I would like to open this session of committee of the whole by making a short statement.
Tonight's debate is being held under Standing Order 81(4)(a) which provides for each of two sets of estimates selected by the to be considered in committee of the whole for up to four hours.
For some members, this may be the first time they participate in such a debate. Therefore, I would like to explain how we will proceed.
Tonight's debate is a general one on all of the votes under National Defence. The first round will begin with the usual rotation, with the official opposition followed by the government and the Liberal Party. After that, we will follow the usual proportional rotation.
Each member will be allocated 15 minutes at a time, which may be used both for debate and for posing questions. Should members wish to use this time to make a speech, it can last a maximum of 10 minutes, leaving at least 5 minutes for questions to the minister.
When a member is recognized, he or she should indicate to the Chair how the 15 minute period will be used--in other words, what portion will be used for speeches and what portions for questions and answers.
Members should also note that they will need the unanimous consent of the House if they wish to split their time with another member.
When the time is to be used for questions and answers, the Chair will expect that the minister's response will reflect approximately the time taken by the question, since this time will be counted in the time originally allotted to the member.
Though members may speak more than once, the Chair will generally try to ensure that all members wishing to speak are heard before inviting members to speak again, while respecting the proportional party rotations for speakers.
Members need not be in their own seats to be recognized.
As your Chair, I shall be guided by the rules of the committee of the whole. However, in the interest of a full exchange, I am prepared to exercise discretion and flexibility in the application of these rules. The Chair will expect all hon. members to focus on the subject matter of the debate, the main estimates of the Department of National Defence.
I also wish to indicate that in committee of the whole, ministers and members should be referred to by their title or riding name and all remarks should, as usual, be addressed through the Chair.
I ask for everyone's co-operation in upholding the established standards to parliamentary language and behaviour.
At the conclusion of tonight's debate, the committee will rise, the estimates under National Defence will be deemed reported and the House will adjourn immediately until tomorrow.
We will now begin tonight's session of the House in committee of the whole pursuant to Standing Order 81(4)(a), the first appointed day, consideration in the committee of the whole of all votes under National Defence in the main estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2013.
For the first comment, or statement, the hon. member for St. John's East.
Madam Chair, it is a pleasure to be here this evening discussing a great passion for many Canadians, which is the committee of the whole and the discussion around the Department of National Defence. I am joined here, ably, by the Chief of Defence Staff, General Walt Natynczyk; the deputy minister of National Defence, Rob Fonberg; as well as Kevin Lindsey, the chief financial officer from the Department of National Defence; along with our members.
I want to thank members and those tuning in at home for their attention, their affection and their interest in the department. In fact, during my time as minister of the crown, we continually focus on ensuring that we communicate regularly with Canadians, as we do with parliamentarians. In fact, this is my 25th appearance before a committee, my second with respect to a committee of the whole.
As you know, I am a strong advocate of the Canadian Forces and of the critical role that they play for Canada and the whole world. So, I am always pleased to have the opportunity to promote the important work that this government, the department, and the Canadian Forces are doing in the defence of Canada, and in support of our allies.
Over the past four and a half years, I have had the distinct pleasure of leading a tough, energetic, patriotic and committed team of defence professionals. Whether tackling the massive challenges of deploying over 40,000 Canadian Forces members who rotated through Afghanistan or working tirelessly here at home to provide emergency assistance to thousands of Canadians in their time of need, I have always been impressed by their ability to adapt and persevere, to come together as a united military and civilian defence team in the performance of their mission, no matter what the challenge or how high the tempo.
As members know, it has been another busy year for the Department of National Defence, a pivotal one. Over the past 12 months we have successfully wrapped up two international operations in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and in Libya, stood up our training mission in northern Afghanistan and continued to carry out a broad range of security missions at home and around the world; 15 in total. There are currently more than 1,300 Canadian Forces personnel in NATO and UN missions in combined ops around the world, and Canadian military personnel continue to serve our interests at home and abroad and are protecting and projecting the values Canadians hold dear.
At the same time, we have maintained an ongoing focus on building a strong, modern, capable military by investing in the tools and resources needed to meet the challenges of the future in the next 50 years and beyond.
Members will know that our Canadian government has invested almost $1 billion annually in increasing the National Defence budget since we took office in 2006. We now have an annual budget of roughly $20 billion and we have in our employ over 133,000 committed Canadians, both civilian and military.
The main estimates that we have before us this evening reflect our evolving operational context and represent the government's plan to continue the stable and responsible provision of resources to support National Defence over the next fiscal year.
We are currently in the fourth year of implementing our comprehensive 20 year Canada first defence strategy announced in Halifax by the in 2008. As I told a Senate committee on security and defence last week, even though we are still in the early implementation years of this visionary strategy, we have already delivered some impressive achievements across all four pillars of personnel, equipment, infrastructure and readiness.
We have not only successfully expanded the size of both our regular and reserve force, but we have also significantly improved the quality of care we provide them.
We have added $100 million to the base health budget of the Canadian Forces since 2006, bringing the annual health budget up to well over $450 million. Through the creation of the Joint Personnel Support Unit, we have helped provide streamlined one-stop service for our military personnel, our ill and injured, our veterans, as well as families through a network of 24 integrated personnel support centres located at bases around the country. Through programs, such as caring for our own, legacy of care and soldier on, we are helping provide comprehensive medical care, counselling and other services to ill and injured as well as their families through the process of recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration. Through programs like soldier on or shoulder to shoulder, we are strengthening and facilitating access to counselling, care and support services for families and their loved ones in the Canadian Forces and for members who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
However, we continue to do more. We are committed to supporting our military personnel in every sense of the word and, of course, that includes providing them with the tools they need to do their important work.
I am very pleased and proud to be here tonight with the who will be speaking to some of those improvements that we have seen in the past number of years.
Our government has already made great strides in delivering modernized capabilities, programs and equipment to support military operational needs. We have initiated numerous other projects to ensure members of the Canadian Forces continue to have the necessary tools to protect Canadians and support our allies well into the future.
We have also made important investments in renewing our military infrastructure across the country by refurbishing or replacing numerous buildings, training facilities and personnel support centres to enhance the health, quality of life and effectiveness of our standing military units.
Finally, we have increased our focus on equipment maintenance, personnel, training and joint exercises, including in the High Arctic and in partnership with our allies and civilian partners to further enhance flexibility, interoperational ability and operational readiness of our military.
The government is very proud of these achievements and very proud of each and every member of the incredible National Defence team. We believe they have made a direct contribution to the outstanding operational success of the Canadian Forces in recent years. Our investments and support helped our men and women in uniform provide emergency assistance to the people of Haiti in January 2010, even while they were helping secure the Vancouver Olympics and the G20 and G8 venues in Ontario. They have helped us to stop the Gadhafi regime from attacking its own people in March of last year, even while our combat patrols were fighting insurgency in Afghanistan.
Canadians too are proud of their military’s accomplishments. They recognize the sacrifice that these extraordinary men and women make each day and they expect us to recognize and support them in their service to Canada and to Canadians.
Our government can truthfully say that our investment plan has already proven in its ability to deliver tangible benefits to the defence of Canada. The approval of these estimates is crucial to maintaining this quality of support for the years to come.
I want to assure hon. members that our estimates reflect the broader economic goals of the Government of Canada. That is why we have included the reallocation of $525 million from the National Defence budget to support government-wide efficiency efforts, slowing growth and ensuring that progress will be there in critical areas for the foreseeable future. That is why one of the key areas of DND's main estimates for the fiscal year is nearly $1.5 billion lower than the year 2011-12.
As Minister of Defence, I am committed to providing Canadians with a modern, agile, responsive and, most of all, sustainable military that reflects both the security and fiscal needs of our country. In today's economic climate, this is an ambitious objective and one that will extend well beyond the timeframe that is captured in these estimates.
As always, we have an incredible National Defence team committed to that goal. For a few years now, we have been pursuing a number of efforts to review National Defence programming in an effort to optimize our investments in capability, in effect changing the very way we do business in National Defence, so as to maximize the efficiencies of our headquarters and administration, and reallocate internal resources toward what matters most to Canadians, and that is tangible operational output. These efforts will help the National Defence team not only to operate within the fiscal environment, but also to ensure that we become leaner, more agile and better positioned to respond to unpredictable security challenges in the future.
Although the conclusion of our combat operations in Afghanistan and of NATO operations in Libya may have temporarily provided us with an opportunity to catch our breath as an institution and focus on longer-term priorities, there is simply no way to know where or when the next major crisis—or series of crises—will occur that might test the capacity, flexibility or readiness of our forces.
We owe that to our citizens. We certainly owe that to our allies. However, most of all, we owe that to the men and women in uniform who will answer the call when it comes and who will rely on the training, the equipment and support that we are investing in now to give them the ability to get the job done and return home to their families safely.
I want to take a moment to thank all of those brave soldiers of the Canadian Forces who accept this unlimited liability, this massive responsibility that we ask of them, and I thank their families for supporting them and standing behind them in this time.
I also take this opportunity to thank members present for their interest and continued support for the Canadian Forces and the defence of Canada. I welcome their questions here this evening.
Madam Chair, I am pleased to be here this evening with my colleagues and the representatives of the Canadian armed forces to discuss a number of important issues and what they mean for the Canadian Forces and Canadians in general.
The opposition would want us to return to the decade of darkness and not provide the essential tools our men and women in uniform need to do their job.
Our Conservative government has been clear. This will not happen. With the support of the Canadian public, we are equipping the military for the challenges of today and for those of the future.
As a government, we have responsibility to keep our country strong and free. This government will continue to ensure our men and women in uniform have the support they need to protect our country and represent our interests abroad.
We have a duty to Canadians to prepare for situations and circumstances in advance so we are ready and able to deal with future challenges.
Through my many years in policing and decades of work with the Canadian Forces Liaison Council, I have a developed a deep appreciation for the professionalism of our Canadian Forces and what proper equipment and preparation means in an emergency situation both at home and abroad.
As the Associate Minister of National Defence, I oversee the procurement of major assets and equipment. Meeting this important responsibility is best done through methods I know work from my previous public service sector.
We need to provide value for the hard-earned dollars of Canadians. As trusted custodians of the public purse, we must continually balance needs against available resources and affordability. Determining this balance requires a hands-on approach. It requires that I go beyond the executive summary and immerse myself in the finer aspects of the file to witness, experience and engage in the issues first hand and up close.
This is my style. I have learned valuable lessons by immersing myself in my portfolio and personally engaging with Canadians who do the heavy lifting on a daily basis, our men and women in uniform.
In my current role, I have travelled to Afghanistan to see first hand the brave work our soldiers are doing to help rebuild the country. Our soldiers told me that the enhanced equipment they received saved lives and even better equipment on the way would save more lives, injury and trauma.
I met with our highly-skilled fighter pilots who returned from a successful mission in Libya. They told me that although their current equipment worked well today, it would not suffice in the battle space of tomorrow, and they are absolutely right.
My trip to Winnipeg to meet with search and rescue teams allowed me to see first hand how Canadians were being well-served by some of our best SAR technicians in the world. Canadians who find themselves in distress depend upon them.That is why it is important to have the right equipment ready for the task, at any time, in any weather.
In Vancouver I was proud to see first hand the hundreds of skilled workers who were in the process of modernizing our Halifax class frigates. These are Canadian workers who take their jobs very seriously. They have every right to be proud of the state-of-the-art equipment and services they provide to strengthen the effectiveness of our Royal Canadian Navy.
While touring Canadian industries that are contributing to the joint strike fighter program, I also saw first hand the benefits to Canadian workers in our economy our industrial benefits policies provide.
These experiences have given me the unique opportunity to witness the pride of Canadians as they help design and build for both our nation and allies, cutting-edge fighters for the next generation. They have told me how participation in this program ensures they have good-paying, skilled jobs in Canada well into the future.
I feel privileged to have a front-row seat to witness first hand the leadership that Canadians are taking on multiple fronts around the world.
In Washington we gathered our allies together at our Canadian embassy to demonstrate leadership on the complicated joint strike fighter file.
In Texas I heard how Canadian industry was providing unique solutions to the toughest technological challenges of today and of tomorrow. Our workers are providing aerospace skills and knowledge other nations strive to achieve.
During the Libya campaign, I met with General Bouchard in Italy. I also met other NATO commanders who praised our Canadian military that took a leading role in the international mission.
Our air crews were among the most respected, and we should be proud of their successful efforts.
Our service abroad does come at a cost and it is appropriate to acknowledge the many Canadians who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to Canada in current and past conflicts.
The repatriation ceremonies I have attended in Trenton attest to the fact that the actions on foreign battlefields have lasting impacts at home. I cannot put into words the emotion one goes through on these sad but proud occasions, which have also enhanced my resolve to provide our military men and women with the best equipment available to achieve mission success and optimum safety. Never do I want to have to explain to a grieving family that we did not do our best to provide the essential tools and support for its loved one to return home safely.
I challenge the opposition this evening to put itself in this head space and think carefully about its questions and what it has really asked this government to do.
We know that military equipment is expensive, but one must understand we cannot be penny-wise and proud foolish when lives are at stake, as is the reputation of Canada among our allies.
Being responsible for military procurement, I must balance a moral obligation with the responsibility to provide value for money. This balance is the responsibility of all members of the House and most assuredly of this government.
As I saw first hand in London, Ontario, Canadians are taking the many lessons learned in Afghanistan and elsewhere to make our light armoured vehicles safer for our soldiers. This upgrade is expensive, but the additional safety and likelihood of mission success is worth every penny.
Those who have studied military procurement understand it is very complex. It is difficult to comment definitively on these matters because often there are challenges in sharing sensitive information and to make accurate assessments. Commentary is often misunderstood, misreported and misinformed. It adds little to explaining for some why we procure such equipment.
Tonight I ask the opposition to focus as much on the why as to the how in these matters. Our government, through the Canada first defence strategy, is committed to providing the equipment our military needs. We are doing this in a fiscally responsible manner, while ensuring we meet the needs of today along with the anticipated challenges of tomorrow.
My pledge to Canadians has always been to spend their money as I would my own. I recognize the trust that has been placed in us and the importance of honouring those expectations.
Madam Chair, I thank the hon. member, not only for his question but also for his years of dedicated service to this country. I applaud his contributions in this regard.
I would suggest that it is no secret that our military was suffering from rust out under the previous government. Early in our mandate, we released the Canada first defence strategy, which has been our guiding policy in revitalizing our military for today and the future. Our actions speak for themselves. We now have four Globemaster cargo planes that have allowed Canada to respond to humanitarian disasters and get critical people and equipment to our operations abroad. They also play an important role in moving equipment throughout Canada.
We have successfully replaced our workhorse aircraft, the Hercules, with a newer model that can carry more, fly faster, fly further and provide the strategic airlift needed. We are replacing our aging fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft to ensure we can continue to provide world-leading search and rescue services. New capability in the Arctic offshore patrol ships, which Canada has never had before, will allow us to patrol our Arctic shores and defend our sovereignty.
New joint support ships and fleet of service combatant ships will fully equip members of our Royal Canadian Navy to do the job we ask of them and they will be better able to respond to our current and future needs.
To better protect our troops, we are upgrading our light armoured vehicles with the latest protection and weapons systems. We are also replacing our vehicle fleets to make it safer for those men and women who put their lives on the line on the battlefield. We are taking possession of a new fleet of tanks to ensure we are prepared for theatres like Afghanistan, and, unlike the Liberals, we will not send our troops unprepared into lethal situations. We have successfully procured 37 lightweight towed Howitzers, which allow us to play a key role in protecting our troops in Afghanistan.
By any means, our efforts to revitalize the military and properly equip its members for their job is ambitious, successful and, unfortunately, at this time much needed. Had the previous government done its job properly, our military would have the equipment it needs. I would also like to remind the members opposite that military procurement provides thousands of jobs for Canadians and benefits our national economy. These jobs are often highly skilled, high-paying jobs that bring economic benefit to communities across this nation and I invite the hon. members opposite to get on with the program.
Madam Chair, as all members know, one of the roles that these estimates allow the Canadian Forces to play is to contribute to international peace and security and project Canadian leadership abroad. As the said, words alone will not suffice to make this possible.
As a government, with these two ministers at the forefront, we have been engaged in rebuilding Canada's armed forces to be a modern, state-of-the-art fighting force to protect Canada's role of influence in the world and to allow us to do our part when the international community decides to act and military capacity is required. Today's investments are tomorrow's capabilities.
On a day like today, May 9, the anniversary of victory in Europe, we would do well to reflect that the last three years have brought us to an operational tempo that had last been achieved by this country only in the 1950s. In addition to the G20, the Olympics and domestic missions, about which we will hear more in tonight's proceedings, we had missions in Haiti and Libya and for over a decade we had the mission in Afghanistan, which both ministers have rightly emphasized as central to the renewal of the capacity of our Canadian Forces.
A terrible earthquake hit Haiti in January 2010, and 2,000 members of the Canadian Forces were deployed as an emergency task force to operate airfields, to provide help and assistance to those in need and to provide a backbone for a much larger international assistance mission.
All of these capabilities would not have been there without the investments we are talking about today, without the investments for the long term that are represented by today's estimates, particularly the procurement elements.
Let us look back over a mission with which I am most familiar among all the missions the Canadian Forces has undertaken, and that is the mission in Afghanistan. Let us look back at the leadership role Canada has played for over a decade at every stage of that mission.
Canada protected the Kandahar airfield as early as 2002, in the very first stages of the campaign. Operation Anaconda cleared the last serious, organized forces loyal to the Taliban out of the country. Canada promoted a NATO command of ISAF in the summer of 2003 when it was not yet a mission of the North Atlantic alliance. Our Canadian Forces took over command of that mission in 2004. Canada championed the expansion of ISAF to all parts of the country to ensure that the UN mandate, that multinational mission now including over 40 countries, ultimately covered all of Afghanistan. Our Canadian Forces took on disarmament and heavy weapons confinement. We also took over a PRT in Kandahar in 2005. Our forces faced, almost alone at first, the first wave of insurgency in 2006, and then became a crucible for successful counter-insurgency in southern Afghanistan in Zhari and Panjwai and Dand Districts. Our Canadian Forces prepared the ground for a U.S-led surge, transferring to the training mission just last year. The Canadian Forces contributed in all of these ways to a huge security gain in southern Afghanistan and across that country.
These missions were not without cost and not without sacrifice. One hundred and fifty-eight Canadian lives were lost. More than 2,000 lives were lost from allied nations, as well as tens of thousands of Afghan lives, and lives continue to be lost.
However, these sacrifices resulted in an enormous gain for that country. Afghanistan is a changed country, with a GDP per capita income ratio four times what it was when our troops first arrived. Clinics and schools blanket the country. There are new roads and infrastructure. Agriculture is on the rebound. Most important in terms of tonight's discussion is that the Afghan national security force is close to 200,000 on the army side and close to 150,000 on the national police side.
This has given the Afghan people hope. It has given Canada the rationale to focus on training. It has given all of us the possibility to talk about the transition to an Afghan lead in all parts of the country, which is under way.
There are tough days ahead and important decisions to make, but it is important on a night like tonight, when we are talking about investing in Canadian capabilities, that we not forget the achievements.
Those achievements also came in Libya last year. Many months of 2011 were devoted to this mission, to keeping Misrata open, courtesy of the Royal Canadian Navy, and to refuelling allied aircraft, courtesy of our air force, to analyzing Gadhafi's brutal attacks, identifying targets, flying over 10% of the attack missions over Libya in the case of Canada's current fighter fleet, and of course, one point we are all enormously proud of, through Lieutenant-General Charlie Bouchard, exercising leadership with determination, balance and wisdom.
As our has said, Canadians see the value of dealing with potential international security problems upstream. That is one of the reasons we engaged not only when the going got very tough in Libya and Afghanistan, but also in operations around the world that aim to prevent conflict.
All hon. members may not know that there are 1,300 Canadian Forces members deployed around the world, not just in Afghanistan, but in 17 international missions.
Right now, 57 Canadian Forces personnel are stationed in the Middle East, a critical region where the Canadian Forces have been present since the Suez crisis in 1956.
These troops are participating in four operations: in the Sinai Peninsula with the multinational force and observers, created by the 1979 Camp David and Washington peace treaties; on the Golan Heights; in various other Middle East locations with the United Nations organization responsible for overseeing the truce; and in Jerusalem and on the West Bank with the Office of the United States Security Coordinator. What are we doing with the United States in those places? The Canadian Forces are overseeing and training Palestinian Authority security forces and helping coordinate security issues between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The future of the Middle East depends on creating a climate of peace and stability. Canada is helping to make that happen.
In Africa, the Canadian Forces are making an important contribution to various UN missions. For example, 14 CF personnel have been assigned to Operation Soprano, Canada's contribution to the United Nations mission in South Sudan. Nine members of the Canadian Forces are participating in Operation Crocodile, Canada's contribution to peacekeeping in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Maritime operations are still under way. Only last year, the members of the Canadian Forces on board HMCS Charlottetown participated in the NATO mission off the coast of Libya. Now, they are part of NATO's Operation Active Endeavour to prevent the movement of terrorists and weapons of mass destruction in the Mediterranean Sea.
The fact that HMCS Charlottetown is now in the Arabian Sea region is proof of Canada's perseverance and its ongoing determination to participate in maritime operations abroad. Five Canadians are still in Haiti, two years after the earthquake.
However, we have to adapt in today's complex security environment. We have to respond to new and evolving challenges, the growing importance of the Asia-Pacific region in the global economy, threats in emerging domains like space and cyber, the human rights of populations under threat from conflict, failed institutions, or repressive regimes.
We cannot know all of the potential threats that Canada may face in the future, so we must continue to expect the unexpected. That is exactly what the Canada first defence strategy has tried to do. That is exactly what these estimates seek to support, sound and balanced investments across the four key pillars of military capability: equipment, personnel, infrastructure and readiness.
Our forces deserve nothing less. Through relief and reconstruction in Haiti, through success in Libya, through progress in Afghanistan, through global partnerships in support of international peace and security, they are achieving their objectives, our objectives, magnificently.
As a former prime minister, one who I know is very dear to the memory of our current , Sir Robert Borden, once said, “We must not forget that days may come when our patience, our endurance and our fortitude will be tried to the utmost.” That level of commitment has an honourable place in our history. That level of commitment has an honourable place in today's debate on these estimates, the Canadian Forces and how we as Canadians support them.
Madam Chair, the question posed by my hon. colleague from Etobicoke—Lakeshore is very important because it relates to values that Canadians really care about: the security and integrity of our personal information. That is why it gives me great pleasure to reply.
Communications Security Establishment Canada is Canada's national cryptologic agency. It provides the Government of Canada with two key services: foreign signals intelligence in support of defence and foreign policy, and the protection of electronic information and communication.
It is important to note that CSEC does not target Canadians' communications. I probably should repeat this. CSEC does not target Canadians' communications, no matter where they live. In addition, legislative measures in effect protect Canadians' privacy. CSEC activities focus on foreign intelligence.
Oversight is provided by an independent commissioner, who is a supernumerary justice or a retired justice of a superior court. The current commissioner, Robert Décary, is a former justice of the Federal Court and the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada. He takes his responsibilities seriously, and he carries out his duties with impeccable diligence and intelligence.
To carry out this review mandate, the commissioner and his staff are guaranteed access to all CSEC personnel, information and documentation.
The commissioner's work involves the thorough review of selected CSEC activities using a variety of methods, such as monitoring control mechanisms, scrutinizing policies and procedures and how they are applied, reviewing training programs, reviewing the use of information, and reviewing the technology used to minimize the collection of information not relevant to CSEC's mandate and therefore safeguard the privacy of Canadians.
The commissioner's reports indicate that CSEC's activities over the past 16 years have been lawful. The commissioner has also confirmed that CSEC has taken steps to protect Canadians' privacy, as required by law.
Madam Chair, it is great that we are able to get together tonight to discuss the estimates for national defence. It is vital for us to remember how these funds are put to use and impact upon the safety of our country.
Over the past few years the Canadian Forces have been extremely busy and Canadians have taken notice. They have seen and heard reports of the work that has been done by our troops in places like Haiti, Afghanistan and Libya. I welcome the well-deserved attention and credit it gives to our men and women in uniform. However, in many ways, it does not give a complete picture of the work they have done and what they continue to do day in and day out on our behalf and for our benefit. The primary duty of our armed forces is to protect and defend Canadians right here at home.
This sense of priority is reflected in the very title of the guiding document of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces called the Canada first defence strategy. The Canada first defence strategy lays out six core missions that the Canadian Forces members are expected to be able to perform to keep Canada and Canadians safe. Four of them relate directly to what our friends in uniform call the home game. I would like to go over each of these briefly to underscore just how much our men and women in uniform are doing for us domestically and all too often out of sight.
The Canadian Forces members stand ready and able to respond to a major terrorist attack because of their elite counterterrorism unit, the Joint Task Force Two. The unit is ready to respond at a moment's notice because of its healthy partnerships with law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
These relationships also have been extremely valuable in assisting the Canadian Forces members in another of their assigned missions: supporting a major event here in Canada. The Canadian Forces have gained experience in this over the last few years. They supported the RCMP and local law enforcement in providing security for the Vancouver Olympics. Using everything from fighter jets to skis, they monitored and helped secure 10,000 square kilometres of some of the most challenging geography in Canada. The good work helped ensure that the focus of the games stayed where it belonged: on the athletes, not on the security.
A few months later, more than 2,800 Canadian Forces personnel successfully performed a similar task when Canada welcomed world leaders to the G8 and G20 meetings.
Another core mission that the Canadian Forces have undertaken time and again is to support civilian authorities during a crisis right here in Canada. The Canadian Forces have a long tradition in this area, particularly when the crisis in question is a natural disaster. Over the last year or so, our men and women in uniform have been called upon repeatedly to help local authorities with such challenges. In May of last year, the forces responded with roughly 800 personnel to the worst flooding the Richelieu Valley and Montérégie region had seen in over a century.
Simultaneously, nearly 2,000 troops and several aircraft were dispatched to help deal with the flooding along the Assiniboine River right in Manitoba, where they helped coordinate and carry out a broad effort in sand-bagging, evacuation, infrastructure protection and logistical assistance. On behalf of my constituents of Selkirk—Interlake, I want to thank the Canadian Forces again for the work they did along Lake Manitoba.
Later that summer, just under 400 soldiers were deployed to Souris, Manitoba, again to help reinforce dikes near the town in the face of yet more flooding. Members of the Canadian Forces spent much of July working to evacuate over 3,600 residents from several of Ontario's northern and first nation communities that were threatened by forest fires. I want to thank the members of the Canadian Forces for their heroic work right across Canada, giving us peace of mind knowing they are always standing by and ready to serve during times of need.
Regardless of which contingency missions the Canadian Forces may be undertaking at any given time, they are also responsible 24/7 and 365 days a year for the fourth mission laid out in the Canada first defence strategy: the conduct of daily domestic and continental operations. The activities carried out under this umbrella are as diverse as they are important. They are the ones the forces plan for in advance or that they carry out routinely. To call them routine does them no justice because they involve challenging and often dangerous tasks, such as search and rescue or sovereignty patrols in the Arctic. They include other less visible operations, such as Op Palaci, which sees regular forces and reserve soldiers provide avalanche control assistance to Parks Canada by firing artillery in and around Rogers Pass, or Operation Sabot, where military helicopters and their crews have supported the RCMP in its marijuana surveillance and eradication program. In 2011 alone, this cooperation led to the seizure of over 63,000 marijuana plants.
This fourth category of domestic mission also includes ongoing air defence patrols under Norad. This was another routine task that became a part of life and death on the morning of September 11, 2001. Since that day, the service performed by our fighter pilots has flown below the radar, even though Canada and U.S. fighter aircraft conduct around 200 precautionary intercepts of civilian and military aircraft every year under the direction of Norad. This close co-operation with the U.S. highlights our government's long-standing recognition that Canadian security is intrinsically linked to that of the entire continent, something that is acknowledged in the Canada first defence strategy.
In addition to their purely domestic activities, the Canadian Forces continue to work hand in hand with our single closest ally, the United States.
The defence team does this in a number of ways.
One is through Norad itself, which after more than 50 years is still the world's only binational command structure responsible to both the Governments of Canada and of the United States. It monitors and defends our aerospace and has taken on new responsibilities in keeping watch over our Maritime operations.
Another is through the Permanent Joint Board on Defense, which for over 70 years has acted as a forum for political and military engagement on a wide range of defence issues.
In today's increasingly globalized world, both Canada and the United States understand that we need to look beyond our bilateral relationship to secure a respective domestic security. That is why we are working together to build deeper partnerships in the Americas as a whole through the Inter-American Defense Board, the Conference of Defence Ministers of the Americas and a trilateral meeting of Canadian, U.S. and Mexican defence ministers. We are backing up our participation in these fora with concrete co-operation in the region, like bilateral training initiatives, disaster assistance, most notably after the earthquake in Haiti, and counter-narcotic operations in the Caribbean and eastern Pacific. All this activity contributes to a safe neighbourhood for Canada, which translates into safety for Canadians.
Our government has given careful thought to what our forces need to do to keep Canada and Canadians safe. These are clearly laid out in the Canada first defence strategy and our men and women in uniform have worked here at home to fulfill them. Time and again they have responded when our constituents have been in danger or need. The defence team has also gone beyond our borders to work alongside our neighbours and our regional partners, all in the interests of protecting Canadians. All of this hard work, long-standing co-operation and forward thinking has kept, and will continue to keep, our country safe. For this we owe the Canadian Forces our gratitude and the means to successfully continue their important work.
I have a couple of questions I would like to ask the .
Our men and women in uniform have established themselves as leaders in the world for their professionalism and dedication. They are respected among our allies and, in my opinion, they are second to none. Yet as proud as they are, there is no doubting that a lengthy mission, such as what we have experienced in Afghanistan, can indeed take its toll and they need us now to support them.
As chair of the Standing Committee on National Defence, I am glad to advise the House that our committee will be undertaking a study on the care of our ill and injured, both the visible and invisible injuries that plague many of our Canadian Forces members.
Last summer, the minister announced military health care infrastructure improvements in 17 Wing in Winnipeg, in my home province. Could the minister inform us as to how this initiative will ensure that our Canadian Forces personnel will continue to receive the full spectrum of first-class health care they so rightly deserve?
Madam Chair, I thank the member for for his leadership as chair of the defence committee and the very good news he shared with us tonight that we will have the opportunity to delve in detail to deal with the issues around health care and mental health care for the Canadian Forces.
He is absolutely right when he talks about the broad array of services that are provided by the members of the Canadian Forces. They truly do stand on guard for thee. As we sit here tonight, we have members who are at the ready to respond to search and rescue, who are at sea, who continue to do important work in preparation of missions that await. We have to be there for them. There is no higher priority, I would suggest, no higher obligation for a government, for a minister of defence, than to ensure that we care for the ill and injured, and that is exactly what we do.
It is more than just money. We have seen an overall increase of $100 million into the issues around health and mental health since we took office in 2006. This is in addition to the ongoing capital of $439.6 million for the Canadian Forces health care.
We have a strong network across the country of programs, of infrastructure, that includes what the hon. member mentioned at 17 Wing in his province, a $3.9 million investment in infrastructure.
To ensure the ill and injured have first-class health care so they can get the care that they need and rightly deserve, we have opened 24 integrated personal support centres, one stop shopping for the ill and the injured that will allow our personnel, our veterans, our family members to go to those locations across the country and get the help they need.
We created the “Soldier On” program to give ill and injured soldiers and members and veterans the opportunity to stay physically fit. I commend people like Master Corporal Jody Mitic and others who have shown great leadership in this program and continue to support these efforts across the country.
We have also targeted more resources in the area of mental health. There has been discussion about this. We are continuing, and in fact increasing, our support for those in need of mental health counselling. I want to say a word about the tremendous contribution made in this regard by Canadian Forces chaplains, and that includes imams and rabbis. Non-denominational support is there for the members when they need it, in addition to the professional psychologists and psychiatrists who are there as well.
We have committed to doubling the number of mental health professionals. We continue to make investments in that regard in great strides. However, as the Chief of the Defence Staff has said, there is an acute shortage across the country, so we continue to reach out to those professional associations to work with us to ensure, in particular, that reservists, who do not necessarily live on base or near base, are also able to access those important services.
On some rotations in Afghanistan, we had up to 25% participation for reservists. Therefore, this issue is not escaping our watchful eye and we continue to make these important efforts. We know that issues around mental health and suicide are of particular attention and focus. We have to ensure those who are in need of that support receive it and that they realize there is no shame in asking for that support.
Most often it is a friend, a battle buddy or a family member who pushes and encourages the member to come forward. We want to bring these issues out into the light, out into the discussion, in the public, to ensure that no stigma, no adverse inference whatsoever is applied to those who seek this important help.
I again want to commend the Chief of the Defence Staff for his personal leadership in this regard, which was recognized by the Canadian Mental Health Association with an award two years ago to the Canadian Forces.
On the physical injuries side, which my friend rightly pointed out, those with physical injuries are also being addressed. We have made important investments in cutting edge technology. The CAREN system, the computer assisted rehabilitation environment system, is now available in Edmonton and in Ottawa.
I want to thank my colleague from who pushed very hard to see that this cutting edge technology would be made available to members of the forces. He himself, a former member, a former fighter pilot in the Canadian Forces, has shown tremendous leadership during our term in office.
All of these investments and more, investments in health technology, information systems, infrastructure across the country at bases and wings, is a testament to our commitment each and every day.
Can we do more? Yes. Will we do more? Absolutely. There is no higher priority and we are committed to serving the needs of our ill and injured as quickly and with as much diligence as possible.