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.