Mr. Chair, we have spent a great deal of time tonight discussing the important issue of the main estimates for the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence.
I would like to contribute to this debate by saying a few words on what our men and women in uniform do on behalf of Canadians here at home. While the Canadian Armed Forces play an important role on the international stage, their primary responsibility is always to defend Canada and Canadians. They are not alone in this, of course. They work with the security partners at the federal level, as well as the provinces, territories, and municipalities, as they did during the Vancouver Olympics in 2010.
Members of the Canadian Armed Forces are embedded in the provincial response centres across the country, helping to improve coordination. However, the military's role is unique. They must respond when no one else can and have skills and tools that no one else can bring to the table. We are seeing this now. This chamber has been united in its response to the tragic efforts in Fort McMurray. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families. I think all hon. members join with me in my admiration and respect for the firefighters and other first responders. These dedicated men and women are leading the fight to contain the fires, protect critical infrastructure, and save lives.
However, when the Province of Alberta called for additional support, the Canadian Armed Forces was ready, as it always is, to provide assistance. To date, they have provided five helicopters and a transport plane, which have been used to evacuate people, deliver essential aid, and move firefighters and their equipment. In fact, this is the first time that a Chinook helicopter was deployed on a domestic operation since becoming fully operational in 2015.
This kind of help, in the form of personnel and specialized equipment, is something the Canadian Armed Forces is able to provide, and they have done so on many occasions in recent memory. To name a few, in 2010, more than 1,000 personnel helped residents of Newfoundland deal with the storm damage of Hurricane Igor. In 2011, more than 1,800 personnel helped Manitobans deal with flooding, in a region to which they were deployed again in 2014. There were more than 840 soldiers who helped deal with floods near Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. Approximately 2,300 troops, including some local reservists, provided support during the floods in southern Alberta in 2013. Last year, more than 850 military members helped the people of Saskatchewan deal with the wildfires that were eerily similar to those now in Alberta. Time and again, our men and women in uniform have been deployed to help preserve the lives and property of their fellow citizens
It is important for us to remember that every tool at the disposal of the Canadian Armed Forces, from the helicopters which can lift people stranded by fire to safety, or transport aircraft that can move supplies to remote areas, or satellites that can map the effects of a flood in near real time, or regular or reserve force members who step forward to protect their communities, is one that can provide assistance to Canadians in real time and in their time of need.
As the effects of climate change make extreme weather events more likely, we can expect more requests of this type in the near future.
However, these sorts of natural disasters are not all that our men and women in uniform do to keep their fellow citizens safe. The work that they do as part of the national search and rescue program is just as impressive, and they do it every day.
As my honourable colleagues know, many agencies at the federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal levels share responsibility for search and rescue. As well as the many volunteer organizations made up of ordinary citizens who will drop whatever they are doing to help their fellow citizens in need, the Canadian Armed Forces primarily provide air and maritime assets to this program, as well as coordinating search and rescue efforts through three national centres.
All three branches of military are involved in this effort. The Royal Canadian Navy keeps ships on the east and west coasts at all times, ready for search-and-rescue missions. The Canadian Rangers regularly conduct and assist ground search and rescue in sparsely settled regions of the country. The Royal Canadian Air Force maintains fleets of Cormorant and Griffon helicopters, as well as Buffalo and Hercules airplanes.
These efforts are all impressive, but special mention goes the Canadian Air Force's specially trained search and rescue technicians. These brave men and women, only 140 in number, respond to more than a 1,000 taskings each and every year. They have saved thousands of lives, sometimes at the risk of their own. They do this because it is their duty, and to be true to the inspirational words of their motto, “That others may live”.
National Defence has requested approximately $75 million in this year's main estimates to support search and rescue operations in coordination, and I think this chamber will agree, it is money well spent.
The last item I will touch on briefly is the military's role defending and guaranteeing Canadian sovereignty. Both in coordination with NORAD and on its own, the Canadian Armed Forces secure all maritime and air approaches to our country. This includes in the Arctic, which is becoming increasingly accessible due to the effects of climate change.
Sovereignty activities include: fighter deployments in response to potential threats and challenges to our sovereignty; air and maritime patrols with Royal Canadian Navy ships and Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft; sovereignty and surveillance patrols by the approximately 5,000 Canadian Rangers and periodic deployment of land forces to foster connections with northern communities; joint and inter-governmental operations in the Arctic that demonstrate our ability to respond to natural disasters and three annual operations involving the regular force, reservists, and other federal and territorial agencies; and finally, wide-area surveillance of Arctic regions using the North Warning System and Canada's RADARSAT-2 satellite.
Our government has committed to continuing investments that will strengthen the ability of the Canadian Armed Forces to project sovereignty into the Arctic. The most notable of these is the procurement of Arctic/offshore patrol ships. These ice-capable ships, the first of which are being built as we speak, will conduct sovereignty and surveillance operations in Canada's coastal regions.
As the effects of climate change make Arctic passageways more accessible, the dangers of smuggling, trafficking and pollution will also increase. This makes it even more essential for the Canadian Armed Forces to be able to operate there, to monitor activity and, if necessary, to defend our shores from any threat that may appear.
While the international operations of our military may attract the most attention, we must not forget that the Canadian Armed Forces plays an ongoing and essential role in protecting Canadians at home. The government has committed to preserving current defence spending levels as well as planned increases, to ensure our men and women in uniform have the resources they need to carry out these important missions.
I am certain that all hon. members will continue to ensure that our Canadian Armed Forces can continue to defend our fellow citizens from both natural disasters and more sinister threats.
My first question for the Minister of National Defence is this. We are fully aware, as I indicated, of the role that our Canadian Armed Forces is playing and the work they are contributing in Fort McMurray in this time of need. Could the minister provide some more input and expand on the role that the Canadian Armed Forces is playing in Fort McMurray as we speak?