House of Commons Hansard #417 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.

Topics

Department of National Defence—Main Estimates, 2019-20Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Madam Chair, just because the member says so does not mean it happened. He talked about independence. This is not about news stories; it is about allowing the procedure in court to take its course, which is exactly what has happened. It has been done in an independent way, from the time it started right to the time a decision was made.

Now that the circumstances have changed, the current deputy minister has reviewed the criteria, which have changed, and I have authorized a legal reimbursement. All witnesses have worked through our current process, as it stands.

Department of National Defence—Main Estimates, 2019-20Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

Madam Chair, based upon what happened to Vice-Admiral Mark Norman and the fact that he was used as an example by the government to start this witch hunt, the government has brought in a culture of fear and intimidation through lifetime gag orders.

Will the Minister of National Defence please explain why he needs to put lifetime gag orders on his staff, who are military members, as well as going across other departments within the Canadian government? Was it all about intimidation? Was it all about a culture of fear and using Mark Norman as the minister's whipping boy?

Department of National Defence—Main Estimates, 2019-20Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Madam Chair, I completely disagree with the member's assertions. Maybe he is reflecting on the time when he was parliamentary secretary to the minister of national defence.

In the time that I have been the Minister of National Defence, we have opened up defence. There was a time when approval by the Minister of National Defence was required for any politician to visit a base. People were not even allowed to talk to the media. We have changed this, and the commanding officers and base commanders are allowed to make those decisions. We encourage all members to talk about their experiences so that Canadians know what the Canadian Armed Forces are up to.

I am very proud of the work our Canadian Armed Forces have been doing on our behalf.

Department of National Defence—Main Estimates, 2019-20Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Chair NDP Carol Hughes

Resuming debate, the hon. Minister of National Defence.

Department of National Defence—Main Estimates, 2019-20Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 15th, 2019 / 6:45 p.m.

Vancouver South B.C.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan LiberalMinister of National Defence

Madam Chair, I see that nothing changes from question period to a committee of the whole, but that is okay. I will continue.

I am pleased to be here alongside the members of our defence team to update everyone on the important work that the Department of National Defence is doing for our women and men in uniform.

Throughout the evening, members will hear about how we are taking care of our people, how we are getting them the equipment they need and how we are supporting a rules-based international order as committed and engaged partners in the world.

Through our yearly departmental funding, we are able to deliver on the commitments we made in our defence policy, strong, secure and engaged, which we launched two years ago. Strong, secure and engaged is a rigorously costed and funded transparent vision for the next 20 years of our defence policy.

After the Conservatives spent a decade cutting defence spending, we are increasing it by 70% to ensure that our women and men in uniform have what they need to do the important job we ask of them.

This policy guides how we support our nearly 67,500 regular force members, 29,000 reserve force members and 24,000 civilians. Our Canadian Armed Forces members operate across Canada and around the world. They stand ready to be deployed internationally in the name of Canada's safety and security, and they are always ready to assist Canadians here at home when disaster strikes in their communities, as we have seen this spring. More than 2,500 women and men in uniform answered the call to help those in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick hold back the flood waters and protect their homes. I would ask members to please join me in thanking each and every one of our members, our regular force members and our reserve force members, who help to keep our communities safe.

Our Canadian Armed Forces members contribute so much to our country, and they deserve policies and initiatives that support them through all stages of their careers. Initiatives like seamless Canada, the military spousal employment initiative and tax relief for our members who are deployed on named international operations, will all help to ease the stress on our military families.

Our full-time summer employment for reservists will allow them to gain unique and relevant work experience while learning valuable life and leadership skills that will help them find jobs. ln 2018, 7,200 army reservists from the country participated, and we hope to see that number grow every single year.

Bill C-77 is modernizing the military justice system by expanding the rights of victims to ensure that all voices are heard. I am proud to say that it is being studied at committee in the other chamber. Our sexual assault review program and Operation Honour are two of many efforts to address and eliminate sexual misconduct within the Canadian Armed Forces.

We are building a military that looks like Canada and making sure that all members feel safe and welcome as they defend our rights and freedoms at home and around the world. We have launched the Elsie initiative, which aims to increase the number of women in United Nations peacekeeping operations. We have made recruiting more women into our Canadian Armed Forces a priority, because we want a military that represents Canada. By 2026, we are aiming for 25% of our members to be women. That is not an end goal; it is just a guidepost for us to go to.

We are making progress. ln fact, right now, as part of our air task force in Mali, women make up 14% of Canada's deployed personnel. We will continue these efforts until our Canadian Armed Forces fully reflect Canada's diversity.

Our government is investing in the innovation and procurement that will better equip our women and men in uniform.

Unlike the previous government, which muzzled scientists and cut crucial research funding, we are supporting our people by investing $1.6 billion in innovation through our innovation for defence excellence and security program, or IDEaS, and also the mobilizing insights in defence and security program, which we call MINDS.

Both were created to tap into Canada's best and brightest minds, from individuals and small businesses to those at our world-class colleges and universities. They are helping to support defence innovation, and I am excited to see what comes from them next.

We have also made important progress on many of our capital projects, including our Arctic and offshore patrol ships. The first of our six ships, HMCS Harry DeWolf, is scheduled for delivery this summer. Just last month, I was in Halifax to mark the construction of our fourth ship, HMCS William Hall.

This winter, we announced the official winning design bidder for the biggest defence procurement project in Canadian history, the purchase of 15 Canadian surface combatants. Our future fighter capability project was also launched. The request for proposals will be issued in the coming months.

When we formed government, we recognized that years of underinvestment by the previous Conservative government meant that our air force could not generate enough aircraft to answer our NATO and NORAD obligations at the same time. We laid out a plan to deal with the shortfall, which included securing interim fighter aircraft to supplement our existing fleet of CF-18s, because we have missions to fly. The first two jets arrived in Cold Lake earlier this year, and they will be proudly flying in the Canadian colours soon.

As we work on each of these projects, we are following through on our commitment to greening defence. Regrettably, we are feeling the impacts of climate change, with an unprecedented number of floods and fires both here in Canada and around the world. While the Conservatives continue to ignore the science on climate change and offer no plan to tackle this global challenge, our government is taking action. That is why we have invested more than $165 million in green infrastructure projects since 2017. This investment will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% over the next decade. With each of these initiatives and projects, we are building a modern military that will be flexible enough to address current and future threats.

We are also stepping up on the world stage and equipping our Canadian Armed Forces with what they need to uphold our international commitments and be a valuable partner to our allies. In collaboration with our international partners, we are leading on efforts to prevent the use and recruitment of child soldiers. We launched the Vancouver principles at the United Nations Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial in 2017, and 84 member states have signed on since.

Right now, there are 250 women and men in uniform deployed in Mali as part of the United Nations' stabilization effort, providing life-saving aeromedical evacuations of injured soldiers and civilians, and critical air transport. Up to 780 of our members are involved in Operation Neon, Canada's contribution to a multinational surveillance initiative to counter North Korea's evasion of maritime sanctions. There are 540 Canadian Armed Forces members in Latvia on Operation Reassurance, where Canada leads a multinational battle group as part of NATO's deterrence and defence measures across central and eastern Europe. Two hundred of our Canadian Armed Forces members are helping to demonstrate our unwavering support to Ukraine through Operation Unifier, and upwards of 850 members are stationed in the Middle East on Operation Impact. They include Major-General Dany Fortin, who is commanding the NATO training mission in Iraq. The funds we are requesting in these main estimates would enable us to carry on this vital work and continue to build on our successes.

Beyond this funding, we are requesting $733 million for the Communications Security Establishment, to keep our institutions and Canadian citizens safe.

The $21.9 billion requested in these estimates is a $1.5-billion increase, or 7.4% over the amount we requested last year. It also includes new measures announced in budget 2019, including $18.9 million to help our Canadian Armed Forces members transition out of the military and into post-service life, and $2 million for National Defence to support our government's effort to counter economics-based national security threats. This funding will allow us to continue to pursue ambitious capital projects to provide our members with the best equipment available, and to make sure our infrastructure serves both their needs and the ongoing efforts to operate in an environmentally conscious way.

Canadians expect us to fulfill our commitments with the same transparency and care we have demonstrated over the last four years. We take that responsibility seriously, as we take seriously our responsibility to support our people as they defend this country.

Before I finish, I would like to thank the women and men of our Canadian Armed Forces. They ensure we are strong at home, secure in North America and engaged in the world.

Department of National Defence—Main Estimates, 2019-20Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

Acadie—Bathurst New Brunswick

Liberal

Serge Cormier LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Madam Chair, I thank the minister of defence for his speech. Before I ask my first question, I just want to thank him for doing such a great job as Minister of National Defence. Contrary to what my Conservative colleague said, the Department of National Defence has been doing much better since the minister was appointed and since the Conservatives left government. I also want to thank the officials who are here tonight to lend us a hand. It is important to thank these people, as well as our women and men in the Canadian Armed Forces, for the terrific work they do day after day.

In his speech, the minister mentioned our new defence policy, “Strong, Secure, Engaged”. I would like him to tell us more about it. This policy puts our men and women in uniform first. When we visit military bases, we see how happy our military and civilian personnel are with this policy. I would like to hear the minister tell us a bit more about the defence policy we implemented.

Department of National Defence—Main Estimates, 2019-20Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Madam Chair, I have had the tremendous opportunity to visit our Canadian Armed Forces members all over the world, including here in Canada, and one of the things I have heard is to not focus just on them in our defence policy but to also focus on their families.

I think all of us in this House and all Canadians can understand that it is difficult to focus on one's work when things are not good at home. Members can imagine the stress our Canadian Armed Forces members go through, not only during operations but also during training. Therefore, we have tax relief during all operations, which is a way to thank the families. Putting in an education benefit for their service also goes a long way.

I would like to stress the seamless Canada initiative, which is for our regular forces members' families, which are constantly posted. It is part of that life. They make it seem like it is normal, but there are challenges. Moving from province to province if there are medical issues means finding a doctor. There is accreditation. Through seamless Canada, we are getting the provincial and territorial representatives together so that we can deal with those challenges. I am happy to say that we have had—

Department of National Defence—Main Estimates, 2019-20Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Chair NDP Carol Hughes

Unfortunately, the time is up for that question.

The hon. parliamentary secretary.

Department of National Defence—Main Estimates, 2019-20Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Serge Cormier Liberal Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Chair, as we can see, our defence policy is welcomed by our men and women in uniform.

The minister also talked about our missions abroad. In 2015, we promised Canadians that we would renew our international commitment, and that is precisely what we are doing. It has been nearly a year now since we restored Canada's historic support for peacekeeping missions, such as the one in Mali. Our air task forces provide medical evacuations that save many lives.

Could the minister tell the House how we are supporting our soldiers abroad, such as those currently deployed in Mali, and how we will ensure their safe return home?

Department of National Defence—Main Estimates, 2019-20Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Madam Chair, whenever we ask our Canadian Armed Forces members to step up and carry out a mission, they do us proud. I think that is one thing all of us in this House can agree upon.

Right now, we are leading a battle group in Latvia, which is sending a very strong deterrence message to Russia. We have a ship, persistent, in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. We also conduct sporadic air policing.

We are taking a leadership role in NATO. While the previous government pulled out from NATO, we have invested, not just with investment but also with people. Where the Conservatives pulled out of the AWACS program, we have now reinvested in the AWACS program, including with personnel.

We also have had an impact with Operation Impact and the fight against Daesh. Daesh controlled 90% of the territory. Now it controls zero territory in Iraq. This is the work of the Canadian Armed Forces. As we stated, the plan was to be a responsible coalition partner and provide capacity for the Iraqi security forces with intelligence and capacity-building on the ground, and that is exactly what has happened.

We are doing so many things around the world.

Department of National Defence—Main Estimates, 2019-20Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

7 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Madam Chair, I will begin with some brief remarks, but I want to spend the majority of my time on questions to the minister.

We all know that we ask the women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces to do difficult and dangerous work on our behalf each and every day, at home and abroad. As parliamentarians, we have a responsibility to make sure that they receive the training, equipment and support they need, both while they are serving and as veterans. Therefore, tonight, whether we are talking about actual dollars of spending, procurement or deployment, we have to make sure that we keep the serving members and their families central to what we are talking about here tonight.

The Canadian Armed Forces faces many challenges, as we all know, with recruitment and retention. Meeting those challenges is essential to make sure that the Canadian Armed Forces reflects the faces of our nation. Certainly the Canadian Armed Forces and DND have much work to do when it comes to dealing with some key issues, such as sexual assault within the military and mental health issues. This is both a matter of justice and a matter of how we are investing in those who serve their country, and it is a necessity if we are ever to meet those diversity goals.

As members will know, one of my concerns has been how the Canadian Armed Forces has been dealing with mental health issues. I acknowledge that there has been some progress made. However, I still have a large concern about death by suicide within the Canadian Armed Forces. We are still losing one serving member a month to death by suicide. That is over 160 members since 2005. It is a tragedy for all those families, and it is a tragedy for our country. That number does not even include reservists, because, unfortunately, we do not even keep good statistics on death by suicide of reservists, and of course, it does not count veterans who may be suffering from PTSD.

While there has been progress in acknowledging that not all injuries within the military are visible, we still have much more to do. We had one very big opportunity to do something in this area earlier this year. When we were talking about Bill C-77, the military justice reform bill, I proposed an amendment to remove self-harm as a disciplinary offence in the Canadian military code of conduct.

We held hearings and we heard from witnesses, such as Sheila Fynes, who lost a son to death by suicide while he was serving. We heard from experts on mental health. We heard from senior members of the Canadian Armed Forces. We had indications from a majority of committee members that they would support my amendment. I want to thank the Conservatives for their early support in trying to remove this barrier to treatment of mental health issues that is both symbolic and practical.

However, 30 minutes before we were to vote in committee on my amendment to remove self-harm as a disciplinary offence, the minister sent an email to every member of the committee asking us not to do this. The Liberals then voted against my amendment, saying it was out of order in a military justice reform bill, which is passing strange, since this is a bill that was already amending the code of conduct in several other places.

I have a very direct question for the minister. Why did the minister ask the committee not to remove this barrier to the treatment of mental health issues and to this very severe problem we have with death by suicide in the military? Why did the minister ask committee members not to remove subsection 98(c) of the military code of conduct?

Department of National Defence—Main Estimates, 2019-20Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

7 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Madam Chair, I thank the member for his passion and his dedication to our women and men in the Canadian Armed Forces and also for his advocacy when it comes to mental health.

I actually agree with the objective the member is talking about. How do we reduce the stigma? How do we make sure that we reduce the number of suicides? One suicide is too many.

We have a number of initiatives. With regard to this, we want to make sure that people can get the support they need. We want to make sure that we study the issue of self-harm further. I encourage the member, and I am happy to continue to work together on this. I am very proud of the work that has been done on the bill, and I thank the committee members.

I have also spoken with many families. I know far too many people who have suffered those challenges. We have to continue to evolve our support. I have been working very closely with the Minister of Veterans Affairs on the joint suicide prevention strategy. This is something we are going to have to continue to evolve.

I encourage the member. We can work together on this. A lot more work needs to be done. I thank the member again for his efforts.

Department of National Defence—Main Estimates, 2019-20Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

7:05 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Madam Chair, I do not understand what the minister wants to study. We already heard the witnesses at committee, including mental health experts. We heard from the families who have lost loved ones to death by suicide. There is nothing to study here.

We know that the existence of this section of the National Defence Act is a barrier to people getting the treatment they need. We know that it is both a symbolic barrier and sometimes a practical barrier, as people are assigned minor discipline for attempts to take their own lives. How is this helpful?

I have rewritten my amendment into a private member's bill, Bill C-426, and I will be asking for the unanimous consent of the House to pass that bill in all its stages.

I ask the minister once again, what is he waiting for, when we all know that this would be a major step forward, both symbolically and practically, in addressing this crisis within the Canadian Armed Forces?

Department of National Defence—Main Estimates, 2019-20Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Madam Chair, we have taken a number of steps. We want to make sure that our members have the appropriate support. We want to reduce the stigma when it comes to any type of mental health issue. At the end of the day, we both agree on the objective.

It is very important that we work together. I am happy to continue these efforts. As I said, we share the same values in this regard. In preventing suicide, we are making sure that our folks have the right support. We are making sure that they are well supported right from the beginning. We are taking steps. From the time someone is recruited, we are making sure that they are taught to get support. We are making sure that the training system is built and we are making sure that the leadership is also trained so leaders can identify any issues that may come up.

This is something we agree on, and I look forward to working with the member on this further.

Department of National Defence—Main Estimates, 2019-20Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

7:05 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Madam Chair, I simply do not understand what it is the minister thinks we need to work on jointly. We have the support of the Conservatives. We have the support of almost all other members in the House. We had the support, apparently, of Liberal members at the committee until the minister intervened.

I will be, as I said, asking for unanimous consent at some point. I hope the minister rethinks his inexplicable opposition to taking this very positive step.

I want to turn to the question of spending, since this is an estimates debate. The minister threw around a number, which I know he likes very much, because I have heard it so many times, and that is that the Liberals are going to increase military spending by 70%. He likes these large numbers, and he likes talking about the future, but when we actually look at this year's estimates, what do we actually find if we look at operating expenses for DND? We find that the Liberals are the same as the Conservatives. They are asking more and more of the Canadian Armed Forces each and every year without a real increase in operating expenditures.

If we look at the increase from the 2017-18 main estimates to 2018-19, the increase was 1%. If we look at it from 2018-19 to 2019-20, there is a big increase of 1.3%. How does the minister think the Canadian military can continue to do the excellent job it does when he is giving it increases below the rate of inflation? How is the military going to continue serving the country so well with less and less money every year?

Department of National Defence—Main Estimates, 2019-20Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

7:10 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Madam Chair, within our defence policy, when we put this together, it was rigorously costed. The numbers are on page 43 of our plan. Our defence policy is not only fully costed but is funded, carved out of the fiscal framework, to make sure that the Canadian Armed Forces members have everything they need. Right now, whether it is operating expenses or capital expenses, we are investing. In fact, we have actually increased our budget by $1.5 billion this year. That is a 7.4% increase.

Department of National Defence—Main Estimates, 2019-20Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

7:10 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Madam Chair, of course that is not an increase in operating expenditures. That is an increase in capital expenditures and an increase in new projects. Therefore, my point still remains the same, that for the everyday jobs that people in the Canadian military have to do, there is not actually more money there. When it comes to things like the aging infrastructure of bases and the everyday maintenance tasks they have to do, there is less and less money available every year to do those.

I want to turn to the question of Mali, since the minister raised that in his remarks. I was fortunate to be part of the defence committee that visited Mali earlier this year. What we saw was what the minister talked about, the excellent work in medical evacuations that is being done by the Canadian Forces in Mali. However, it became very clear to us that Canada has made a decision to leave before our replacement in medevac services is available, so we are going to leave a gap from August 1 until October 15 when medevac services will not be available to the UN mission in Mali.

What we heard very clearly on the ground is that the work we do supports the MINUSMA forces. It is a stabilization mission. They are defending schools, hospitals, the food aid distribution system, aid workers and places of religious worship. They are trying to stabilize the country and prevent the terrorists from causing the collapse of the state of Mali. Therefore, when we remove our medevac services, what the UN forces told us is that it means that without air medevac they have to reduce the scope of their operations. Right now, they can operate 200 to 300 kilometres from their bases. When there are no medevac services like the ones we are providing, they will have to scale down to 20 to 30 kilometres.

While the minister talked about ISIS forces not occupying territory in Syria, we have had recent reports that they are trying to occupy territory in the Sahel. If we force the UN to draw down its operations, we will be partially responsible if ISIS forces manage to seize territory there.

Why is the minister refusing the UN request to extend the mission by just a few weeks so there is no large gap between us and the Romanians?

Department of National Defence—Main Estimates, 2019-20Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

7:10 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Madam Chair, I am very happy that the member had an opportunity to go to visit the troops and witness for himself the tremendous work. I had an opportunity to visit twice, once before to learn about the region, and the second time to visit our troops and see the tremendous work they are doing.

Our re-engagement with the United Nations, something that we had stepped back significantly from in the previous government, is not just about our going in and offering things up. Very similar to what we did in Operation Impact, it is about how we can be a responsible partner. We worked with the UN. What are the reforms they need? What is the impact we can have?

One of the things that the United Nations wanted was to support the reforms. One of the reforms the UN is asking for is this concept called “smart pledges”. Smart pledges is about high-level capability that only a few nations can provide, and if we can get into a rotation, we will make sure that these missions and the commanders on the ground will have these capabilities. That is what this is. We agreed to go in for one year, and then we worked with our partners and we are very happy to work with Romania to get another partner to come on board.

Right now, we are working very closely with our partners to look at ways to reduce the gap, just as happened when we came in. Also, let us not forget that the United Nations does have support when it comes to medical evacuation, but right now we are working still in terms of how we can best support the UN and help the Romanian armed forces to come in. A lot more work needs to be done, but one thing is for sure. We are having a tremendous impact.

This is not just about our coming in. This is about our supporting the United Nations reforms, and there is a lot more work that needs to be done, whether it is on the Elsie initiative, the Vancouver principles or some of the other smart pledges that we have proposed as well.

Department of National Defence—Main Estimates, 2019-20Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Madam Chair, while the minister says he is responding to the UN request, the UN sent a letter asking Canada to extend its mission to September 31. The UN made a very specific request. Therefore, if he is trying to say what he is doing is what the UN is asking us to do, then the way to do that is to say yes and extend that mission. Everyone we met there, the serving troops, said that if they are allowed or asked to do this, they can make this work. Why is the minister sticking to his very stubborn deadline that will leave a gap in these very important services?

Department of National Defence—Main Estimates, 2019-20Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.

Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Madam Chair, I have spoken with both undersecretaries general regarding this topic. In fact, we worked very closely with them to make sure we have even more nations coming on board.

We have also offered up a working group to look at what the smart pledge concept would be on other missions and to bring in other nations with high-level capabilities so we can support other missions.

We work very closely with the UN on this, and I can assure members that not only have we been a responsible partner but we will continue to be a responsible partner with the United Nations.

Department of National Defence—Main Estimates, 2019-20Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Chair NDP Carol Hughes

I would again like to remind members that they are allotted a certain time for questions and answers. If a question lasts two minutes and 13 seconds, the minister answering it has that same amount of time. We are monitoring the time quite closely.

Resuming debate, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence.

Department of National Defence—Main Estimates, 2019-20Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.

Acadie—Bathurst New Brunswick

Liberal

Serge Cormier LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Madam Chair, I want to say good evening to my esteemed parliamentary colleagues, to the officials who are with us, to all Canadians watching us and to the minister I have the opportunity to work with every day. I am learning a lot about his new portfolio, and I appreciate the advice he gives me every day.

I want to use the 10 minutes I have this evening to expand on what the Minister of National Defence already said about the women and men who wear the Canadian Armed Forces uniform.

Time and again, we have seen these women and men work tirelessly to help people in need, both on dangerous missions around the world and closer to home in the case of a natural disaster. This is what they have been doing these past 10 years, despite the Conservatives' cuts to National Defence, which slowed down the procurement process.

In contrast, over the next 10 years, we will boost the DND annual budget to $32.7 billion, an increase of more than 70%. This will ensure that our women and men in uniform have the resources they need to carry out their important mission at home and abroad.

We again witnessed their courage and dedication over the past three weeks in communities across Ontario, Quebec and my birth province of New Brunswick.

When the provinces ask for help from the Canadian Armed Forces, the forces have a duty to respond. They have been there for Canadians this spring as part of Operation Lentus. The forces belong to all our citizens and its members will always be available in the event of a disaster.

I remember very well when members of the Canadian Armed Forces went door to door two years ago in New Brunswick to help people affected by the ice storm, particularly in my riding, Acadie—Bathurst, and in the Acadian peninsula which was hit very hard. I witnessed the work of the Canadian Armed Forces, these men and women who helped our community get back on its feet after enduring the ice storm for 20 days. Some people had no electricity, water or food for 15 to 20 days.

I thank them from the bottom of my heart for the extraordinary work they did in 2017 and for their efforts during the flooding of the past few weeks.

This spring, 2,500 Canadian Armed Forces members pitched in to help flood victims. They assisted first responders with evacuations, protected homes and supported exhausted volunteers. We are painfully aware of the flood victims' suffering, and our thoughts are with all those who have to deal with the damage these floods have done to their homes and their lives.

As natural disasters become more frequent, the Canadian Armed Forces have to be prepared to jump in and intervene more frequently. That is one reason we are working to increase troop numbers as part of Canada's defence policy, “Strong, Secure, Engaged”. Having the necessary personnel available when duty calls is essential.

I do think it is a real shame the Conservatives have consistently voted against funding the implementation of this important defence policy. The Conservatives repeatedly voted against funding to give our military personnel the equipment they need, and they even voted against funding their participation in operations abroad that help keep us safe here at home.

In spite of these attempts to go back to the days of Stephen Harper's budget cuts, I am happy to highlight two programs that are helping us increase our military personnel and make the forces more diverse.

First, there is the full-time summer employment program that we launched last year. This initiative helps members balance their civilian life with military service by offering full-time employment to reservists in their first four years of service. Many of the reservists who are training and developing their skills will later go on deployments, as part of national operations to protect their communities from natural disasters, for example.

Second, we expanded our summer training programs for indigenous people living in Canada. Five of these programs are offered in Canada, including the Grey Wolf program and a new bilingual program, the Carcajou program, which we launched this year.

Increasing our personnel is essential for conducting effective operations both in Canada, like Operation Lentus, and abroad.

I salute the 250 Canadian Armed Forces members who worked in close collaboration with emergency services in my province, New Brunswick, to help people protect homes along the Saint John River. The minister also travelled to New Brunswick for a first-hand look at how the Canadian Armed Forces were helping with the flood response. Along with other MPs from New Brunswick, I am tremendously grateful to him for being there.

The Canadian Armed Forces are able to help our neighbours who are affected by the flooding and support our allies in various missions around the world because we give them the tools they need to do their work no matter where they are.

We are making progress on capital procurement projects, such as the new fleet of Arctic and offshore patrol ships and the 18 interim fighter jets we purchased from Australia to supplement our fighter aircraft fleet.

We are also ensuring that Canada is a reliable and valuable partner for our allies by participating in missions around the world. Right now, 250 members of the Canadian Armed Forces are in Mali, providing essential, life-saving aeromedical evacuations of UN forces and civilians. In addition, 200 members of our armed forces are participating in Operation Unifier in Ukraine, and over 850 are stationed in the Middle East on Operation Impact.

We strongly support our Ukrainian friends in their efforts to protect their sovereignty and bring security and stability to their country, while respecting the rules-based international order. Canada is playing a leading role in the international community's response to Russian aggression in Ukraine. What is more, as we announced in March, this mission will continue until March 2022.

I know that both ministers are extremely proud of Canada's role in Ukraine. All Canadians can be proud of our contributions there. It is unfortunate, however, that throughout our years in government, the Conservatives have voted repeatedly against funding for this critical mission.

I understand their leader made a speech last week that touched on Canada's involvement in Ukraine. It will not come as a surprise from a member of Harper's team that he was not transparent about the position his Conservative Party had taken in the House on this military mission.

Our people are at the core of everything we do, whether it is deployed operations abroad or service on bases, wings or reserve units here at home. We must support them at every stage of their careers. That is why the Minister of National Defence has presented the main estimates for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces for the 2019-20 fiscal year. This funding will enable us to meet the objectives set out in our defence policy and meet the needs of our personnel.

The minister requested $21.9 billion in funding to carry on the vital work we do for the Canadian Armed Forces and to build on our successes. With these funds, which the Conservatives, based on their previous votes on the matter, are almost certain to oppose, we can continue to pursue ambitious capital projects that provide Canadian Armed Forces members with the best equipment available and ensure our infrastructure serves their needs in an environmentally conscious way.

Thanks to this funding, Canada will be able to continue to conduct Canadian missions abroad in collaboration with our international partners. Canadians rightly expect us to meet our commitments with the same level of transparency and concern that we have demonstrated over the past four years. We take this responsibility very seriously, and it is just as important as the responsibility we take for supporting the Canadian Armed Forces who defend our country.

I appreciate the opportunity to tell the committee of the whole and all Canadians about the great work of the Canadian Armed Forces and how this government will continue to support them.

Again, I want to thank the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces for the excellent work they do every day for Canadians and for our communities, including their help with the floods we are currently experiencing in Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick. I thank them for their exceptional work. We want to continue to support them in their work. That is why we are investing in the members of the Canadian Armed Forces and in our Department of National Defence.

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NDP

The Deputy Chair NDP Carol Hughes

The parliamentary secretary must now ask questions.

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Liberal

Serge Cormier Liberal Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Chair, earlier this winter, I had the opportunity to travel to Montreal with the minister. We visited the Fusiliers Mont-Royal regiment to announce the summer employment program for reservists. The announcement was very well received by the Canadian Armed Forces and by reservists.

We know that reservists are very important. The North Shore Regiment in my riding does excellent work. I would like the minister to tell us how initiatives like the summer employment program for reservists are useful, especially when it comes to recruiting. As members know, we want to increase recruitment in the Canadian Armed Forces. We also want to increase diversity in the Canadian Armed Forces. We want to make sure that everyone who wants to join the armed forces can take advantage of these programs while keeping their jobs.

I would like the minister to tell us a little more about this program, which is very popular among reservists and members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

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Liberal

Harjit S. Sajjan Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Madam Chair, a number of years ago, the Auditor General talked about how the reserves had not been supported because of the neglect by the previous government, cutting the recruiting and funding. We take recruiting and retention very seriously. This four years of guaranteed summer employment is having a tremendous impact, something I hear quite regularly across Canada about the reserves. It is not only being able to recruit more, but it is about retention as well.

I talk to reservists directly. We are giving them the certainty that the reserves are going to be well looked after, not just as a sideshow because they did not have the proper resources in the past. We are actually utilizing the reserve. We have seen a direct impact on domestic operations. When a dike broke in Montreal, members of the reserve helped evacuate families, in 50 minutes. If it were not for them, things would have been much worse.

We can all be proud of the great work our reserve members.