Mr. Chair, I will be speaking for 10 minutes and then splitting my time with the member for Edmonton—Leduc and the member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont.
I am the long-time representative from the riding of Vancouver Island North, which includes CFB Comox, and I am pleased to take part in this examination of the estimates for 2010-11 for the Department of National Defence.
It is great to be here with our very competent minister and with General Natynczyk. The last time we met was at CFB Comox last year. I think the general will probably remember that.
This is a crucial debate because we are discussing one of the most important federal institutions responsible for protecting Canada, defending its sovereignty and securing our population. Our men and women in uniform serve with incredible professionalism, dedication and courage. These expenditures can literally make the difference between life and death for Canadians, for our continental partners and for people in distress around the world.
When the Canadian Forces are called to serve, our men and women in uniform cannot fail. They put their lives on the line and we cannot fail them. Whether it is supporting provincial or municipal authorities in the case of a forest fire, flood or catastrophic storm within our borders, undertaking Arctic patrols in our north, or a search and rescue helicopter winching somebody to safety on the Pacific coast or the frigid North Atlantic, Canadians expect a lot from our military and the Canadian Forces have never let us down.
This year has shown, and continues to highlight, why we need our forces now as much as ever. Our military is exceptionally busy, delivering excellence at home in the defence of Canada and continuing to be a strong and reliable partner in the defence of North America. In addition to 16 deployed operations around the world, the Canadian Forces are defending our country and citizens right here in Canada.
As part of tonight's discussion I want to focus on our home game. I believe no debate on the Department of National Defence and our Canadian Forces is complete without considering what our military is doing at home.
Defending Canada is an integral part of the defence mission and is at the heart of this government's Canada first defence policy. This strategy includes many initiatives aimed at strengthening the security of Canadians. This means being aware, providing surveillance of our territory in air and maritime approaches, deterring threats before they reach our shores and responding anywhere in the country. Our men and women in uniform are ready to do just that. They excel in a variety of situations.
What better example did we have than the recent Olympic Winter Games? In February people from around the world watched the amazing accomplishments of top athletes at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, but what most people did not see was what happened behind the scenes.
After several years of preparation, over 4,000 military personnel helped support the RCMP provide a secure environment for the games. They monitored and kept secure 10,000 square kilometres of the most challenging geography in Canada.
The navy contributed personnel from the east and west coasts and all 24 naval reserve divisions along with a frigate, two maritime coastal defence vessels, three patrol vessels and several rigid hull inflatables.
Sailors from the navy's clearance diving unit swam through the storm drains under Vancouver. Soldiers patrolled the back country on Cypress and Whistler Mountains. Airmen and airwomen flew Griffin and Sea King helicopters and Twin Otter and Aurora fixed-wing aircraft to conduct surveillance patrols while moving specialized police units around the region.
We have another good example next month with the G8 and G20 summits when Canada will once again be in the spotlight. As with the Olympics, we know we can rely on the more than 2,800 forces personnel to once more work in support of the RCMP and our other partners to provide first-class security.
In addition to all of this, we have major domestic security operations when natural disasters strike. This happened in 2003 when forest fires raged in British Columbia. There were 2,600 troops deployed alongside emergency personnel. When we had the floods in southern Manitoba, there was major deployment at that time. When the ice storm struck in 1998, more than 15,000 military personnel were deployed in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. In all these cases, the forces were ready if disaster struck, and they will continue to be ready to help in years to come.
The forces are also defending our skies and monitoring our maritime approaches through the binational North American Aerospace Defence Command, or NORAD. It is the cornerstone of our bilateral defence relationship with the U.S. NORAD no longer just monitors aircraft coming into North America, in the post-September 11 world, it also tracks civilian aircraft within Canada and American airspace.
Through NORAD, we can respond to any air sovereignty threat in a matter of minutes, as demonstrated by the May 15 incident, when NORAD Canadian assets were rapidly deployed to respond to a bomb threat on a civilian airliner. I just happened to be at home and watched those two CF-18s from Cold Lake stationed in Comox fly overhead at my home on their return landing.
Canadian Forces personnel are serving alongside their American counterparts aboard the airborne warning and control aircraft and operate CF-18 Hornet fighter aircraft on continuous alert. We have hundreds of Canadian Forces members permanently deployed to NORAD headquarters in Colorado Springs.
We have a very high visibility search and rescue capability in Canada. I relate to it as 442 Squadron at CFB Comox. What happens if Canadians are in distress? The Canadian Forces search and rescue system is ready to respond 24/7, 365 days of the year. Critical and usually dangerous tasks take our SAR techs, our search and rescue technicians, to every corner of our nation and the surrounding ocean, covering 15 million square kilometres of land and sea, an area equivalent to that of continental Europe.
Last year the Canadian Forces responded to over 1,100 search and rescue calls, the vast majority of which had happy outcomes. Canadians can be confident that their search and rescue system is second to none and that our crews are ready to respond whenever and wherever needed.
The Canadian Forces are prepared to operate from coast to coast to coast. It is this defining feature of our great country that prompted the government to introduce the northern strategy. We are an Arctic nation. As part of our Canada first defence strategy, the Canadian Forces have stepped up their training exercises and patrols. This year's high Arctic operation witnessed the first ever landing of one of our purchases, the C-17 Globemaster strategic lift aircraft on the ice-impregnated gravelled runway at Canadian Forces Station Alert, the northernmost permanently inhabited settlement in the world.
The Arctic Response Company Group and the Canadian Rangers conducted their patrols further north than ever before, and the combined dive team accomplished its first underwater dive in the high Arctic. as well its longest every sustained ice dive.
Our Forces are always ready to respond with little notice in difficult and diverse environments.
As members can see, defending Canada and protecting Canadians is at the heart of the Canada first defence strategy and the Canadian Forces mission.