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

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Of course, you're coming back to Petawawa for the opening in June.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

Thank you very much.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

I met one of your constituents for a barbecue too, by the way.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

Okay, you bunch. Jeez, you're tough.

Mr. Baker.

March 11th, 2020 / 4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Yvan Baker Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

Thank you very much, Chair.

Thank you, Minister, and to your entire team for being here today.

General, thank you for your service, and congratulations on your career and your retirement.

Minister, in the supplementary estimates there's a line about reinforcing Canada's support for Ukraine. I would like to ask you about Canada's training mission in Ukraine, Operation Unifier.

This week I was elected the new chair of the Canada-Ukraine Friendship Group. I think it's fair to say that, to members of the group, to many Canadians, to many of my constituents in Etobicoke Centre and especially to people who are members of the Ukrainian Canadian community, of great concern is Russia's invasion of Ukraine, its annexation of Crimea and the resulting impact of 13,000 people killed and close to two million people internally displaced in Ukraine.

I want to thank you and your team for your steadfast support of Ukraine and her people. I know you reiterated that support at last month's NATO defence ministers conference. Would you be able to provide an update on Operation Unifier's impact on Ukraine's ability to defend and re-establish its sovereignty and territorial integrity?

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Congratulations on your election to become the chair, and I also thank all members for steadfast support for Ukraine. It sends a very strong message when you have all-party support for Ukraine at the time of need.

Operation Unifier plays a very important role, which I remind all my colleagues at NATO when we go, whether it's me hosting a meeting or hosting a breakfast to be able to elevate that conversation.

On Operation Unifier, there are a couple of things that we're doing. The work that we're doing is about providing for the right need. Rather than just our figuring out for ourselves what we're willing to provide, it's about assessing the various needs. Very early on, rather than training from one location, I made the decision and gave the direction to spread that training out, to go where it's needed. Rather than having the Ukrainian armed forces members come to one location when they have to deal with trying to get in the front line and doing all the various training, we now go to them. The locations fluctuate depending on what's going on. It's usually over 10 at any one time. We look at any opportunities to be able to expand on that training.

One thing we've also said is that with the defence co-operation arrangements, plus Ukraine being added to the automatic firearms control list, that allows us to now look at how the procurement system will work. What we want to do is link from procurement into the type of training that we can provide, because equipment is absolutely useless until you train somebody to use it well, and you make them far more effective. For example, the sniper rifles that have been purchased through Canada, and the training that we provide—because we literally do have the best military snipers in the world—is providing that capability that has the impact.

Also the medical training resonates in my mind directly. That was something that a team identified. It wasn't part of the initial training. People coming back from the front line didn't have the appropriate training and people were dying. Getting the first aid training is not just for the individual, but it's teaching about the whole system that's needed, from the casualty collection point to putting people into an ambulance. You need to stabilize them before they get into the ambulance; otherwise, they're going to die on the way. Those are all things that actually have had an impact.

What we also need to work very hard on is to support Ukraine on its reforms, because the reforms are going to be absolutely crucial to making sure that Ukraine is going to be eventually successful.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Yvan Baker Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

Thank you.

I'd like to switch over to Operation Reassurance. There's probably a limited amount of time for this, but in the one minute that I have left, could you speak briefly to the impact of Operation Reassurance, especially in its goal of containing Russia?

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

As we talked about Operation Unifier in Ukraine, even though it's not a NATO operation, Operation Reassurance, our contributions of what we're doing in NATO, is having a direct impact to Ukraine.

I've always stated it. If you look at it—from Latvia up in the north where we are commanding a battle group, to Ukraine, and we also have troops in the south, plus we have our naval task force that we command, in addition to sporadic air policing in Romania—you'll see that we're literally on the eastern edge of Europe and sending a very strong message to Russia that, when it comes to their aggression, it's not going to be tolerated. Yes, the Russians have taken the very bold and dangerous step, but any further actions are not going to be tolerated, and we take every opportunity.

I think there are a number of steps that we can also take as parliamentarians, but also as part of this committee, and that's something which I think we can discuss further in support for Ukraine.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Yvan Baker Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

Thank you, Minister.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

Thank you very much, Mr. Baker.

Monsieur Boudrias.

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Boudrias Bloc Terrebonne, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I'll try to be a good soldier and stay on today's topic, which is supplementary estimates (B) 2019-20.

During my period of service, some type of administrative and financial madness always occurred between January and March 31, because that was the end of the fiscal year. We were told either to make budget cuts or to transfer money to the senior levels.

In the most recent budget, I can see that almost $22 billion was spent on National Defence. To me, it's never enough. Today we're asking for half a billion dollars in capital investments. I'm not questioning the importance of the various programs, which are essential. In recent years, wasn't our budget enough to meet our needs and fulfill our ambitions?

We still have external operations under way that are being carried out under great conditions, despite our limited means. The same applies to equipment, which I referred to earlier and which you mentioned briefly. All this is essential.

Minister Sajjan, do we have the means to match our ambitions?

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

I'll talk about March madness in a second—it's something that I wanted to get away from—and why it used to happen.

First of all, when it comes to running the military, we have the budget for that. Any operation that a government approves is funded separately. There is money given directly to the operation, so the operation itself is going to be successful. We have always made sure of that, and there are always contingencies in place.

Plus, as with the defence policy, we are prioritizing on the capital projects to make sure that we are supported. For example, there are the upgrades of all LAVs. Every LAV that the army commander has asked for has now been fully upgraded. Initially, when I came in, not all of them were allocated, but all of them have been.

We're moving on projects now for the support vehicles. We have brand new LAVs, but as you know, some of the ambulances and command post and engineer vehicles have been getting older, so now we're moving those projects forward.

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Boudrias Bloc Terrebonne, QC

Okay, Minister Sajjan.

This is all part of the procurement programs that have already been announced, and we're following the procurement schedule. I'm fully aware that this can't be done in one year.

The fact remains that, at the end of the budget year, half a billion dollars is being ripped from the budget. We're talking about the day-to-day management of things already under way and not about surprises, with the exception of legal recourse for victims of sexual assault or sexual harassment, for example. This is a new component, and I understand that this expense wasn't initially planned.

However, the rest is foreseeable. I understand that certain market situations, such as the exchange rate and the value of the Canadian dollar against the euro or the American dollar, may influence the possibility of purchasing certain products or equipment. Indeed, if we're asking for additional funding each year for existing programs, is our overall funding adequate, also given the 2% required for NATO?

I know that the men and women in uniform in our armed forces are doing an extraordinary job. They manage to do everything with very few resources. They'll never tell you that they lack anything. They'll say that they can carry out the mission.

I understand that our external operations are independently funded. Nevertheless, we're still in a situation where we must rob Peter to pay Paul in order to increase our power and deploy our forces. At some point, we must be consistent.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

I'm afraid there's only a short time for an answer, Minister.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

First, to answer your question, no. We're making the appropriate investments into the right areas. That's what the defence policy is about. What we're trying to do is move the projects quickly enough to make sure we fill those gaps that we had in the past. Those are being done.

For those projects that I talked about, it was about moving quickly. What we don't want to also get into.... What we've been passing down through the deputy minister and the chief of the defence staff is for all members' commands to be able to spend to their budgets, making it easier. We're looking at where those needs are, and it's to have that flexibility. What we needed to be able to do is.... We can't be stuck into one place and not be able to move money around. Having that flexibility was very important to us because, as needs change, priorities change as well. We've been able to do just that. That's what you see sometimes. Changes are sometimes not out of necessity, but because of a prudent decision being made on where support is required.

I could go much longer, but the Chair would get upset.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

You don't want to get the Chair upset.

Mr. Garrison.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

I want to turn to the question of Canada's submarines. I have a base in my riding where two of them are based, the repair and maintenance centre, so it is something I am interested in, both in general policy but also specifically.

We had a pretty good record in 2017 and 2018. HMCS Chicoutimi did an excellent job enforcing sanctions against North Korea, and we had HMCS Windsor doing Atlantic operations with NATO. Last year, we didn't have such a good year, with zero days at sea. I know the expectation. Vice-Admiral McDonald said that the subs will be back in the water and things will be much better this year.

My question is really about replacement. At that time, Vice-Admiral McDonald said we have programs in place to keep the subs operational until the mid-2030s, but the defence policy put forward called for replacements not until the 2040s. Therefore, what we're seeing now is a gap already emerging. If we are actually going to get new submarines, and I do believe we should because they are an important part of the Canadian navy, don't we have to start that process pretty soon? Otherwise, that gap is going to get bigger and we won't really have operational submarines.

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

I'm glad you raised this. Canadians sometimes don't fully understand the need for submarines. It is very simple: If you don't have submarines, you don't have sovereignty. Right? You need to have submarines to provide that sovereignty, especially in the three oceans that we have, and with the impact of climate change, things are opening up. Our subs indeed need some significant investments and they will get them.

We did have the operations that were conducted, but we must be mindful that those were significant. We'll have to go back a very long time to when subs were deployed that far. The subs need to get into a regular maintenance cycle as well and that's what you saw there. They will be deployed, but the bigger projects for the upgrading of submarines are going to happen. A decision was made by the navy to upgrade these submarines because they provide a very important and unique capability that is needed. Based on what the navy's needs were to upgrade, that decision was made, and we will be looking at what the future replacement needs will be.

Let's not forget that we also have to look at a lot of the technology we're working on. Through this time, there's some interesting and very good research that's being done to look at not only what the needs are going to be, but what the capability is going to be in the future.

They do play a very important role, and all of this is going to be looked into as we have the greater long-term discussions about NORAD modernization.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Is there a team working on this now?

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

We have a team. The navy does look at its entirety. We do have the projects actually on the books for this.

The reason I mention that is I had to be educated on this personally to increase my understanding of this. I had very similar questions. The navy convinced me of what needed to be done. It's something that we're managing very directly.

It's not about just launching a project. It's about making sure that you get it right so that at the end of the day, when you launch your RFP, the requirements are done appropriately. A lot more work still needs to be done on this.

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Karen McCrimmon

Thank you very much.

Mr. Dowdall.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Terry Dowdall Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

Thank you, Minister, for being here today with your team. It's a fantastic opportunity to have this chat.

Lieutenant-General, all the best in your retirement. I'm kind of jealous. It has to be a nice feeling right about now, going into summertime. Some days I want to retire.

First of all, I'll just say that it's unfortunate at times that we have to choose between the equipment we need and the individuals in our military. I'm really happy to see in these estimates that you included the $148.6 million to help victims of assault or harassment. It's important that we invest in that, so kudos for that.

What I'd like to speak about, and perhaps you could update me on, is that I know that 15 military personnel committed suicide in 2018. I have some figures from 2010, when you did a study, which was fantastic news. However, there were some incredible numbers. Female veterans were 81% more likely to commit suicide than non-veterans, and more than 155 active service members have taken their own lives since 2010.

National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada built a new suicide prevention strategy in late 2017, which I think is fantastic news. I don't have the new numbers, and that's one of my questions. The strategy included promises to improve the services and support available to our current military members and veterans in the hope of increasing awareness and reducing the number of suicides in all the populations.

You made a great comment on January 9, “We must always strive to do better.” You said, “Every time we lose a member of our Canadian Armed Forces to suicide, it is felt by us all. One suicide is too many.” I agree and I am sure everyone in this room has the same understanding.

Since that time, have there been any checks and balances? I haven't seen a report or heard anything as of yet. How are we doing now? Are we investing the right money? If we want men and women to continue to join and have a career in the armed forces, we have to make sure we have those supports.

First, could you tell me that?

I have some follow-up questions as well.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

It's very important that we highlight this absolute tragedy.

I've said it before, and I think everybody can agree that one is too many. We take this extremely seriously. The senior leadership, including me, gets an immediate update if something happens, so they know we know what's happening, and so we get the updates on the action to make sure the families are also looked after.

At the same time, I have regular updates, looking at what we have learned from the board of inquiry, what changes we need to make, what decisions we need to make to direct changes, or that the chain of command is already looking at things. It also comes down to what type of support we're providing for the families.

Yes, to your question. It always has to be an ever-growing process moving forward, so we are constantly learning.

This is one thing we've been looking at when somebody joins. We look at building resiliency from day one. How do we train our people? Do we have the right mechanism? Are we building that mental resiliency? Do we have the appropriate supports for a young family? We are looking at all those things. This is why the military family resource centres are very important. The joint strategy with Veterans Affairs on suicide prevention is extremely important.

We are putting all the steps in there. This is where I'm absolutely open to everybody. If there are any new ideas or research, we're happy to take a look at it. We should all be concerned about this, looking at and making any necessary changes. I'm very open to ideas.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Terry Dowdall Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Could you say what the numbers are now? Are we seeing a change? Are we going in a positive direction, so there are fewer?

There was one the other day on my base. Again, I have one of the largest training bases in my riding. It's great to have those resource centres, but are psychological services located there? I know in my case, they have to drive, usually to Toronto. It's an hour's drive. If someone is not already stressed, driving to Toronto is enough to make them extremely stressed.

I'm just curious if you've looked at options like that. How can we find that information and see those changes? I certainly want to do our part. Maybe we have to think outside the box, but if we can make any investment—and we want to invest in our people—we have to be behind this 100%.

Do we have psychological services available at every base in Canada?

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

We do have support—I want to make sure that this is the exact goal. I'm confident that we do have it, but I want to make sure that I answer your question definitively. That's exactly what we want. It's not just about the bases. We have a lot of other areas that we need to support.

Last year there were 19.