Colleagues, I call this meeting to order. I see quorum and I see that it's almost four o'clock. I'm told that we will have the room and the facilities for two full hours.
The first hour and a half will be with our three witnesses, and the last half-hour we'll go in camera and have committee business. We might lose a little time switching from the public channel to going in camera, hopefully a minimal amount of time. In that time we have a number of things we need to discuss as a committee.
I want to welcome our witnesses at the initiation of this study on rising domestic operational deployments and challenges for the Canadian Armed Forces. I don't know who thinks of all of these long titles. Really it's about aid to civil authority.
With us we have Josh Bowen, faculty, disaster and emergency management program, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology; Michael Fejes, assistant professor and Ph.D. candidate, Norman Paterson School of International Affairs; and Adam MacDonald, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Political Science, Dalhousie University.
Thank you to each one of you for indulging us. I apologize for being half an hour late, but this is what democracy is all about. We have to vote.
With that, I'm going to ask Mr. Bowen to lead us off for five minutes and then we will go to Mr. Fejes for five and Mr. MacDonald for five, and then we'll go to our rounds of questions. I'm hoping that with some efficiency we'll get in three rounds of questions. Thank you.
I'm honoured to join you today from Treaty 6 territory.
My name is Josh Bowen. As was pointed out, I'm a faculty member in the disaster and emergency management program at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. I'm also a member of the Government of Canada's disaster resilience and security advisory table, and I'm a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces.
During my service, I was directly involved in five domestic disaster response operations. I finished my military career leading the military's disaster response planning in western Canada.
Tomorrow marks the sixth anniversary of the Fort McMurray wildfire. Eighty-eight thousand Canadians were evacuated from the community, and thousands lost their homes in the fire. I served as a senior CAF liaison officer to the province and coordinated CAF support during that disaster. It's because of my experience both in and out of uniform that I'm here today to discuss the need to build a civilian disaster response capability.
The CAF is meant to be our force of last resort, when there is no one else able to respond to the disaster. The CAF's integral communication, mobility, logistic sustainment and standing readiness forces across the country mean that the military can mount a significant response before the ink dries on a provincial request for assistance.
In the 19 years from 1990 to 2009, the CAF deployed on 33 domestic disaster response operations, responding to wildfires, floods, winter storms and major air disasters. In the 11 years from 2010 to 2021, the CAF deployed 38 times, eight of which were in 2020 and 2021. All 38 of those responses were related to weather events. That does not include the extensive CAF support to the pandemic response.
The CAF will always be ready to protect and defend Canadians when called upon, but as noted in the 2020 CAF operational and activities transition binder, the impacts of climate change “have already imposed added stress on Canadian Armed Forces resources, which will likely be called upon even more frequently and with less notice to assist with humanitarian and disaster responses”.
The current geopolitical situation demands the CAF's attention. As we roll into flood and wildfire season, that attention will again be divided as the CAF is called upon to support Canadians facing disasters. Climate change is only going to exacerbate the scale, scope and frequency of disasters here and around the world. We need an alternative to having the CAF occupy speed-dial spots one through nine. We need a civilian capability that can deploy when needed.
The good news is that there are proven options we can consider. Across the country, we have four heavy urban search and rescue teams. When a building collapses, we can respond and save lives. Alberta, as an example, is establishing incident management teams that leverage municipal and provincial employees to coordinate disaster responses when needed. The reality is that neither of these replaces the capabilities the CAF brings: primarily, organized and self-sustaining labour.
In every disaster that I've responded to, Canadians have come out to help in any way they can. Whether it was small communities bringing responders food to say “thank you” or people coming out to build sandbag walls to divert flood waters, Canadians want to help each other. Let's build on that.
Both Australia and Germany have volunteer-based disaster response capabilities spread across their countries that leverage the skill sets that civilian volunteers bring, augmented with a little specific training, and they can be called upon to support disaster response within a matter of hours.
In Canada, we leverage the capabilities of the Canadian Red Cross to coordinate emergency social services needs and provide support to disaster survivors and impacted communities. There are other non-profit organizations, such as Team Rubicon Canada, that leverage the skills that veterans, first responders and civilians bring to support communities in their times of need. Whether it's sifting through ashes following wildfires to recover valuables, clearing debris to open roads or coordinating disaster response operations, these organizations and others can and should be relied upon to support Canadians on their community's worst day.
The CAF is our force of last resort, yet we have become so accustomed to calling in the troops that we are not building the needed civilian capacity to respond. Our disaster NGO community in Canada is rich, and they can fill that gap.
Canada needs to build volunteer-based civilian capacities so that we do not consistently rely on our last-resort option.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair. Thank you so very much. Good afternoon to all the members of the esteemed committee on national defence.
As mentioned, my name is Mike Fejes. I'm currently a doctoral candidate at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs and an assistant professor at the Royal Military College. It's an honour to appear in front of you today as an individual, to address the domestic demands on the Canadian Armed Forces and to discuss some of my recent research on the Canadian Armed Forces primary reserves in aid to the civil power.
I want to start by saying that this is a very interesting time in Canadian defence history. In regard to domestic demands that are being placed on the CAF, there are a number of converging concerns that are taking place today.
First, as my esteemed colleague mentioned, the effects of climate change are increasing in Canada. They're becoming more frequent and severe, they are affecting more Canadians and they're costing Canadians billions of dollars in damages.
Second, the number, frequency and intensity of CAF domestic response operations are also increasing across Canada. Today, almost 50% of the CAF current operational deployments are domestic. Recently, there have even been short periods of time where there were more CAF members deployed on domestic operations than on international operations. What was once considered an unexpected frequency of domestic deployment has now become almost an annual event or annual cycle, and this challenges the CAF in new ways.
Third, despite many noble attempts to increase our size, the Canadian Forces is getting smaller. Because of this, there is a steady but increasing reliance on the primary reserve force. Of note, the 2015-16 Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces report on plans and priorities sees the army reserve, while leveraging existing unit structures and capacities, eventually taking the lead in domestic operations with support from the regular force. This is a reversal of the current role.
Unfortunately, these trends are likely to continue converging. Even the previous chief of the defence staff admitted publicly that present-day demands have the potential to engage the military beyond its capacities. Today, a smaller CAF needs to be prepared to respond to multiple and increasingly demanding emergencies concurrently with its part-time soldiers.
The key question I would ask the committee is, how do we ensure that our Canadian Forces reserve personnel are supported and are able to respond decisively when called upon? As such, Canadians need to examine our overall preparedness strategy and, from a Canadian Forces perspective, the organizational approach that underpins our response strategies.
I would ask that the committee consider two themes to improve the way that the CAF primary reserves can better support the provinces and the territories.
First, the current conditions of service for the primary reserve allow for much greater latitude than the regular force, who serve under a different kind of social contract. Perhaps it's time to re-evaluate this.
Second, after transformation, many of these new domestic headquarters that were created—with the exception of joint task force north where all activities are deemed to be operations—were actually superimposed on top of, or developed from, other existing headquarters.
Domestically, when the army reserve trains, they do so at the unit level in local armouries across the country, but when called upon, they undergo a transformation and deploy through territorial battalion groups, domestic response companies and even Arctic response company groups. However, on a daily basis, these headquarters have only a small staff dedicated to domestic operations, and they have no permanent operational units placed underneath them.
If the future climate of the Canadian Forces resembles the 2011 Leslie report, and we seek to reduce overhead and improve efficiency and effectiveness, but we do so despite constrained resources, then the CAF will have to look at how its reserve force is managed institutionally and how it can rapidly and effectively respond when called upon.
I understand that significant efforts to optimize reserve participation in future domestic operations are ongoing, especially through new and emerging capabilities such as cyber, but it is the modernization of headquarters and personnel policies to create more enduring conditions of employment that are required to better leverage the reserve force contributions.
To conclude, “Strong, Secure, Engaged” confirms that the defence of Canada and its people remains the overarching priority for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces. However, my final point here, based on my research, is that in the event of a large-scale crisis, without dedicated personnel and established command structures specifically within the primary reserve force, any whole-of-government emergency response will be that much more difficult to execute.
Thank you very much for your time.
Good day, Mr. Chair and other members of the committee. I want to thank you for inviting me to speak at today's session and share my thoughts regarding the Canadian military's role in domestic emergency response.
The last decade has seen a sizable increase in provincial requests for assistance from the Canadian Armed Forces in dealing with domestic emergencies, specifically—but not only—due to the growing number and severity of climate change-induced natural disasters throughout the country. The Canadian Armed Forces continue to adapt to this new reality by augmenting their capacity to support these growing requests, by establishing, for instance, Operation LENTUS, a yearly mission to train and place soldiers on standby to assist, and through growing coordination between regional joint task force commands and provincial emergency management organizations.
Such efforts serve a long-standing, clear mandate for the military to be prepared to offer this assistance, as reiterated in the current defence policy. However, these increasing requests are transforming this mandate from an as-needed duty to a baseline regularized duty, which, combined with competing capability, operational and structural issues confronting the organization, has generated debates about what the role of the Canadian Armed Forces should be in domestic emergency response.
Two main questions lie at the heart of this matter.
First, are these requests for support sustainable for the military in terms of management, without compromising its other missions and priorities?
Second, is the military the suitable organization for addressing these challenges, in effect becoming the de facto emergency response organization for provinces, as part of larger efforts to construct more resilient systems and societies in the face of climate change throughout Canada?
With the recently announced national defence review and ongoing development of the national adaptation strategy, now is the time to explore this matter as a political issue and not simply a technical, resource or organizational one.
It is understandable why the military is increasingly relied upon during these emergencies, as it possesses unique organizational logistics, planning and personnel resources and qualities, which no other government body at any level does. Operation Laser—the pre-positioning and deploying of units to support provincial government requests—and Operation Vector—assisting the Public Health Agency of Canada to secure and distribute vaccines during the pandemic—have showcased the military's unique attributes in these regards.
Higher-level political direction and guidance are needed, however, to entrench this mission as a top-tier mandate if the status quo is to continue. It is becoming clear that, if the Canadian Armed Forces are to continue to meet these requests for support, they will have to create more capacity and possibly dedicated capabilities to do so.
There are strong reasons to reconsider the growing reliance on the military in domestic emergency response.
First, there are competing demands on the military's focus, operational capacities and resources in terms of adapting to the altering strategic landscape defined by the emergence of rival great powers, numerous large-scale procurement renewal plans, building new capabilities in emerging domains such as cyber and space, and reconstitution challenges regarding training, recruitment, retention and culture change.
Second, there are possible civil-military implications of any growing “ownership” of domestic emergency response by the military, if this is increasingly becoming a mainline duty.
Third, these developments may disincentivize provincial governments from investing in their own specific emergency services capabilities and lead to growing societal expectations for military assistance in every domestic emergency, thus transforming perceptions of the military as a frontline service rather than a force of last resort to be used after civilian agencies have been exhausted or overwhelmed.
If the military, however, is mandated to continue and possibly fully prioritize these requests, and to prepare to support the expected growth in demand for these requests in the future, serious examination of how best to structure and resource the organization so it can do so sustainably is required.
Such an examination should explore four key areas.
First, it should ask whether a new operational command is required to plan, train, coordinate and oversee the domestic deployment of military assets in these missions.
Second, it should ask whether existing support capabilities, such as health care, logistics and engineering, should be expanded beyond servicing the needs of the military, in order to meet broader emergency response demands.
Third, it should ask whether dedicated units should be constructed, exclusively trained and deployed for these types of missions, allowing other elements of the military to focus on different missions and mandates.
Finally, it should ask whether these units and capabilities should be part of the regular or reserve force, with particular deliberation on duties and the extent to which the latter, as a volunteer service, should be relied upon in this sense.
The question is not whether the Canadian Armed Forces should or should not be involved in domestic emergency response. It has and will always have a role, especially because it possesses unique capabilities, such as search and rescue and strategic lift, which would be difficult to replicate elsewhere.
What is needed, however, is determining the scale and scope of military involvement and its purpose and function as part of a broader whole-of-government effort—indeed, a whole-of-society effort—to adapt to the disruptive realities of climate change on our economy, infrastructure and society, which will will only increase in intensity moving forward.
Such a determination requires public deliberation and clear political direction, rather than letting mission creep to continue being uncritically examined.
Thank you for inviting me. I look forward to your questions.
I do not advocate for a separate military force or dedicated resources specifically for domestic response; however, I do advocate for what people would actually call the “recapitalization” or the “operationalization” of the reserve force.
Right now, as I mentioned in my testimony, business is conducted on a voluntary basis. When there is a call-out, it's basically a determination of who is available and who would like employment. If you look at what happened during the summer of 2020, I believe, during COVID, the military basically came forward and said, “Anybody who wants four to five months of employment over the summer, please step forward, and you will be gainfully employed.”
This was conducted; however, in my professional opinion, I don't feel that this gives the military the latitude to support Canadians to their full extent. I would call for some sort of reanalysis on the terms of service for reservists. For example, right now for reservists, there are three distinct differences between a regular force soldier and a reserve soldier: They cannot be posted, they cannot be deployed and they can choose to leave the military at any time.
I would call not for the same terms of service as a regular force soldier, perhaps, but I would ask us to look into the terms of service for reservists. Perhaps there's some sort of accommodation that could be made there that would allow the government and the Canadian Forces to call on reserves in a little more organized structure.
One of the things we've seen in some of our most significant allies, specifically Australia and the United States, is moving away from having the military hold primary responsibility for responding to disasters. That's a recognition, both of the competing demands that are on those forces but also of the costs.
For 2017-19, the CAF incurred $17.5 million in incremental costs when deploying Operation LENTUS, with the average duration of those deployments being about two weeks. That roughly translates to $80,000 a day in additional costs.
When we look at building out and supporting NGOs, and provincial-municipal organizations, to have hyper-localized trained and equipped volunteer teams across the country, we see a dramatic reduction in time and costs. As an example, I know that Team Rubicon's incident management team and their debris management team costs were $3,000 per day. Overall, that's an order of magnitude reduction in costs.
If we're able to empower NGOs, provide a little bit of funding, and then empower provincial and municipal organizations to take on that role, when we do require the CAF to come in, they are truly that force of last resort.
One of the key things that need to be done—and this dovetails quite nicely with Mr. Fejes' comments—is to build systems in place, so that small businesses aren't penalized when their employees want to volunteer. We need to build systems in place, so that employees aren't penalized, when they want to volunteer to help Canadians.
As has been done in some of the provinces, employers can get tax breaks, or access to funding, to allow their reservists to go and deploy overseas, or deploy on disaster response operations. If we could put a similar mechanism in place, when Canadians want to volunteer their time to support fellow Canadians, that will dramatically reduce the costs associated with deploying people to support disasters, and increase that local knowledge and participation to reinforce, rebuild and support communities at the local level.
I think you're absolutely on point. Competent disaster response teams cannot be created after the disaster occurs. We need to build a national structure in which we're standardizing training, we're standardizing capabilities and we're standardizing the modality through which organizations and volunteers deploy.
If we look at the current structure, Public Safety Canada provides guidance to the provinces, and coordination, and then they develop their own individual capabilities. If we were to nest a deployment coordination group within the GOC, or within Public Safety Canada specifically, that would then alleviate the strain on the CAF to be able to hold a resource and manage a resource that they don't own or control and quite often have friction with, based on historical precedence. By leveraging organizations like the Red Cross, Team Rubicon and others, and bringing them together under an umbrella like an NGO consortium that works as auxiliary to government with Public Safety Canada, we're then able to identify what capabilities certain organizations bring to the table and what their ability to respond is, whether that be timelines or whether that be mobility requirements, which could then be supported through CAF strategic airlift or through rotary-wing airlift, as required. Those are the kinds of things the CAF could do and the kind of role the CAF could play to be able to enhance what volunteers already do.
If we look to the German system, they have 80,000 volunteers spread across the country in 800 different locations with a single national training centre. Everybody gets coordinated standardized training to be able to go and respond. That is what has been done to alleviate the strain on their military. If you look at Australia, they have a similar system in place. They have different regional and provincial organizations that actually do response. They're entirely volunteer-based, and they've partnered with organizations that leverage the specific skill sets that first responders and military veterans bring to the table and that civilians bring to the table so that we don't have random “person number three” showing up saying that you're now in charge of building inspections to make sure that the building is viable for people to go in and—
Colleagues, we're going to have to suspend at this point. We have 15 minutes. I just want to canvass the witnesses.
If we came back in half an hour, would you still be available? We have this slot until basically six o'clock. If it took us half an hour to go vote and come back, we'd be able to start shortly after five o'clock. That would still give us 45 to 50 minutes, but then we would not to be able to do any committee business. The clerk and I need some direction with respect to future business, and maybe that's it.
A voice: Could we do it on Wednesday?
The Chair: The trouble is that then we're running up to the budget issues.
Again to the witnesses, I apologize for starting late and being interrupted and running late. That's just the way things are in May and June when the government in particular is trying to get its budget passed. There are lots of interruptions with all the starts and finishes. I'll leave it to the clerk to take you out and bring you back. Thank you for your patience.
The meeting is suspended, and we'll see you back here as soon as is practical 10 minutes after the vote is read.
Thank you to the witnesses.
Before we had our pause, we were talking about bringing in the idea of volunteers, whether that's through specifically named NGOs...how we support that and how it would work out. My concern in that conversation is we're dealing with very stressful situations and moments of crisis, and they can spin out of control very quickly. Before, we were talking about how we figure out that very specific strategy of who has control, who manages that, who takes over at what time and how we delve into that.
Another thing that was said was about those who can fill sandbags and help with flood mitigation or what have you. Maybe that is something that volunteers could do, but the evacuation of a city is very different. I would even argue that.... When we sent our troops into long-term care facilities, some of them contracted COVID, and we don't know the long-term impacts of that and what's required.
Ideally, everybody remains safe, but what would the government's management role be in all of that if something should occur? What are the backups or the procedures that need to be put in place if something like that were to move forward and something truly bad happened to volunteers who aren't necessarily fully trained, like a member of the armed forces?
That's for all of the witnesses.
Thank you, Ms. Mathyssen.
If I can just touch on Madam Normandin's question from before the break, I think it dovetails quite nicely.
Having personally helped draft requests for federal assistance in 2016, we shifted the emphasis of those letters from requesting specific CAF assets to requesting desired effects. Public Safety Canada has a federal capabilities list and it's Public Safety Canada that determines which federal department or agency has the most appropriate assets for achieving whatever that desired effect is. Often that comes from the CAF, but often it doesn't. Given that these desired effects vary, depending on the location and the type of disaster, establishing a dedicated disaster response force within the CAF would necessarily draw on all other elements of the CAF. Therefore, we would only be adding additional bureaucracy and overhead, instead of streamlining it.
As Mr. Fejes pointed out, reservists deploy only when they volunteer to do so. When they do put their hands up, they get paid, which registers an incremental cost to government. This takes us back to the option of enabling our disaster NGO community to do what they do best—what they're purpose-built to do—and respond to disasters and support Canadians.
By establishing provisions to enable employers to grant leave for a week or two, as they do with some reserve deployments, people can then volunteer and we can build a robust and resilient capability that costs orders of magnitude less than establishing new capabilities in the CAF or cannibalizing existing forces. That frees up the CAF to fill their role as the force of last resort.
To the question of who's in charge, it's always the local authority that's in charge. Once a local authority—the municipality, the county or whatever it happens to be—declares that state of emergency, they can then request provincial support. If the province declares either a localized or a provincial state of emergency, they're the organization that would then request federal assistance, whether that's CAF or not.
In a lot of the provisions that are put in place to support volunteers and to enable volunteers who go to support a disaster response, the mechanisms are already there. Just as we ensure that we build out legislation and a framework to enable employers to let their people go and volunteer for a week, we need to extend occupational health and safety legislation, so that we can protect the people who are volunteering.
These are always provincial requests, so they are responsible. The provinces have a big role in this. A lot of what they focus on now is management, which is about the coordination of existing resources, and not so much about developing and building services themselves. That's where we're getting this kind of skip at the local end, and then we have the federal and provincial ends—it depends on different provinces.
There is a bit of a gap there, and some of it has been a function of the increasing reliance on being able to draw on the CAF and other federal resources. Sometimes the provinces pay those back, but again, sometimes they won't have to. The CAF isn't going to go around asking for money from provinces. I think that's a big problem.
There are two things. One, do we just need better coordination with the mechanisms to be able to find the capabilities to bring them together, or do we have to actually build capabilities at all levels with a bit more specialization? I think that's where we're really needed. Two, the coordination piece is super important, but when you get something like the pandemic on top of regular national disasters, there's a stress function that happens, and everyone is asking for help and support.
The trajectory of climate change is that places we didn't think were going to have climate change issues have climate change issues—in communities and things. I think that the B.C. floods completely took the provincial government by surprise. They couldn't believe it. They were basically saying that these were municipal level issues and they should coordinate, but it was clear after one or two days that this was a regional disaster and it needed major capabilities and coordination at all levels.
It's not just about the coordination piece, it's about building up...and specialization. Unfortunately, the CAF is being asked to do a lot of giving of the capability part and relieving some of the provincial responsibilities.
I'll jump in first, please.
When it comes to actually trying to develop niche capabilities in the reserve force, various historical studies have found varying rates of success. Initially, reserve units have been tasked with things like laundry and bath units in support of the regular force, and found atrocious retention rates, whereas conventional infantry units continue to attract and retain reserve recruits. You have to tread very carefully with the idea of creating specialty niche units within the reserves, where again participation is voluntary or at least currently voluntary.
The demands that are placed on primary reserve members are so wide and vary so greatly. Instead of actually trying to develop niche capabilities, which rely again on volunteers who may or may not determine they're going to provide their service or not, my recommendation is that we actually look at broadening the terms of service for the reserves, so that they can be called upon when needed, but that they come with a wide and broad variety of skills.
Additionally, creating domestic response reserve units would mean that they have specialized skills and training, and they would not be able to deploy internationally, when called upon, as well. You want to maintain a broad pool of reservists, and you want to be able to call on those broad pools of reservists decisively when crisis happens.
I just want to say quickly that when we think about reservists, we can think of two broad models. We can think of a strategic reserve. They do the same thing as a regular force, but we just augment them either in time of war or when needed. When we were in Afghanistan in the mid-2000s, 30% of the combat battalion there were reservists. They were vital. You can have functional reservists that do different things from the regular forces. We saw this in the navy. The reservists in the navy had their own ships, the maritime coastal defence vessels, and other types of tasks and duties.
Now we're seeing this kind of movement back towards more strategic reserves. We have a one navy concept, to use the navy as an example, but we still see this idea of trying to do a bit of a dance to try to do both. I think that is kind of strategically misguided. There needs to be a far more reconceptualization of the purpose of the reserves within the military and within communities.
I think reservists are a great way to broaden the appeal of the military. They usually are some of the most diverse. They're usually in urban centres. A lot of major military bases aren't in urban centres anymore. The regular force is kind of a bit distant from Canadians, whereas reservists have a bit more of a direct connection.
I think there are no more full-time reservists. The reservists are supposed to be part time, which gets to the problem that we need legislated pay for quick call-ups. Rather than doing things like,“In three months we're going to deploy you for two months,” it would be, “In a week, we need you for six months.” How do we action that with major industry and other businesses?
Also, reservists deserve credit. They need medals and recognition for service. The military has an expeditionary-oriented view that service and value are largely based on international deployments. I can tell you it's way harder to go to the Canadian Arctic than it is to go to Afghanistan, and I think there should be recognition of that.
Another thing I'll say is the reservists have brought in interesting recruiting mechanisms to try to bring in more people quickly. What's happened is the retention at mid-level reservists has dramatically decreased. There's a huge issue about how to train and retain these people. They can't get their training done, because we just don't have mid-level reservists to do it. It's a huge challenge in the reserves. It probably needs a complete full rethink, in my opinion.
Thank you very much, Chair, and thank you to our witnesses for being here.
I just want to bring this full circle back to why we exist as a committee. It's about national defence. I have a couple of quotes from Lieutenant-General Eyre. He was the Canadian army commander at the time and now he's the CDS.
In 2020, Lieutenant-General Eyre said:
If we become focused on solely humanitarian-assistance, disaster response, when the country really needs us, when the stakes are very high and we have to fight and we’re not ready, that’s going to cause casualties and it’s going to cost loss of national interest
In October 2021, he said:
...involvement in domestic operations reduced the resources available to confront challenges and threats to world security, which continue to increase.
Mr. Bowen, I have some questions directed to you.
You have mentioned, and I would agree with you, that we need to re-examine how we deploy and how we deal with natural disaster-related events in our country. If that's the case, you prefer, according to your testimony, more of a reserve force or something along those lines.
What composition of regular force and reserve force personnel is needed to ensure effective response to what National Defence, CAF, should be doing, and what our reserve force could be doing with regard to natural disasters?
My big thing that comes from this is that it's the Canadian government and the Canadian people who decide what their military is for, and I think that members in uniform and generals can talk about competing priorities, and what they're doing is bringing up an issue by saying that they're having issues doing all of this, that they think it's going to be increasingly difficult and that they want a political solution.
I think there will be some who say that the military is about combat, it's about deploying overseas and it's about warfare. I think a military is whatever a government wants it to be and what the public wants it to be. I think we need to start thinking about it as political direction rather than letting, again, this mission creep.
My own feeling is, as I said, there is lots of expertise out there that my colleagues have talked about. I think the CAF has a really big role to play, and I think there's a way we can carve it down into something that's more feasible and doable in a better intricate web of organizations. I worry about this idea of super-CAF, the Swiss army knife of CAF, that can be deployed in everything and anything. I think that has huge problems for member retention, to be quite honest, for training and for misallocation of resources.
Again, I think we need to talk about this politically and not so much about this being a technical solution as to how do we build out this thing or that thing. We need a bit more of a political conversation about what we want the military to do and what it's for.
My big thing, I think, is that when you look at the mandates of the CAF you see there are about eight of them, and a lot of them are domestic like search and rescue, guarding coastlines, NORAD. Then, domestic emergency response is a very specific one. However, there's no parallel about, okay, this is the mandate and we're going to generate these forces, and we need to have this many navy ships, this many soldiers.
It leads to this vagueness that there's no corollary about what the military does have to build in terms of forces generated to do domestic emergency response. I think that there, combined with this societal growing expectation that the military is going to be called in to respond every time there's a domestic emergency, it's really draining the organization a little bit. I think it's creating confusion.
There's a big debate about what a military is and isn't. I think the generals and others are talking about the need to have this political decision, and I think it does start from the top. We have to more clearly define what we want our military to do, what we want to focus on, what we want to build.
Do we have health care capacity, just a service in military, or do we decide, you know what, we're actually going to build up health care capacity in the military to service domestic emergency response?
We have an example of the DART, the disaster assistance response team, which is an expeditionary overseas capability. Do we want to build a domestic DART or something in the military?
I just think this has to get beyond the confines of DND and become more political and public as we enter the engagement about the defence review.
First, I would say that the provinces are very different. They all face different challenges and some have dealt with them very differently. Newfoundland got rid of their emergency management organization and don't have anything. Then you have B.C. B.C. is a very interesting case. They've been worried about earthquakes for a long time and they've been building up earthquake management. Then, all of a sudden, they had the floods and fires last year, which really came as a shock.
Building on my colleagues' points, I think the best way of doing it is locally. I think we're missing that middle piece, which is the provinces. The provinces can do more in terms of coordinating, funding and guiding that pooling of resources.
The difficulty the CAF faces is that it usually goes to the CAF when it gets to the federal level, but those requests are based on the ground. We've already seen, during COVID, some requests that seemed very pitiful when they were answered. We only sent a couple of rangers, for example, to an indigenous community that was entirely under lockdown because of COVID. There was some blowback, but.... What information was it based upon? It was based upon the local and provincial request, because that's the way this works. It always goes to the provinces and then up, so I think the province is the level....
We have to figure out ways the federal government can help support funding and training at the provincial level to further enable those municipal lines. My sense is that, again, the reliance on the CAF is taking away from that.
Mr. Fejes, you made a comment earlier in response to a question that was asked. I don't remember which of my colleagues asked it. It was whether volunteers can actually do the job that is expected sometimes of emergency management people.
I'm a duty director graduate from the Emergency Preparedness College here in Ottawa. I've been on a number of disasters in our community. I can tell you from experience that some of our best people were volunteering for those positions and did an admirable job.
I think all of you, to some degree, would certainly agree that having a civilian response at the municipal level and then the level of the province, supported by the feds as far as funding and training, might be the model we need to go to moving forward.
I want to go back to Mr. Bowen because he's closest to home for me. With one minute left, I'm asking my ideal world question again.
You want to make this happen. You articulated a plan today. What are the first two or three things we have to do to make that happen from the federal level to push it back to the provinces and municipalities?