring plans are in place to support the defence team, both military and civilian.
But the launch of Canada's new defence policy has been monumental. I am grateful to have been with the department for its release.
The Defence Team leadership truly understands that Strong, Secure, Engaged, or SSE, as we call it, is a once in a generation opportunity. It is an opportunity to transform the way we support the Canadian Armed Forces and prepare for the defence of Canada over the next 20 years.
This is an opportunity we won't squander. We will deliver this policy because it's what's expected of us.
I'm proud to have recently been a part of the joint suicide prevention strategy between National Defence and Veterans Affairs. It was the first SSE—“Strong, Secure, Engaged”—initiative that the Department of National Defence delivered on, and a clear signal that no effort would be spared in quickly implementing the initiative to better care for people. That's really what it's all about. None of the tremendous work the Canadian Armed Forces does can happen if we don't care for its members properly. I'm pleased to report that everyone at the Department of National Defence is on board with the rapid implementation of people-focused programs and services. I am fortunate that I was appointed to this position at a time when the relationships between the military and the civilian parts of the defence team are strong.
As we usher in a new era of growth and development for Canada's military, we could not ask for a better leader for the Canadian Armed Forces than Chief of the Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance. I intend to build on the relationships that have been created and continue in John Forster's footsteps as we commit ourselves to the tremendous task of delivering SSE's initiatives.
On the departmental side, I have a great team working with me towards these goals, and I am fortunate to have welcomed two extraordinary new deputies to help lead our organization through this transformational change. They will introduce themselves in detail, but I wanted to speak about what each of them brings to their role.
In the role of associate deputy minister, we have Gordon Venner, former assistant deputy minister of policy in the department.
SSE was delivered and developed under his strong guidance and leadership. Few people in the department have such a depth of understanding of this policy and its initiatives. More than that, Gordon brings decades of foreign policy experience to the role, having served as Canada's ambassador to Iran. He is widely considered to be among the public service's most capable policy minds.
In the role of senior associate deputy minister, I am pleased to introduce Bill Matthews, the former Comptroller General for Canada. In addition to his proven financial acumen, Bill has a track record of project management leadership through organizational change, which will serve our department extremely well through his tenure.
I can safely say that Gordon, Bill, and I have gotten off to an excellent start working together. Let's hope they think the same.
We have a strong leadership team at the Department of National Defence, and I'm enthusiastic about our prospects for successful implementation of our defence policy.
Succeed we must. The criticality of the work performed by our department cannot be understated. The women and men at DND are key enablers who support the Canadian Armed Forces in defending Canada and our interests at home and abroad. Whether it's thwarting terrorist activities overseas or rescuing civilians from natural disasters at home, the Canadian Armed Forces rely on the support of the department to do their jobs as well as they do, and I intend to strengthen that support even further during my time as deputy minister.
The policy is essentially a reset for DND and the Canadian Armed Forces. Every effort we undertake as a department is now geared towards the successful delivery of its vision and its goals. With 111 initiatives set out within SSE, implementation is going to be complex. As a start, my focus is on completing the groundwork that will set us up for successful delivery of this policy over the long term. That's not all flashy announcement-worthy work. It's not, by any stretch of the imagination, but it's work that must be done.
To start, the chief of the defence staff, Bill, Gord, other defence team leaders, and I can track each and every initiative that has been announced as part of SSE. The CDS and I are alerted when things are running behind schedule, and together we question, push, guide, and encourage forward momentum across the department.
Part of what allows us to do this is the department's analytics software. We're using it to its full capacity. It's a tool that we've had in the department for 10 years, but we're using it and finding it especially valuable for SSE implementation. The software ensures that everyone in the department can understand and track progress on any SSE initiative at any time, and since all defence team leaders have the tracking software on our desktops, we can dive into initiatives ourselves. It's early days, but progress is good on populating the system. That kind of transparency is motivating, and it sends a clear message through the department that we're pressing ahead and committed to staying on track.
We're also growing the defence team by recruiting, staffing, and training in key areas for growth, but that takes time, and we need to speak about it with frankness and honesty. Last week, at a Canadian Global Affairs Institute event, senior CAF leaders and I had the chance to discuss the challenges we face in staffing specialized positions that we need filled to deliver SSE, including procurement specialists, engineers, and cybersecurity experts. Our task is not to hire as many people as we can, but instead to find the right people with the right skills to fulfill the right roles. That takes time if we want to get it right, and we do, but it's worth the time and effort because we will be better off in the long term. It's more of that groundwork that I mentioned earlier.
Even as we do that, I'm focused on the overarching priorities of SSE, which are first and foremost the care of Canadian Armed Forces members and their families. Initiatives related to the care and support of CAF members are, naturally, no-fail initiatives. They will be treated with urgency because people are at the core of this policy.
You'll hear the chief of the defence staff often say: “People first, mission always”. That's very much a guiding principle for the rollout of SSE, as well.
But giving Canadian Armed Forces members the tools to do their jobs well is equally important.
The Canadian Armed Forces cannot be what they need to be without the right equipment. We get that, so we're implementing the capability and equipment-related initiatives at the same time as we're taking care of our people, and we're doing it with equal fervour and energy. Our materiel team is diligently streamlining its processes to reduce the time it takes to get the equipment our troops need, and we're committed to changing the narrative about DND's relationship with the defence industry once and for all.
With a policy reset of this magnitude, the defence team will be relying heavily on exceptional support from, and collaboration with, other government departments and central agencies, such as finance, Public Services and Procurement Canada, the Privy Council Office, Treasury Board Secretariat, and others. We need solid partners in each of those organizations to deliver SSE.
My role as DM is not only to guide the department in maintaining forward momentum but also to build the trust and confidence within these organizations that DND can manage the implementation of SSE. When our analytics software alerts us that something has gone off course, it will be my role, with the CDS, to keep the key leaders of those partner organizations informed, so that we know how we'll resolve issues and get back on track. I'll work with other deputy ministers, the Clerk of the Privy Council, and defence stakeholders from all sectors. We'll need all hands on deck to deliver this policy. Strong collaboration is critical to see this through.
We'll be keeping you informed throughout the rollout of this policy as well, keeping lines of communication open and continuing this dialogue in the months and years to come.
Mr. Chair, if there's one more thing I'd like to convey to this committee, it's the pride with which I'll fulfill my duties as the deputy minister of national defence. This department is in my DNA, with generations of my family having served and still serving. I don't take my role for granted. The people who work at the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Armed Forces members we proudly support, and the goals we're working toward—I'm privileged to be a part of it all, and I'm delighted to lead the department in the months ahead.
Thank you for your attention.