Harjit Sajjan announces a new defence policy: Full speech

The defence minister pledges to better support troops and veterans, re-equip the military, and play a leadership role in NATO
Canada’s Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan arrives to speak to journalists on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, May 1, 2017. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan delivered this speech on June 7 after releasing a new defence policy for Canada.

It is my honour, on behalf of the Government of Canada, to release Strong, Secure, Engaged—Canada’s Defence Policy.

The women and men who wear the uniform of the Canadian Armed Forces are at the heart of this policy. It’s about them.

Canada has asked a lot from our troops time and again in recent years. And they deliver every time.

And yet, governments have not invested adequately and predictably in their equipment, in their care and their well-being.

In an increasingly unpredictable world, we will continue to rely on them in the years ahead. It’s time for government to hold up its end of the bargain. And our government will.

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Strong, Secure, Engaged places an unprecedented focus on ensuring our people and their families are well-supported.

It starts from the moment they join the forces, right through to that crucial time of transition when they conclude their military careers and take off the uniform.

We will invest in a more comprehensive approach to care, known as “Total Health and Wellness” that focuses on preventative physical and mental health, tailored to the needs of individuals.

A new Canadian Armed Forces Transition Group will reinvent how we manage transition. This new Group will work seamlessly with Veterans Affairs so that no member will leave the Forces until all the benefits and services they require are in place.

Providing all the care that serving members and their families require is not only our fundamental obligation to those who serve. It is necessary for Canada’s security.

The continued operational excellence of our military also requires that it reflect Canada in all its diversity, that it be inclusive, and that it provide at all times and all ranks a respectful environment for women.

We commit to reaching 25 percent women by 2026, keeping us in the forefront among our peers.

We will go further than ever to demonstrate our nation’s gratitude to those who serve. When a loved one deploys overseas, military families sacrifice greatly.

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One way we will recognize that sacrifice is to exempt from federal income tax the salaries of all Canadian Armed Forces personnel deployed on all named international operations, up to the pay level of Lieutenant Colonel.

Key to treating our people well, is making sure we have enough of them. We will expand the Regular Force by 3500 personnel and the Reserve Force by 1500, to a ceiling of 71,500 and 30,000 respectively.

We need to level with Canadians about what it really costs to care for our people, and equip them. That’s what our government is doing today.

But that requires a lot more than tough talk and posturing. Rhetoric about being stronger on defence than political opponents should be put aside. It never did anything for a single soldier, and it never will.

Today, we set a new course.

Reversing a pattern of decline, this new policy will see annual cash funding for Defence increase by more than 70 percent in 10 years.

It will grow from 18.9 billion dollars in 2016-17 to 32.7 billion dollars in 2026-27.

This does not include the costs of future major operations or NORAD modernization, which I’ll touch on later.

Strong, Secure, Engaged is the most rigorously costed, fully and transparently funded defence policy ever produced in Canada.

For the first time, National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces will have a 20-year funding commitment. It’s laid out in black and white today.

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This transparency will enable long-term planning and effective management of public funds, more than ever before.

We are also simplifying the structure of the Defence budget, so that Parliament and the Canadian public will be better able to hold governments accountable for defence spending in the years ahead.

I have been blunt about how years of under-investment have left our military in a financial hole.

Strong, Secure, Engaged is the plan to emerge from that hole, and build an even stronger Canadian Armed Forces, investing and operating sustainably over the next two decades.

Strong, Secure, Engaged will recapitalize the Royal Canadian Air Force, with a full fleet of 88 advanced fighter jets to replace the aging CF-18s. This should have been done years ago.

The previous government planned to purchase just 65 fighters, but didn’t actually purchase any, and didn’t budget adequately even for that inadequate fleet. 88 fighters are required to fully meet our NORAD and NATO obligations simultaneously, not just risk manage them, as the RCAF has had to do for a number of years.

This plan fully funds, for the first time, the Royal Canadian Navy’s full complement of 15 Canadian Surface Combatant ships necessary to replace the existing frigates and retired destroyers. Fifteen. Not “up to” 15 and not 12. And definitely not six, which is the number the previous government’s plan would have paid for, as the Parliamentary Budget Officer reported last week.

Strong, Secure, Engaged will also recapitalize much of the Canadian Army’s land combat capabilities and aging vehicle fleets.

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We will modernize its command and control systems and expand its light forces capability which will allow greater agility in complex operational theatres, from conventional to peace operations.

We will increase our Special Forces personnel and invest in new equipment for them.

Much of this investment is long overdue. It is necessary to address current and looming gaps in existing capabilities.

Going beyond that, Strong, Secure, Engaged makes new commitments to emerging domains, particularly space, cyber and remotely piloted systems.

This policy direction and investment will be essential to protect Canada and Canadian interests and sovereignty, to maintain technological advantage over potential adversaries, and interoperability with allies in the coming decades as technology continues to evolve rapidly.

Change is a fact of life. Technology and the changing nature of conflict itself have fundamentally altered the landscape on which we operate. That rapid change will continue, so we must be more agile than in the past.

This is especially true in peacekeeping, a central priority for Canada. Modern peacekeeping today requires well-armed and trained troops operating in complex zones of armed conflict, where populations are at risk.

I’d like to take a moment on the way we developed this policy, and the vision that has emerged.

Our government did not set out on the Defence Policy Review with a dollar figure or a GDP percentage in mind. We did it quite differently.

We started with the most open and comprehensive consultation exercise ever undertaken in Defence.

Canadians submitted more than 20,000 entries online and participated in townhalls hosted by Members of Parliament from all parties.

Experts and stakeholders provided their perspectives in roundtables across the country, while House of Commons and Senate committees tabled insightful reports.

And of course we consulted our allies throughout the process.

That engagement exercise informed an analysis of our world, our continent and our domestic environment. It guided us as we determined what this and future governments will need to ask of the armed forces.

Based on that, we established the equipment and skills the women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces will need to carry out their mission effectively and as safely as possible.

Those capabilities were subjected to the most rigorous costing analysis, expert third party review and inter-agency scrutiny across government that any Canadian defence policy has ever undergone.

The result is a new vision for the Canadian Armed Forces: it’s about the Forces’ contribution to a Canada that is strong at home, secure in North America and engaged in the world.

This is the right vision because today the threats we face are seldom purely domestic or purely foreign. Terrorism and cyber-attacks, for example, have little regard for borders.

So, we cannot be strong at home unless we are engaged in the world. And being secure in North America is essential to both our confidence at home and our effectiveness abroad.

Strong at home means Canada’s sovereignty is well-defended. We will enhance coastal surveillance, our presence in the Arctic and our ability to operate there.

Strong at home also means the Forces are ready and able to assist Canadians in times of natural disaster and other emergencies, and search and rescue. We’ll have a larger and better trained Reserve Force present in communities across the country.

Secure in North America means we are active players in a modern, continental defence partnership in NORAD, with the United States.

This bi-national command is unique in the world and it has served us well for nearly 60 years. But the threats to our continent have evolved and NORAD must evolve to stay ahead.

We will enter discussions with our U.S. counterparts on NORAD modernization. That will include replacing the North Warning System with new technology. And it will include an all-perils approach to protecting against the full range of threats including air, maritime and underwater.

Engaged in the world means the Canadian Armed Forces are well-equipped to play their part in Canada’s contributions to a more stable, peaceful world, including through peace support operations.

Canada’s engagement in the world requires us to be a strong player in our multilateral alliances

NATO remains essential, in the face of renewed Russian aggression, and the rise of violent extremism. Our government has returned Canada to a leadership role in NATO. We will sustain that role.

Today, we are on the ground in Iraq making a substantial contribution to the defeat of Daesh. That’s the direct and immediate threat. But looking longer term, we will also work with our allies to prevent violent extremists from putting down roots in unstable regions where they seek to go next.

Together with our allies and partners, we will contribute to more effective conflict prevention and containment.

As the Minister of Foreign Affairs said eloquently in the House of Commons yesterday, this is a time when Canada must be engaged in the world.

We have much to offer the cause of global peace, stability and prosperity. Doing our part is the right thing to do, and it is in our own interest.

For our military, doing our part spans support for diplomacy, development, humanitarian aid and disaster relief, capacity building and peace operations.

It includes steadfast support for human rights and progressive values, including gender equality. When necessary as a last resort, it includes the use of force, together with allies and partners, and in accordance with international law.

The Canadian Armed Forces are an indispensable instrument of Canada’s foreign policy. If we’re serious about our role in the world, we must be serious about funding our military. And indeed we are.

To conclude, I’d like to thank everyone who contributed to the Defence Policy Review. Canadians are rightly proud of their Armed Forces, so it is fitting that we engaged the public thoroughly, and that we present this new policy first to Canadians.

I’d particularly like to thank the Minister’s Advisory Panel—Bill Graham, Louise Arbour, Margaret Purdy and Ray Henault. They worked tirelessly on the analysis with the Department and as a sounding board for me. They added much depth to the result you see today.

This is a Government of Canada policy, and I’d like to thank my cabinet colleagues, especially the Minister of Finance, Bill Morneau whose tough decisions and understanding of the role of the Forces have obviously been instrumental.

I’m grateful to the Prime Minister for entrusting me with this role and the mandate to undertake a comprehensive review of defence policy. His leadership, his profound respect for the service and sacrifice of our troops, and his vision for Canada’s role in the world can be seen in every chapter of this policy.

I’d also like to compliment the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance, and the Deputy Minister of National Defence, John Forster, and their teams for this unprecedented undertaking.

Their work is a credit to the Public Service and to the Canadian military tradition, and I thank them and all those they have led in the Defence Policy Review.

Most of all, I’d like to thank the women and men of the Canadian Armed forces.

The goal of this policy is to better serve you, so you can better serve Canada. Your service to this nation is an inspiration. You have a solemn commitment from your leadership—military, civilian and government—to implement these policies and investments faithfully and vigorously in the years ahead.