Madam Chair, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the Department of National Defence main estimates for 2016-17.
I want to take up a point that has been made by our hon. minister on previous occasions. He has said that the most sophisticated and important weapons system that the Canadian Armed Forces has are the men and women wearing the uniform. I could not agree more. As the mother of two sons currently serving, I may, however, be a bit biased.
The members of the Canadian Armed Forces are among the finest citizens. They are men and women who have volunteered for a life of service, who have taken an oath of allegiance to our Queen and her descendants, and who have sworn to protect their country and its citizens, even if it costs them their lives.
We have seen ample demonstration of their commitment to this ideal over the past several years. The decade-long mission in Afghanistan reminded all Canadians that service members undertook great sacrifice, risking injury or even death in defence of our interests around the world. Too many members of the Canadian military lost their lives as a result of the operations in Afghanistan. As we saw following the death of Sergeant Andrew Doiron last year, public support for our men and women in uniform has not diminished. While I sincerely hope to never have to see again the sight of so many ordinary Canadians lining the Highway of Heroes paying their respects to our fallen brothers and sisters, it is truly moving.
Our military members also stand on guard to protect us at home, whether it is to help Canadians in distress, as we are seeing most recently in northern Alberta, or as part of their daily duties. The men and women who make up the Canadian Armed Forces are our most valuable asset.
The military's focus on excellence begins rather appropriately at the beginning, from the moment its members are first recruited. Canadians can be proud that their military is one of the most well-educated and well-trained forces in the world.
Military training is extremely difficult. It is designed and conducted in such a way that it will produce the best possible results in conditions that are particularly difficult and dynamic. Soldiers receive professional training, and the teaching standards are very high, especially for officers. There will be an emphasis on improving training for army reservists in light of the Auditor General's recent report. They are an integral part of many communities in Canada.
These citizen soldiers give up their evenings and weekends in order to train. Despite the challenges they face because of their part-time service, many reservists have served their country with distinction during operations at home and abroad. They have fought and shed their blood right alongside regular forces members, and they deserve our support.
The minister indicated that he fully supported the recommendations made by the Auditor General to improve recruitment, retention, and training. Furthermore, the maximum size of the primary reserve will increase.
Pay and benefits have been reviewed, and training and development opportunities will be improved. I know the Minister of National Defence really wants to resolve this issue, since he himself is a former reservist.
Canadians can be proud of how their armed forces reflect their country. Our armed forces work in both official languages and bilingualism is a condition for promotion to senior positions. We have an ethnically diverse army that does not discriminate on the ground of sexual orientation and that supports soldiers wishing to undergo gender reassignment.
I see that the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance, recently promised to increase the representation of women in the army by 1% per year for the next 10 years.
If we look at the commanding officers of all ranks within the Canadian Armed Forces, we see people of both genders, of every race and belief, who serve proudly. This diversity is a source of strength and that is what makes our army more effective.
We certainly learned that in Afghanistan, where our integrated and incomparable forces were better able to interact with the communities and earn the trust of the locals, while also benefiting from the valuable knowledge of the women and children.
Increasing integrated forces within the Canadian Armed Forces came with its own set of challenges, including the problem of sexual misconduct, a scourge in Canada and around the world. The Chief of the Defence Staff made it an institutional priority, accepting the 10 recommendations in the 2015 report by Marie Deschamps, a former Supreme Court of Canada justice. The launch of operation Honour sought to eliminate inappropriate and harmful sexual behaviour within the Canadian Armed Forces. This translated into greater vigilance and more diligence, as well as improved support for victims, including the creation of the first sexual misconduct response centre, the drafting of more modern policies, and better training for all members.
All these measures are funded by allocations in the main estimates. The purpose is clear, namely to ensure a professional and respectful environment for all members of the Canadian Armed Forces, who so generously protect our country.
I will touch briefly on one last matter related to military personnel: the care given to ill and injured members. The Canadian Armed Forces maintains its own world-class health care system for its members and provides supports to their families as well. All told, more than $1.2 billion in the main estimates will go toward the care, morale, and well-being of our men and women in uniform. The risk of injury, whether mental or physical, can never be completely eliminated for military operations. The health professionals of the Canadian Armed Forces are dedicated to ensuring members receive the best possible treatment when they need it.
We ask much of our men and women in uniform and of their families. We ask them to defend their country, to serve for long periods in far-flung regions of the globe away from their families, and if necessary, to put their lives on the line. We ask much of our men and women in uniform and we owe them much in return. As we review these main estimates, let us keep that fact in mind.
I would like to ask the minister if he could elaborate. In his mandate letter, there was mention of developing a suicide prevention strategy. As part of a family of active members of the Canadian Armed Forces, this is an issue that, as one can imagine, is of great concern to me and many Canadians watching tonight. I ask the minister if he could provide an update on the strategy to develop a suicide prevention initiative.