Evidence of meeting #3 for National Defence in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was sure.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Jean-Marc Lanthier  Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, Department of National Defence
Rob Chambers  Assistant Deputy Minister, Infrastructure and Environment, Department of National Defence
Jody Thomas  Deputy Minister, Department of National Defence
Troy Crosby  Assistant Deputy Minister, Materiel Group, Department of National Defence
Shelly Bruce  Chief, Communications Security Establishment

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

When it comes to the briefings—this is one of the main projects I started on from day one—and the upgrades that are occurring, I'll give you an example. The investments we're making are not only to upgrade the radar systems; we're also looking at the weapons systems. Everything comes with a package. You can buy, for example, a new helmet, but it has to come with the right system.

That's the stuff I dealt with when I came in. You should know this, because you were the parliamentary secretary for national defence back then, right?

At the end of the day, I think you and I both agree that we do need to replace these, and we need to do it well. Because we have missions to fly, with the projects we're doing right now, we're putting the appropriate investments into the current fleet so that we can continue to fly those missions. But for the replacement, the project itself, the competition has to go well, because this is a very significant project.

5 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

On the competition, we've had another delay by three months because one of the bidders didn't do their homework. Is it fair to the other competitors in this that you keep moving the yardsticks, and by delaying it we're delaying actually making the decision on what new fighter jet we're going to give to our air force?

5 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

First of all, the decisions made for this are done through PSPC. In terms of managing the project, it has to be very independent, making sure that the competition is respected. The decisions are made for the integrity of making sure that this goes into a competition....

Keep in mind that I personally would rather make sure, as the Minister of National Defence, if we're giving an opportunity of three months out of how long it's taking to replace our aircraft, that we get the right aircraft. These are decisions that are being made. My goal out of this is to get the aircraft as quickly as possible, but it has to be the right one as well.

5 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

Thank you.

Ms. Vandenbeld.

March 11th, 2020 / 5 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Thank you very much.

I want to thank you, Minister, for being here today and for being so forthcoming in your answers.

I also want to extend the same gratitude to Lieutenant-General Lanthier for his service and to all of those who serve. I'd like to add their families to that, because we know that when members serve, their families serve along with them.

That brings me to the nature of the question I would like to ask. It's around Seamless Canada, which you mentioned in your opening remarks. We know it's very hard on military families when they are relocated. What are we doing, and how are we working with provinces, to try to ensure that the transition, particularly if it's across provinces, is as easy on families as possible?

5 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

You hit on something that's very important. I'll say this again. Regardless of what position we or any Canadian holds in society, when something is not right at home, how can one concentrate on their work? Apply that to the context of the military where we ask them to do challenging things and very dangerous work. We want to make sure that they know their families are looked after.

In full transparency, even though I have served in the reserves and I have done a lot of overseas deployment, when I became the Minister of National Defence I got to see the really direct impact that relocation has on regular force families. The challenges are everything from a driver's licence, medical card or accreditation for a spouse.

We wanted to solve this, but this is one thing where.... Because we were very open to ideas on what we needed to do, Seamless Canada was actually a project codeveloped with the provinces, bringing in all the represented territories. Instead of going piecemeal one by one, we came together to have a look at what we have worked on. Through this, some provinces have already come forward saying they want to provide more doctors or try to deal with driver's licence issues or medical card issues. It has a significant impact. We actually brought spouses in to talk about their challenges.

We need to look at making this even better. I was speaking with the representative from Manitoba. The goal is, rather than just waiting for one meeting, to start looking at putting working groups together, so that when we come together we can talk about the progress that we have made. What are those challenges? How do we move forward? Where do I need to engage and get some changes done? Ultimately, this does have a significant impact on families.

We are working on a few initiatives, but I have a little more work to do with my team before we move forward on it.

Thanks.

5 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Many spouses have multiple members of the family serving, but for spouses that are not also military we know that spousal employment can be very challenging. Lawyers have to go back and learn the bar in another province, for example. There are a number of things that can be difficult in terms of the spouse's career.

You mentioned the Military Spousal Employment Network. Can you explain what that is?

5 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Regardless of what profession you might be in, when you move you may not be able to get a job in that field, so we have various networks in the military, especially for the reserves, called the Canadian Forces liaison council. It leverages the organizations that we have with businesses to say, when there is a challenge that a regular force member family has, how they can be more supportive. Businesses see a spouse of a military member and they'll take them in.

We did the same thing for our doctors. My wife actually did this. They started a network with other doctors to educate them to accept a military family that is moving and has to switch doctors, to make their life a little bit easier. That is also part of this.

We have a few more initiatives that we want to do to further improve this.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

It can be a challenging time when people retire or end their service. What kinds of supports are there for transitions?

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

The transition is never easy for those who have gone through it. We sometimes see negative impacts as well.

To also answer the other member's questions regarding the support that we provide.... When we look at supporting families, it also provides direct support for the families because sometimes there are family challenges that can create other mental health challenges for members.

The transition group is something that we created. It's a command that does just that. It looks after our people to transition them out. The goal of this is when you're going to transition, it connects directly through Veterans Affairs programs to do everything from making sure the pension cheque and all the paperwork is done to identifying what programs they need. Also, if there is any retraining that needs to be done, there may be a VAC program. There is the new education benefit program that we have put into place and they could take advantage of that.

We're looking at trying to improve that as well.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

Thank you very much.

Mr. Boudrias.

5:05 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Boudrias Bloc Terrebonne, QC

Since I have only three minutes, I'm wondering whether I should talk about fighter jets or C6 general purpose machine guns. I'll choose the fighter jets.

As part of the procurement programs, calls for bids have again been postponed, rewritten and amended. However, a new clause or criterion now imposes the Five Eyes. This has led to the exclusion of partners, NATO manufacturers. They have withdrawn and they won't be bidding on future contracts.

In the case of this combat aircraft, the fighter jet, won't the situation restrict choices within a very limited market? This could affect operations and taxpayers, given the total and final cost.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

First, this is nothing new. There are NATO requirements and Five Eyes requirements, and let's not forget our most important requirement, our own Arctic sovereignty through NORAD, the only binational command in the world that allows us to be able to respond to this.

This is extremely important. These requirements that are put into place are absolutely essential. This is not about pointing fingers at any one aircraft or company. This is literally about making sure the requirements are met. As you can see here, we do have companies still in the process. At the end of the day, for me, this is a complicated project, but I have to keep it very simple. The requirements that we have set out are absolutely necessary for us to be able to meet our mission, and the companies have to demonstrate that.

We'll have a fair competition for this. If you see what's happening up north, based on the picture I provided, all the requirements need to be met, not only for Five Eyes but also for our NORAD compliance as well.

5:05 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Boudrias Bloc Terrebonne, QC

We agree that the C6 general purpose machine guns should be replaced, but isn't $27,000 a unit a little expensive?

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

As you know, they needed to be changed and they have been changed. The C6s are starting to come into service.

I want to go back into it. A project like this is something we're able to move on very quickly. Anti-armour capability, that was taken out because of trying to save money.

Talking about the C6, yes, that's something that was brought in very quickly and it's happening, but anti-armour... These are little capabilities we don't talk about. We talk sometimes about the big projects.

The first time I went into Iraq to visit our troops, the only anti-armour capability we had was a Carl Gustaf at that time. We had a government.... I won't point fingers, but we always have to take a little dig at one another.

Anti-armour capability was taken out. I'm sure it wasn't assessed at that time when the capability was taken, but we were dealing with some serious issues with those types of vehicles. Then we made an immediate decision to make sure we did an emergency buy to get the anti-armour capability in, not only for our special forces but also bringing this capability back into the Canadian Armed Forces. Now they're going through the various trials to select which one they want.

Whether it's the C6, anti-armour capabilities, bringing mortars back.... Let's not also forget that we're bringing back air defence capability as well. The reason I say “capability”—and I don't know what the selection is going to be—is so that we can actually defend ourselves and not have to rely on our allies to provide air defence for us when we deploy.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

Thank you very much.

Go ahead, Mr. Garrison.

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

I'll stick with fighter jets briefly. I have the same three-minute slot here to deal with.

In the competition, New Democrats had been suggesting there should be some premium given for actually producing the jets in Canada. The criteria that went out don't seem to have done that. They talk about some transfer of technology. It seems to be a good idea, if we're going to spend all this money on jets, that we maintain the Canadian aerospace capability that would allow us to maintain and upgrade them in the future.

Can you tell me what weight is actually being given to either production here or transfer of technology here, so we can continue to support the jets once we buy them?

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

First of all, on our Canadian defence procurement, we want to make sure that Canadian companies benefit and Canadians benefit from jobs. The surface combatant project is a good example of many of the projects, where every dollar that is spent on the project is an investment into Canada.

When it comes to the fighters, we obviously don't have that capability. That competition is very important. That capability piece has to be number one, making sure that the Canadian Armed Forces has that capability. We also look at the ITB, the direct benefits to Canada. There are direct benefits to Canadian companies.

Also, I want to emphasize that we do have great companies that provide the internal capabilities to various procurement projects, not just for us but also to our allies. When we look at, for example, a ship, I don't look at the hull or the airframe; we look at what goes inside it. That is probably the most important piece. We have a lot of Canadian ingenuity that can take advantage of that, and they will.

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Thank you.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Richard Martel Conservative Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

I'm very concerned right now, especially in light of the Auditor General's latest report in fall 2018. The report states that the situation is overwhelming owing to a shortage of pilots and technicians.

Canada must now fulfill its obligations. However, not much seems to have been done in terms of recruiting technicians and pilots. The department must also have the necessary funding for this.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

It's something that we identified very early on. This is not a problem just for us in the military; it's a problem in the industry as well. I have many discussions with the Minister of Transport on this.

We adjusted our recruiting targets to start recruiting pilots very early on, even while the defence policy analysis was going on. For example, one of the reasons we need more pilots is that we're buying more aircraft. Originally the plan in the previous government was to buy 65, but we needed 88 based on our analysis. We have new search and rescue aircraft that are coming, so we have put the right investments in to start recruiting more pilots.

We're putting emphasis on retention as well. We're also looking at how we can use the air reserves a lot more. This is something that I believe has been underutilized, so the air force has been looking at new things.

With the mechanics, it's the same thing. We knew that we were going to be needing four more mechanics, and the recruitment is happening for that.

The final piece is that we do have to start looking at incentives for some of these critical trades. There's some work going on to look at the trades that are under stress and what we can do to support them so that we can either recruit or retain them better.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Richard Martel Conservative Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

I'm still concerned. We're talking about pilots, but you know that some of them can't even complete their 140 flying hours a year because there aren't enough technicians to keep the planes flying. We seem to keep going in circles. There will also be cost overruns for the Australian planes if we have trouble getting there at the right time, and the delays will get worse.

You spoke of the pilots, but what about the technicians? The new delivery of Australian aircraft will take place in 2025. Why do we need to fly the aircraft? We could keep them on the ground so that the technicians can take care of the current planes, and we could use these planes for parts. I'm wondering about these things.

It's like a bottomless pit and it's costing us a great deal of money. I'm concerned about the additional money. I'm wondering whether we can achieve our goals.

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

The investments that we're making into these projects include investment in our people as well to make sure that we have the right number of pilots and technicians for the aircraft we have. That's the plan that the air force has been building. That includes the transition into the new fighter fleet as well.

It is quite complex because we look at not just the mechanics and pilots but also at how the training goes as we fly those missions. It is a fine balance that we are doing, but this is a challenge that we have been given.

When it comes to the investments, we're willing to make those investments so that our air force has the capability to continue to fly that mission, and it includes flying more as well.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Richard Martel Conservative Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

It would be worthwhile for the committee to know how many pilots and technicians are really needed, and how many pilots are ready to go into combat right now. We're lacking data. Things should be clearer in this area. What's the average number of flying hours for pilots over the past year? We never know where things stand. For example, how many pilots and technicians do we need right now? Can you give this information to the committee?

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

We can get the information regarding not only where we are, but more importantly, where we're going, what we need and how we're going to get there. We'll get you that information.