Evidence of meeting #38 for National Defence in the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was arctic.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Adam Lajeunesse  Associate Professor, St. Francis Xavier University, As an Individual
David Perry  President, Canadian Global Affairs Institute, As an Individual
Denis Boucher  Director General, Defence Security, Department of National Defence

11:45 a.m.

Associate Professor, St. Francis Xavier University, As an Individual

Dr. Adam Lajeunesse

To begin with, what I have advocated is not necessarily an increase in military capability in the Canadian Arctic in order to create this threat for Russia. I have suggested that in future policy statements, in the way we comport ourselves, in the way politicians speak and in the way we announce our intentions in the Arctic, we at least keep in mind this Russian insecurity and perhaps stop acting as though the Canadian Arctic is in quite so much peril.

When we talk about that peril—the danger that Russia poses to our Arctic—I would always ask someone who says it is in danger to game that out and to move one step beyond to say what exactly that danger is.

What exactly is a Russian submarine going to do in the Canadian Arctic? Quite frankly, there is nothing of strategic value for that Russian submarine to attack.

What exactly is a Russian airborne company going to do in the Canadian Arctic? There's not a whole lot for it to do.

When we talk about Arctic security, we really need to separate the different Arctics. The Russian threat to the Arctic is in Scandinavia. It's in the Barents Sea. It's much closer to home. That's always been the case.

There isn't a strategic threat from Russia to the Canadian Arctic, unless you are talking about a through-threat, as Dr. Lackenbauer said. Those threats would simply go through the Arctic toward the rest of North America. In that case, it's not an Arctic threat per se; it's a global threat.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Emmanuella Lambropoulos Liberal Saint-Laurent, QC

Do you still believe there should be investments made in the Arctic? Should our military capabilities be improved in that area? What are the benefits of doing so?

11:45 a.m.

Associate Professor, St. Francis Xavier University, As an Individual

Dr. Adam Lajeunesse

Absolutely. As I mentioned very briefly, there are very serious threats to the Arctic. We just need to be clear-eyed about what they are. We're not talking about submarines and paratroopers per se. What we're most likely going to look at over the next 10, 20 or 30 years in terms of threats are hybrid or unconventional threats, such as Chinese fishing fleets, trespassing, illegal shipping and poaching.

Just last year, we had a Chinese adventurer coming through on a sailboat. This was a man supported by Chinese state media, who has a history of personal freedom of navigation voyages. The political ramifications of his moving through without our permission could have been very significant. He was stopped only by the ice.

Those kinds of hybrid safety and security threats are going to be very real, and they're going to increase as more activity moves north and as more fish move north. We are going to need more capabilities and situational awareness. We are going to need constabulary and naval capabilities like the AOPS and new coast guards to manage these threats.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you, Madam Lambropoulos.

For two and a half minutes, we have Madame Normandin.

11:45 a.m.

Bloc

Christine Normandin Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Professor Perry, I'd like you to talk about the politicization of procurement. I'm thinking, among other things, of the F‑35s. In 2015 we were told that there was a need for everything except F‑35s, and then we heard otherwise.

I'm also thinking of the industrial and technological impacts. People in the field have told us that the criteria applied are often disconnected from the needs.

And in some ridings, defence enterprises receive more or fewer contracts, depending on election outcomes.

Is the military procurement system too politicized?

11:45 a.m.

President, Canadian Global Affairs Institute, As an Individual

Dr. David Perry

In my opinion, the question of politicization is vastly overstated. There have absolutely been a few key programs in which negative political involvement slowed down the process of acquiring something. However, if you look across the whole basket of hundreds of different projects that national defence is trying to advance, I would imagine that most of the members on this committee couldn't name 90% of them. I don't know that I could name more than 50 or 60 if you forced me to do it.

Across the board, the impacts of politicization are vastly overstated. They've been very important and key on a couple of different projects, but there tends to be a lot more consensus around these things than we think. I just don't know that there's been enough consensus to collectively act to buy these things faster than we have in recent decades.

11:45 a.m.

Bloc

Christine Normandin Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Could more neutral outside resources be used to support a more consensual decision? I'm thinking for example of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. It would lead to smoother military procurement decision-making for the various political parties.

11:50 a.m.

President, Canadian Global Affairs Institute, As an Individual

Dr. David Perry

I'm not sure I caught the entire translation, but I think that bodies of Parliament, like the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Auditor General of Canada, play a critical function. I think it's a good and needed thing that they are conducting regular studies on some of these big files. I don't know that the folks at National Defence always appreciate the extra scrutiny, but as an example, the Canadian surface combatant project is the single most expensive thing the Government of Canada is attempting to do, as far as I can tell, so I think it's entirely reasonable to review the budget and the costing for that every year or two.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you, Madame Normandin.

We have Ms. Mathyssen for a very generous two and a half minutes.

November 3rd, 2022 / 11:50 a.m.

NDP

Lindsay Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Dr. Lajeunesse, at the end of the last round I had, you were talking about the further investment or the welcome investment in terms of the Arctic and offshore patrol ships. We've heard before from committee witnesses that the increase in traffic, the increase in potential commercial tourism with the opening of the Arctic, is one of the issues the Arctic will have to deal with.

Could you comment in terms of investments in our coast guard and, when we think about the policing of that, whether we have what's adequate? I'm referring to the policing and international laws, as opposed to the militarization of it.

11:50 a.m.

Associate Professor, St. Francis Xavier University, As an Individual

Dr. Adam Lajeunesse

What is unique about the Arctic and offshore patrol vessels is that they are not warships per se. They're not frontline combatants. They were designed from the very beginning to be very versatile ships with an understanding that, in the Arctic, the navy is not going to be the lead actor; it's going to be a supporting actor.

What the AOPS bring to the table is a platform, a platform that can move around Fisheries and Oceans personnel, RCMP, Transport Canada or border services agents. These are large, capable, versatile ships that can serve as platforms for other government departments to do their jobs.

At the same time, they serve as our eyes and ears on the Arctic waters. They are able to access pretty much any area where any other ship, apart from heavy icebreakers, can go. As that activity you mentioned increases, the need for more situational awareness and the need to have more capability to respond in the event of an emergency are going to increase.

They are a good solution married up with increased aerial surveillance, satellite surveillance and potentially, down the road, subsurface surveillance as well.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you, Ms. Mathyssen.

Ms. Kramp-Neuman, you have five minutes, please.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Shelby Kramp-Neuman Conservative Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Thank you.

I have several different questions in different directions. I'm going to start with Dr. Perry.

With regard to submarines, deterrence and protecting our northern approach, could you speak a bit more on that with regard to what you mentioned earlier, that if we don't have submarines, then we don't know who is in our waters?

Could you elaborate on that a little?

11:50 a.m.

President, Canadian Global Affairs Institute, As an Individual

Dr. David Perry

Sure, and I'll use the opportunity to disagree with Dr. Lajeunesse a little about what they could do.

In our own north, we have a signals intelligence facility at Alert. We have a radar installation that provides the early warning for continental North America about inbound air threats through the North Warning System, and we have several forward operating locations for our fighter aircraft. Every one of those locations is a potential military target for any particular type of missile that could be fired against a target on land.

The Russians have advanced cruise missiles that can be deployed from either planes, surface ships or submarines, so a submarine could be in our waters doing various things. Among the things it could do would be trying to strike one of those military installations.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Shelby Kramp-Neuman Conservative Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Next, we recognize that threats are real and worsen over time. You noted that earlier. With regard to upgrades for our NORAD North Warning System, we know it's a shared effort between Canada and the U.S., sixty-forty.

What are some of the factors you see that would go into the funding formula and negotiations, and do they help Canada's position when we are seen as a laggard on defence and when, as noted earlier, we have billions in lapsed spending? We're experiencing a personnel crisis, and we're failing to pull our weight in NATO and NORAD.

Going back to the question, what are some of the factors you see that could go into the funding formula?

11:55 a.m.

President, Canadian Global Affairs Institute, As an Individual

Dr. David Perry

Okay, there's a lot in that.

From my understanding, that's been a historical cost-share, but it's not being considered today. My understanding is that the announcement this summer of upwards of $80 billion is all Canadian money. I'm not clear about exactly what in the American DOD investment space maps against that, so you could come up with some kind of ratio for what Canada is doing versus what the Americans are doing.

I think—as I was trying to enumerate earlier—there are a lot of great, Canadian-specific reasons for wanting to invest more in the defence of our country, our north individually as a country and in the context of North America. However, I definitely think there's an increasing allied focus on this, with our allies wanting to see us actually able to at least defend our own backyard better and, in a North American context, do so with our American allies.

There's an imperative for us to not just commit this money, but to spend it and get it out the door. I think you could point to various comments that have been made by the American ambassador to Canada, that they are looking to see what we can actually spend and buy, not just commit.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Shelby Kramp-Neuman Conservative Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

That's perfect.

My last question is this. With regard to the F-35, we know we're in desperate need of modern fighter jets to contribute meaningfully to NORAD defence. After years of dragging out the competition, the government finally selected F-35s, but the contract still hasn't been signed.

We've heard from the commander of the air force that the RCAF added just one fighter pilot since 2020, so the numbers show that the personnel crisis extends to fighter pilots and maintainers. As a result, we're almost certainly lacking experienced fighter pilots to fly the F-35s, if and when we finally get them. It puts us at a serious disadvantage, in my opinion, in NORAD defence.

From your viewpoint, your perspective, what is it going to take to reconstitute our fighter jet personnel when we have pilots leaving for the private sector after receiving several years of expensive training?

11:55 a.m.

President, Canadian Global Affairs Institute, As an Individual

Dr. David Perry

First, I'd say the fact that the commander of the air force said they got only one additional pilot in the last two years indicates to me that there's an existential crisis. It's a crisis if you can get only one pilot in at a time when the commercial aviation sector has experienced the worst collapse in its entire existence. I'm not sure how much more conducive an environment you could have to get new people in to fly military airplanes.

At this point the situation—not just with pilots but across the board with personnel at National Defence—is at such a crisis level that they need to rethink everything. The current intake time, as I understand it, between showing up at a recruiting centre and getting a job is months north of a year, which is an insane time frame given the current labour market.

I think there's a whole number of components, both in recruiting and initial training, as well as on a retention front, that need to be fundamentally rethought, because the system we have right now is not fit for purpose.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Shelby Kramp-Neuman Conservative Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Okay. Thank you.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you. That was a great question.

Mr. Fisher, you have the final five minutes.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Darren Fisher Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Thank you very much.

Dr. Lajeunesse, I want to ask you a question about a paper you co-wrote, but before I do, I just want to get a little clarity. We talked a lot today about conflicting testimony, and I don't want to put words in your mouth.

You mentioned that Canada and NATO countries are not so vulnerable in the Arctic, that it's actually Russia that's vulnerable, and that anyone who is saying that Canada is vulnerable in the Arctic is playing into Russian narratives. Can you clarify if that's what you said and meant, and maybe provide a little elaboration of your thoughts in those comments?

I apologize if I didn't get them word for word.

11:55 a.m.

Associate Professor, St. Francis Xavier University, As an Individual

Dr. Adam Lajeunesse

Absolutely, and it is a different way of framing the issue.

To begin, Russia's vulnerability stems primarily from what it has in the Arctic. Unlike North America, Russia's economy is very closely tied to assets that are located in the Arctic. This goes back generations, and it's where that Russian insecurity stems from. The fact that it has a lot of very valuable, very vulnerable assets in the north is where that insecurity comes from.

The reason I'm saying North America is not as vulnerable is that simply put, there is no strategic centre of gravity in the North American Arctic. As Dr. Perry mentioned, there are several important targets in the Arctic, but their removal or their destruction would not fundamentally alter the Canadian economy or our ability to make war.

NATO's strength in the Arctic is also very commonly downplayed or underestimated. NATO's submarine fleets, which are the main vehicle for projecting power in the Arctic waters, are significant. They're large. They're technologically advanced. They're well trained. The Americans and the British never stopped going under the Arctic ice during the 1990s and 2000s, so that capability is very real.

NATO's aerospace power projection in the north is also, obviously, very significant, and as Finland and Sweden join the alliance, NATO's capability in the north, to my mind, will significantly outshine Russia's.

Another element we can't ignore is the fact that over the last 20 years, our assessment of Russian capability in the Arctic has been based on paper strength: what the Russians say they have, what we've seen there. As we've seen in Ukraine, so much of that paper strength is just not there. The Russian army and the Russian air force have been nowhere near as effective as we always expected they would be.

I question why we put so much stock in the Russian state narratives, which hold up Russia's Arctic power as this considerable dominating force, when every other element of its military has been shown to be something of a Potemkin village. I would just suggest we keep that in mind when we talk about the Arctic.

Noon

Liberal

Darren Fisher Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Thank you very much. It's certainly very conflicting. I find it fascinating.

Let's go back to the article that you co-wrote, “Why China Is Not a Peer Competitor in the Arctic”, which you wrote with Ryan Dean and a previous witness, Dr. Lackenbauer. You wrote, “Arctic states rebuffed what Western commentators saw as an initial Chinese push to internationalize the circumpolar North in the late 2000s.”

Given the evolving relationship between Russia and China right now, how do you think they would co-operate or conflict on matters relating to the Arctic?

Noon

Associate Professor, St. Francis Xavier University, As an Individual

Dr. Adam Lajeunesse

There is no single framework that we can talk about. I think that's going to be on a case-by-case basis, whether it's governance or economic development. Russia does not want China further ingrained in Arctic governance. It has never wanted that, and it's going to continue to push back.

What Russia wants is a case-by-case, bilateral investment arrangement whereby China funds Russian resource projects. That is where Russia wants increased Chinese engagement, not in broader questions of governance or rule-making.

Noon

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

That brings our second round of questioning to a close.

On behalf of the committee, I want to thank both of you for engaging, because this has been quite a stimulating back and forth. I think it informs us for this study in a way that we should be informed, namely that there are no monolithic opinions about how we should be dealing with our north.

I'm going to suspend for a moment or two while we invite our current guests to leave and we empanel our next guests.

With that, we're suspended.