Mr. Speaker, I would first like to pass on my condolences to the families who have had losses in recent flooding in Quebec and in British Columbia. I thank all the Canadian Armed Forces members who are serving today in Operation Lentus.
There are a lot of critical issues facing the Canadian Armed Forces, and I am grateful for the opportunity to raise some of these in the House. My job as minister of national defence is to serve the women and men in uniform who so proudly serve our country. I am privileged to have this responsibility and I will continue to work as hard as I possibly can, every single day.
There are many of us in the House who have at one time felt the call of duty to serve in uniform, and we are proud of their service. The members for Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill, Kelowna—Lake Country, Durham, Winnipeg North, and Kanata—Carleton all served our country in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
The members for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount and Winnipeg Centre both served in the Royal Canadian Navy, and the latter spent a significant time in the Canadian army as well.
The members for Terrebonne, Beauport—Limoilou, Orléans, Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs, Abitibi—Témiscamingue, Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, and Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge all served our great country in the Canadian army.
Many were cadets, including the member for Mississauga—Lakeshore, highlighting how the cadet program is one of the finest youth leadership programs in the country.
The member for Brampton Centre also served in uniform, with the Indian Air Force.
I thank them all for their service. They are a credit to the uniform, and their experience is invaluable to this place.
We must always remember that when someone decides to serve their country in uniform, the whole family serves alongside them. I know there are several members with relatives who have served or are currently serving in the Canadian Armed Forces. For example, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs has two sons serving as junior officers. We honour those who stand behind our troops and support them at home.
I am proud of the actions our government has taken since coming to office. Our women and men in uniform serve all Canadians, not just the government of the day. That is why our government has taken important steps to make the Canadian Armed Forces more open and accessible to all members of Parliament on behalf of the constituents they serve. We re-opened Canadian Armed Forces bases, detachments, airfields, and ships to all parliamentarians, senators, and officials from different levels of government in an effort to highlight the work our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and airwomen do on our behalf every single day. We want all parliamentarians to participate in our program so they can take their experiences and stories to their ridings and inspire a new generation to heed the call for service.
We are also taking politics out of the selection process for honorary colonels. We are appointing Canadians with deep community roots to represent our regiments, wings, and ships from coast to coast to coast.
Canada is taking a more significant leadership role in NATO than it has in decades. As one of four framework nations, we are leading a battle group stationed in Latvia as part of the alliance's enhanced forward presence initiative. This will provide meaningful deterrence against any repeat of Russia's provocative behaviour.
We have of course also renewed Operation Unifier, demonstrating solidarity with Ukraine in our training mission there. We refocused our contribution to the fight against Daesh, and Canadians are now making an even greater impact as part of the global coalition, and we are seeing results. Canadian Forces are part of a broader whole-of-government approach to the conflict in Iraq and Syria and are also making a difference in that region. I was fortunate to be able to work with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of International Development on the renewed Operation Impact.
Our government has taken decisions and taken action to replace our aging fleet of fighters, something the previous government had 10 years to do, but did not. It is because of that decade of decline and inaction that we no longer have a fighter fleet that can meet our NORAD and NATO commitments simultaneously.
It is certainly true that the Royal Canadian Air Force has done an admirable job in risk managing this capability gap and, yes, it has the planes it needs to continue to risk manage effectively. The previous government felt this was an acceptable situation, but we are a G7 nation, and our government has made it clear that it is not good enough to risk manage our commitments; we are going to meet them.
That is why we have taken action to address this capability gap by exploring the purchase of an interim fleet of fighters, and of course we will conduct an open and transparent competition to replace the entire fleet. I want to thank the Minister of Public Services and Procurement, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, the President of the Treasury Board, and our colleagues on the defence procurement committee for all their work on the fighter jets.
We have finally awarded a contract to replace our fixed-wing search and rescue planes, another important project that went in circles over the past decade. Our search and rescue technicians work day and night in dangerous conditions keeping Canadians safe. They deserve the best equipment and support possible, and I am proud of finishing this process that started under the Martin government.
I am proud of the work our chief of the defence staff and the Canadian Forces are doing to stamp out inappropriate sexual behaviour under Operation Honour. Every person who serves her or his country despite the many dangers and sacrifices of military service deserves a professional environment in which he or she is treated with respect and dignity. There is a great deal more to do, and it is essential that the Canadian Armed Forces maintain the momentum developed to date in eliminating harmful and inappropriate behaviour. Our government fully supports this work.
I have been the Minister of National Defence for about 18 months now, and it has been just as rewarding as it has been challenging. While the actions we have taken so far are indeed important, there is a lot more work to do. In the 2015 election campaign, we promised to conduct a comprehensive review of defence policy and engage Canadians and parliamentarians in the process, and we have done just that and more.
I know the official opposition does not like to deal in facts when it comes to defence, but there is a fact it cannot ignore: Canada's defence spending, as a proportion of GDP, was considerably lower when the Conservatives were removed from office than when they came in. However, it is not just about the spending numbers. It is about our outputs; it is about the Canadian Armed Forces' contribution to Canada's role in the world; most of all, it is about fully supporting our women and men in uniform and their families. That is why the defence policy review has been so important.
It has been 20 years since a real policy review was done, and it was long overdue. I believe it is important for Canadians and members of this House to understand exactly where we are starting from before we talk about where we need to be and how we plan to get there.
It is true that successive governments contributed to the current state of affairs in the Canadian Forces. I know parliamentarians of all stripes, despite the rhetoric and finger-pointing that occur here, understand that underinvestment has caused real problems, yet the state of affairs is in some ways worse than realized by most observers.
I know members understand that we cannot build the Canadian Armed Forces this nation needs through a series of short-term decisions. I know members understand that a military is not strengthened by cobbling together pieces from one budget to the next, by succumbing continually to the pressures of the urgent at the expense of the strategic, and by hoping that 20 years down the line, all of the disjointed ups and downs will somehow result in the military we need. That is why, when launching a defence policy review, we set out to take the long-term view to deliver a credible, realistic, and funded strategy for our military.
Let me state outright and up front that the Canadian Armed Forces delivers what governments ask of it every single time. It has performed superbly, regardless of the resource constraints it faces. All Canadians can be proud of the fact that our women and men in uniform answer the call of duty whenever and wherever it is found. In recent years alone, it has deployed to Iraq to contribute to the global efforts in the fight against Daesh; it deployed to Nepal just 48 hours after a tragic earthquake struck that tiny nation; and it deployed with NATO to bolster alliance resolve and deterrence against Russian actions in Ukraine.
At home, they helped the residents of Winnipeg and Fort McMurray overcome massive floods and devastating forest fires, and today they are deploying in several regions of Quebec to assist provincial and local authorities with the devastating floods in that province. The Canadian Armed Forces is an inspiring institution that makes me proud every single day. Responsive, professional, and dedicated, it is counted among the best militaries in the world. However, militaries cannot perform well forever without proper support.
Governments have a responsibility to uphold their end of the bargain, to care for their military, resource them properly, and fund them in a responsible way that meets their needs. In the past, governments have not delivered predictable, sustainable, long-term funding for the Canadian Armed Forces. It has not been a straight line.
Let me take a moment to retrace some of the twists and turns. In 2004-05, the Paul Martin government implemented annual budget increases of around $1.5 billion in successive years. After that, the budget grew incrementally, predominantly to cover the cost of the combat mission in Afghanistan, until it ended in 2011. Two deficit-reduction programs followed: the strategic review, and the deficit reduction action plan. By the time that these were were fully implemented in 2015, each reduced the annual defence budget by $1 billion, for a total of $2 billion per year. The defence escalator, which was implemented to protect the DND budget from defence inflation, was increased from 1.5% to 2% in 2011, and beginning this fiscal year, it increased from 2% to 3%. However, even that will not be sufficient to meet our future requirements.
Years of ups and downs have contributed to unpredictability for those responsible for supporting, maintaining, and sustaining the forces, and the planning for its future. The reductions have left the organization hollow in a number of areas. Fighter jets and ships are prime examples of the unfortunate link between inadequate investment and capability gaps. Canadians were told a few years ago that the government would buy 65 new jets to replace our aging fleet of CF-18s, but for the missions that we asked the Royal Canadian Air Force to undertake and our alliance commitments, 65 jets would simply not be enough; it would only be a fleet for risk managing our requirements, not meeting them. Furthermore, the $9 billion in funding that was earmarked for jet replacement by the previous government is nowhere near enough to cover the 65 jets proposed.
For the navy's new surface combatant, the previous government ended up saying that it would buy up to 15 ships. As has been well reported, the budget identified was dramatically insufficient and unrealistic. The Royal Canadian Navy deserves a clear, realistic, and fully funded commitment. Canada's naval capabilities are at a 40-year low right now. The number of operational ships in Canada's fleet has dropped by five in the past two years alone. Ships have been retired without replacement, because any plans for investment simply came too late. Without a single destroyer in its fleet, Canada will rely on the U.S. and NATO for area air defence until the introduction of our new surface combatants. Without a single supply ship, Canada is relying on the capabilities of allies and partners for its replenishment needs as well.
These examples alone would be troubling enough, but there is much more to grapple with. Closing recruitment offices made it harder to attract new recruits, and cutting the number of procurement officers made it difficult to buy, maintain, and sustain all the tools and equipment we could afford for our military. We are in the troubling position where status quo spending on defence will not even maintain the status quo of the capability.
Current funding has us digging ourselves into a hole, a hole that is getting deeper every single year. As a percentage of our GDP, we are spending less on defence today than we were in 2005. There is a list of major capital projects that are entirely unfunded. These are not nice-to-have projects; these are projects that must be completed to allow our military to keep doing what it is doing, investments that need to be made in the forces' key equipment and capabilities, and no funding has been allocated for them.
Our air force will need funding for mid-life upgrades to its Cormorant search and rescue helicopters. We are talking about a critical need to invest in a fleet of aircraft that our air force uses in operations every day to help Canadians in distress.
They also need sufficient funds to extend the life of the Griffons. These are highly reliable helicopters that have served our air force faithfully on missions at home and abroad. These helicopters are used to transport troops and materials. They have done so on humanitarian missions, on operations in Afghanistan, and now in Iraq. The Griffons can fit right into a C-17 Globemaster, so they are easily transportable and give the forces flexibility and agility in responding to crises around the world. However, if we do not fund their life extension project, we need to phase them out, because helicopters with obsolete instrumentation cannot fly in North American air space. No money was allocated to keep them running.
With the army, we discovered that no funding has been allocated to allow soldiers to keep doing some of their most important work. Without support from our allies, Canadian soldiers deployed overseas would be exposed to threats emanating from aircraft, missiles, and long-range artillery. Investments in ground-based air and munitions defence systems are required to guarantee the safety of our deployed troops, yet no money has been earmarked to provide this protection to our soldiers in the past.
There are several other examples of projects that the army needs the government to fund in order to ensure it can continue to assist Canadians during natural disasters to meet international commitments. Its fleet of heavy support equipment, such as forklifts, loaders, and excavators, needs to be replaced so that our soldiers can build camps as well as roads and shelters. The list of activities that our soldiers undertake with this equipment is long, and yet, here too, no investments were planned.
Furthermore, the army's fleet of logistic support vehicles, such as trailers and medium-sized trucks used to transport supplies and essential equipment, has been significantly degraded over time and must be replaced. These capabilities are essential to sustain our soldiers at home and abroad. Again, no investment was planned.
The resourcing problems that we have found the most troubling are the ones that have directly affected our servicemen and women. In over 25 years as a reservist, I saw first-hand the way that our governments have failed to properly equip a reserve force. Not only is there not enough equipment, but the training to use what equipment they have is lacking as well. Our reserve units are tremendously resourceful and they perform extremely well, despite having been underfunded for so long. However, that does not excuse the failure to properly resource our reservists. They deserve gratitude from the governments that deployed them away from their families and in harm's way.
Instead, when they take off the uniform, they get pension cheques delivered way too late. They have to run an obstacle course when they retire from the military, and they get shortchanged in more ways than any government would want to admit.
These are some of the problems to be solved. Before it can build anything new, Canada's new defence policy must first get us out of the hole that we are starting in.
That is why we have sought input from parliamentarians from all parties, and why we sought input during a series of expert round tables, including the industry round table. That is why we consulted Canadians across the country, through our online portal and town hall discussions. We also had round table discussions to hear from the indigenous communities, members of academia, and other expertise, on gender-related issues. We want a thorough understanding of how every facet of our defence policy would impact our own people and Canada generally.
We will act on the evidence gathered throughout the defence policy review. The process has made clear that there is the need to focus on emerging domains like space and cyber, and the need to remain a trusted and capable ally.
Canada's new defence policy will be just that. It will be a plan to get out of the hole that we are starting in. It will be a plan to build an even stronger military. It will be a plan to allocate realistic funding to those bread-and-butter projects that will keep our military running effectively and efficiently for years to come. Most of all, it will be a plan to care for the women and men who put on the uniform and serve Canada.