Ministerial Question Period: Arctic Sovereignty and the Defence Budget

By: The Hon. Clément Gignac

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Hon. Clément Gignac: Welcome, minister, and thank you for your public service as an MP since 2015 and, especially, for your 39 years of service in the Toronto Police Service.

As has already been mentioned, in June, the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence tabled a report on Arctic security, which set out 23 recommendations. One of them stated, and I quote:

That the Government of Canada include, in its next defence policy, a section on underwater domain awareness and underwater threats.

That section should also include a plan so that the government can quickly replace Canada’s existing Victoria-class submarines with submarines that would work better in the Arctic.

Minister, have you read this report? More importantly, do you intend to follow up on this recommendation to ensure Arctic sovereignty?

Hon. Bill Blair, P.C., M.P., Minister of National Defence: Thank you very much, Senator Gignac. In addition to your recommendation, I’ve had an extensive conversation with Vice-Admiral Topshee about the important role the Royal Canadian Navy has in maintaining security and sovereignty in our Arctic. He has told me that the current fleet of Victoria-class submarines is not entirely fit for purpose, and he’s made it very clear about the need to make significant new investments in ensuring that we have an underwater fleet that is capable of persistence so that they can stay in the region long enough; capable of stealth so that they can operate effectively; and capable of lethality so that they can take whatever action may be necessary to protect Canada’s interest in that area. I assure you that is a serious consideration for our government, and in the development of the defence policy update with respect to future requirements for the Royal Canadian Navy — ensuring our people have the platforms they need.

We’re involved in other discussions, particularly with our allies, because it’s more than just the boat — more than just the platform — as it’s also the important investment in equipment and technology that we place on board those vessels in order to support the important, essential work of the Royal Canadian Navy.

Hon. Clément Gignac: The Treasury Board wants to cut roughly $1 billion from your budget, prompting General Wayne Eyre to say, and I quote, “There’s no way that you can take almost a billion dollars out of the defence budget and not have an impact . . . .”

My question is this: Don’t you think that this decision affects the morale of the Canadian Armed Forces and, especially, that it gives the impression that adding new social programs, as called for by the NDP, is a higher priority for the government than ensuring Canada’s Arctic sovereignty and meeting our NATO commitments?

Hon. Bill Blair, P.C., M.P., Minister of National Defence: The letter we received from the Treasury Board clearly indicated there was to be no impact on Canadian Armed Forces’ capabilities, or to the support that we provide to military families. One of the things that I have directed is looking at our administrative processes — the professional services that we contract for, executive travel and such things as consultation reports. I think it is incumbent upon every department of government to make sure that they’re spending Canadian taxpayers’ dollars well, and that they are as efficient as possible. I’ve also been discussing investments that we can make in efficiency and savings with the Department of National Defence.

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