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

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

First of all, I'll talk about the Russian threat itself.

As you very well know, Russia has been testing us up in the north and we have been responding every single time. In the defence policy very early on we identified that we needed to make sure not only that our sovereignty was protected but also that we had to message that with significant investments.

As we are doing NORAD modernization, we are also starting to invest very early. It is called all-domain situational awareness. You may recall from various committee meetings, we need to look at the threats from all the way out in space down to under water, so we're investing in the right research and development.

As we look at the changes and the capabilities that we need, we need to make sure that we stay at the cutting edge of technology, working very closely with the U.S. on this to maintain our technological advantage against Russia. We need to make sure that this continues and does not stop, because stop-and-go mechanisms have created problems in the past, and this is what we are working toward.

As we talk about Ukraine, we know if we don't send a very strong message, Russia will take action as it has done in Ukraine with the annexation of the Crimea at Donbass.

Let's not forget that they actually started foreshadowing this very early on with what happened in Georgia. Somebody mentioned that when President Putin actually gave a speech at the Munich security conference. We need to be very mindful. We can't just look at current adversaries or potential adversaries. We need to see the early signs and look at preventing them in the first place.

These investments are also about sending a very strong message to turn it into capabilities so that we can actually deter any type of aggression.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

Thank you very much.

Monsieur Boudrias.

March 11th, 2020 / 3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Boudrias Bloc Terrebonne, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Minister Sajjan, public servants, Mr. Lanthier, we all know that the Department of National Defence has civilian and military sides. In supplementary estimates (B), the Department of National Defence is asking for an additional $487.3 million in funding for capital investments.

How much of that funding is for the civilian side of the department and how much is for the more military side? This would help us understand where the money is headed.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

What we have done in defence—Rob, you can talk about that in terms of some of the infrastructure pieces—is that we don't look at it as being from the civilian side or the military side. When we came in, we wanted to make sure we demonstrated an entire team concept with me, the chief of the defence staff and the deputy minister.

What is done in National Defence is about supporting the members of the Canadian Armed Forces. We have various projects that we have started. For example, in terms of certain things like infrastructure, our defence policy prioritized looking after our people. That means housing for our people, for example, the project Ms. Gallant talked about in Petawawa with the health services centre, which is now 90% complete. MFRCs are another project. When it comes to looking at things, we're looking at what our troops need and working outward. Let's also keep in mind the operational aspects and what we also need to make sure the command and control headquarters are done. For example, the extension of the runway in Inuvik has a direct impact on our response, and NORAD's as well, but at the same time provides direct support for the communities.

There have been approximately $1.2 billion in investments strictly into infrastructure, but we have been having to manage this money so that we can prioritize it into the right areas. One thing we also need to note is that maintenance of our infrastructure is absolutely essential. You can't just stop; it needs to be continued, so what we are trying to do right now is prioritize the work first, because the investments weren't there in the past. Once we get things under control, then the goal is to get it into a regular cycle, but we're not there yet.

Rob, perhaps you could answer the question in terms of which projects—

4 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Boudrias Bloc Terrebonne, QC

To clarify, there are basically three components: the air force, the army and the navy. Then there's the civilian side and the Communications Security Establishment, or CSE. An additional $487.3 million is wanted for capital investments.

I'm not asking for the exact figures, but can they be rounded up? Do we know what proportion of this amount is for each component and for the civilian side?

4 p.m.

Rob Chambers Assistant Deputy Minister, Infrastructure and Environment, Department of National Defence

Certainly, I can speak to the infrastructure portion of that, sir, taking into account the minister's earlier comment about the defence team. Some of these resources really are integrated, and they are of benefit to all of the services.

To give you a specific example, in Valcartier, Defence Research and Development Canada is the leading defence R and D function in the Government of Canada. A large portion, $16.65 million of that amount, is destined for a project for DRDC. I wouldn't be able to specify the benefit to the air force, the army or the navy from that. It is very much a defence team investment.

There are a few other infrastructure projects here that are a little more targeted, some for army, some for air force, although when they are applied it goes beyond just that service. I think that for the overall picture I would defer to my colleague the CFO or the deputy, to give you that bigger picture beyond infrastructure.

4 p.m.

Jody Thomas Deputy Minister, Department of National Defence

We have a list of the projects that these particular supplementary estimates are for. It is a mix of army, navy, air force and SOFCOM, as well as some infrastructure funding.

Examples are the naval large trucks, the common pattern armoured vehicle and the Canadian Forces electronic warfare support. Some of it is for things like identity management, for when we are doing recruiting, so we can capture identity more quickly and put them into the recruiting system more quickly—those kinds of things.

There is no project here in particular for anything other than, on the capital side, military capability between the four services and the recruiting group.

4 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Boudrias Bloc Terrebonne, QC

Is this list accessible and public? Out of curiosity, can we look at it somewhere?

4 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of National Defence

Jody Thomas

Yes, absolutely, we can table it.

4 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Boudrias Bloc Terrebonne, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

4 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

Mr. Garrison.

4 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

Thank you to the minister and all the staff for being here today. Of course, I give a big thanks to the Canadian Forces for the important work they do every day for all Canadians. I represent one of the larger military ridings in the country and am acutely aware of that.

I was very pleased to see in your opening statement, Mr. Minister, that you said your number one priority has been to look after the women and men on our defence team, so I am going to ask you some questions about that.

You mentioned some very welcome initiatives, such as the settlement for the victims of sexual assault and the settlement of the class action lawsuit on the LGBT purge.

The biggest issue in my riding among employees is, of course, DND civilian employees in the Phoenix pay system. I have been asking you about this for four years and I am going to ask you about it again today. What I hear very consistently and heard over the last week when I was in the riding is that the problems with the pay system aren't going away and that they have an effect on morale, recruitment and retention of the skilled people needed to work in the DND civilian workforce.

The most recent report by the Auditor General said there are more cases—not fewer cases—and that these cases involve more money than they previously did. The last report I saw from DND showed that 63% of DND employees have pay issues. Sixty-three per cent of the 28,000 people is almost 17,000 people.

My first question is: Have you seen impacts on the operations of DND as a result of the failures of the Phoenix pay system?

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

I'm going to have the DM get into the details of this, but I agree that this is absolutely unacceptable. I know I give this answer every single time, but it deserves it. We do need to acknowledge it and not hide the fact. Fixing this problem as a government is a priority for us. In defence, I want to particularly let you and everybody else in this room know how seriously I and the senior leadership team are taking it.

We get regular briefings on how things are going. We're putting resources into the right areas, and more importantly, we're actually looking at identifying...even right down to individual issues. If somebody has a concern, it goes directly to the deputy minister. She can task things so action can be taken.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

As a cabinet minister, have you made these concerns known in cabinet? Have you pushed your cabinet colleagues? Obviously, we're not going to fix this system. We keep getting more cases. Something has to be done to solve the problems. Have you been pushing, as a cabinet minister, to get a solution to the Phoenix pay system?

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

I think all cabinet ministers have been pushing very hard to solve this. No one should be having to deal with these types of issues. More importantly, we're also looking at how to move forward with a proper system. Work is ongoing. The investments are being put into the right areas. People are being hired. We're trying to get as creative as possible. The number one priority is that if somebody is dealing with any type of hardship, it's dealt with very efficiently.

I also want to say, just in case there are any new members in the room, that we did make a conscious decision in the past not to put the military on the Phoenix pay system. Now when we look at any type of personnel management programs, we go through a very rigorous process to see how it's working, how it's tested and to bring it in very slowly to make sure that things are done well while not losing the other system as well.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Thank you. In the interest of time, I want to move to a second issue here.

I know it's your priority to make sure we look after women and men in the Canadian Forces. In 2015, Operation Honour was started to try to address the problem of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the Canadian military. Recent evaluations, both surveys and through counts of the number of complaints, found the problem has not been successfully attacked by Operation Honour. It shows 7% of women in the reserves and 4% of those in the regular forces face sexual harassment or sexual assault.

If we're going to reach the goal of 26% women in the Canadian Forces by 2026, what are we going to do to improve or replace Operation Honour to make sure we really seriously address these problems?

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

First of all, Operation Honour is a name given to the very important initiative that everybody is taking very seriously. In terms of the stats you're talking about, it's something that the Canadian Armed Forces is asking about independently to make sure we are moving in the right direction.

One aspect of this is to get an accurate account of what is actually happening. A lot of good initiatives have been put into place. We also want to make it an encouraging environment for people to come forward if something has happened, even in the past, so it can be dealt with. When it comes to the numbers, I am very mindful of that, but I'm also extremely mindful of the actions that we need to take and whether we are taking those actions and learning from them.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Members of the Canadian Forces were asked if they thought it was an effective program, and fewer than half the members responded that yes, they thought it was an effective program. That's not a very ringing endorsement from those who are serving.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

We're going to learn from every opportunity. This cannot be...for example, pushing out an initiative and thinking it's going to be working. This is putting a process in place that will constantly evolve. We have learned a lot. In fact, changes have been made. For example, the sexual misconduct response centre was done. The declaration of victims rights was added into the code of service discipline. I can go through a list of things, but for me right now it is about the results we are showing.

What we're doing here is making sure we have the independent look at every opportunity to evaluate whether we are moving in the right direction. One thing I can assure you is that we will take every step to make sure that until we have a harassment-free environment, we will not stop.

Vice, do you want to add anything to that?

4:10 p.m.

LGen Jean-Marc Lanthier

Thank you, Minister.

In terms of two of the big initiatives we're pursuing, we're just about to release a strategy about the change of culture. How do you affect culture? How do you change it? How do you understand it? How do you characterize it? Our ethos, our ethics, are profound, are right. There is a drift. How do we bring back that alignment so that we do respect the first principle of our code of ethics, to respect the dignity of each person?

The second piece is being able to measure that, as the minister alluded to. We're putting in place a performance measurement framework that's been developed with extensive consultation with the experts and the external committee that's provided us advice. We're aligning the policy. We're also to release a DAOD that will align all policies, whether it is about duty to report, all those aspects.

I'm confident we're moving in the right direction. It's a problem society has struggled with, and we are a representation of society, so we're working really hard. The trend is now showing fewer incidents over the last 12 months. We now have a database in the system, the Operation Honour tracking analysis system, which is owned by the chain of command to really track both the cases and the reporting of the cases, and to understand that dynamic.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

Thank you, Mr. Garrison.

Monsieur Martel.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Richard Martel Conservative Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

First, I want to thank the witnesses for joining us today and for answering our questions.

Mr. Lanthier, thank you for your 30 years of service. I wish you a happy end to your career and a very happy retirement.

Minister Sajjan, supplementary estimates (B) include $487.3 million for your department. How much of that amount is intended for the Bagotville base?

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

I'll talk about Bagotville. It's not strictly what's in this program, but it will help to understand the role that Bagotville plays and the investments that currently have been made, as well as the wider piece. There are investments that have gone into Bagotville as part of this.

Bagotville is one of the response bases for NORAD. One other aspect that is very important, which I got to see very early in my tenure as Minister of National Defence, is the air task force concept. It was decided that would go into Bagotville. That requires upgrades in the infrastructure, which have already started, but more importantly, for the supplies that go there.

In addition to the investments to the base itself, Bagotville has become far more operationally needed because of some of the organizational space that has been created. We call it the air force expeditionary capability program at Bagotville. For this one, it's $1.78 million, but that's just what has come into it. The total cost of the project is $110 million.

You have to look into the whole concept of what we're trying to do. Let's also look at NORAD modernization. We're also doing a bunch of further studies of those needs. Bagotville is a very important base for us.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Richard Martel Conservative Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Regardless of the choice of the next fighter jet, you know that we must upgrade our hangars or build new ones.

Is your department ready for this?

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Absolutely. As I mentioned, it is a base that we sprang for NORAD, modernizing the hangars for the new aircraft that we will get. It's going to be at a higher classification, so that's going to require newer infrastructure so those planes can be housed. Yes, it's going to come with more infrastructure, but that's how we've planned out this project. I can assure you, Bagotville is a very important base for us.