Canada needs to spend more on the right things when it comes to defence, minister says

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Canada’s Armed Forces is facing some major challenges a report released last week by the Department of Defense says the forces can’t deploy multiple operations at the same time in part because of ongoing recruitment issues aging equipment and planned spending cuts the minister of National Defense Bill Blair spent uh the past number of

Days at the Halifax security Forum with counterparts and allies from around the world I caught up with him from there on Friday Minister Blair nice to see you thanks for being here of course good morning Rosemary you said in your speech in uh Halifax on Friday that Investments

Are needed in uh in your department and quote we need resources to put behind our aspirations what what does that mean concretely Minister Blair we we have obligations we have obligations to our our our to our NATO Partners we have obligations on the continent to the United States through

NORAD we’ve we’ve assumed new responsibilities in the Indo Pacific and and and we’ve we’ve told our our allies uh that we’ll be there and and I’ve got to make sure that we provide the Canadian Armed Forces with the resources the capabilities the platforms that they need and the people that they need to

Live up to those aspirations and so I I was simply acknowledging to the room that we’ve got a lot of work to do and and and we’ve got to you know first of all have the the funding that we need in order to make those Investments but we’ve also got to improve our

Procurement processes to get the job done in a timely way because the need quite frankly is is rather urgent the the first federal spending review is you know has been released about a week back and the Department of National Defense um they account for about 42% of the

Total Cuts made in that batch so more than $2 M10 million how does that um make sense with what you’ve just said that you need to spend more but you’ve already had to make a significant cut yeah no can be really clear though we need to spend more on the right

Things we need to spend more on on Munitions we need to spend more on on Military platforms planes submarines and ships we need to spend more on the equipment the resources and the training that the Canadian Armed Forces needs and at the same time we’re spending public

Dollars and so it is incumbent upon us to make sure that our processes are efficient and and so we’re looking at money that we’re spending on Consultants spending money spent on Professional Services some of which are essential but not all of which are and even on such

Things as executive travel and and I think it’s important in every bureaucracy including in the Department of National Defense to look carefully at how we’re spending people’s money so that because every dollar spent is an investment in public value I want to make sure we’re getting the best value

For those Canadian dollars being spent the the chief of the defense staff uh was talking to us on Remembrance Day last week and he obviously acknowledged many of the things that you did in your speech to the multiple security threats around the world and and sort of how we

Deal with them but he also said this that the study of our military history could almost be considered a study in underpreparedness and and that’s not the first time he said something like that as you know Minister how are you addressing those concerns because I I

Hear you saying all the things that you said today and you’ve said before but how are you addressing things for the chief of the defense staff who is very concerned about preparedness well frankly it’s a con it’s a concern that I share with him and

And we both have a job to do we both have a responsibility to make sure that the Canadian Armed Forces is prepared to respond appropriately and to do what we are obliged to do under our our NATO and NORAD commitments and in the defense of our own country it’s the chief of

Defense’s job and it’s my job to work together in order to to make sure that we we we we have the funding necessary and and a lot of that has already been provided in the in the strong uh secure and engaged um defense policy that was

Released even in 2017 it it it did indicate a very strong increase in defense spending almost 70% um over over over an 8-year period and and we’re well Along on that but the the way the changing threat environment in the world with the war in Ukraine with with you

Know Middle East conflict with increasingly concerning activities by China and Russia and other hostile actors it is it is obvious that we need to do more and and that there are there are some new threats that need to be met in cyber and in space in in underwater

Warfare I’ve got my job is to make sure that the Canadian Armed Forces have the tools that they need and part of that is working with the Department of National Defense and the chief of defense and a number of my other partners in government to make sure that those

Procur those procurement processes are effective and efficient and we get the job done I I’m not saying I that I disagree obviously you and the chief the defense staff work closely together but you also have to answer to other things H and one of those things are are fiscal

Restraints and and how the Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister has to guide the rest of the the government’s budget within those constraints we we I think that’s why we saw that initial cut to your point I see that you were trying to um not make it

About some of the key areas but are you expecting to see more of that in the fall economic update have you been given other indications that more of the budget is on the table what what have you said at the cabinet table to say I

Have to keep this because I’m I’m in big trouble here well and rosemary to be very clear I I’m a member of this government we understand you know the the the fiscal situation that the country faces and it’s not just the government it’s Canadians right across the country and

At the same time you know these I I see investments in defense as as just that an investment in public value and we may not be able to go as fast as we might have hoped but we have to continue to move forward and a big part of that for

Me as well is I’ve got to be able to provide to Canadian industry the certainty and the clarity of the direction that the Canadian government the Canadian Armed Forces is going in because I need them to start making investments in new Supply chains and new production lines so that we can get we

Can Source the equipment that the Canadian Armed Forces needs right here in Canada it creates Canadian jobs it creates prosperity and and so it it really is you know I I think there are real benefits that to be realized by making Investments but but the job is to

Make sure that we do it smart and that we do it carefully we’re spending you know know limited public dollars and I and my job working with my my my colleagues in cabinet is to make sure that every one of those dollars we spend we actually produce something of value

For Canadians the the department as you know has tabled its results report for the year and one of the things it said in very small print at the bottom of a page was that the armed forces were currently unable to conduct multiple operations concurrently uh as the

Defense policy of 2017 is laid out so I guess my first question is is is are the Canadian Armed Forces failing to meet the goals of that 2017 defense policy and will the new policy better reflect what we’re actually capable of doing yeah and rosemary let me be very

Very clear we are really challenged in meeting some of those defense requirements um in this country but one of the challenges is the regular forces are are short 9,000 people our reserves are also significant short of personnel as well a lot of a lot of our current

Platforms the the Halifax class uh frots that our our Navy sales some of the planes that we have in the sky are aging out of service and and so we’ve got to make an investment in in replacing those things and I think for me the most

Important thing is the men and women who serve we’ve got to be able to do a better job of recruiting and retaining those people training them to to perform those missions we ask a lot of the Canadian Armed Forces we’ve made significant commitments to to to Nato

And to NORAD and and we call upon the Canadian Armed Forces frequently I know that they are challenged I have a responsibility to make sure that they have the resources and the people that they need to do the jobs that we ask them to do okay but Ju Just to end on

This because I think it’s important if the defense policy is not meeting the goals it laid out in 2017 when will the new policy come and will it will it lay out clearer goals that are actually able to be met yes ma’am and and and let me be C

Clear in in in the budget 2022 we said that we’re going to bring forward a a a new defense policy update we’ve been working through that the the current fiscal environment that the country faces itself does require that that that defense policy update you know recognize the the the fiscal challenges and so

It’ll be it’ll be part of you know our future budget processes I understand there’s an urgency to it I’ve spoken to Industry they need that Clarity so does the Canadian Armed Forces and Canadians expect that from us and we’re working very hard to do it we want to do it

Right and we want to do it in in a way which is responsible to to the challenges that all Canadians are facing with with issues around affordability and at the same time we want to make sure that the Canadian Armed Forces get the people the tools the equipment

Platforms that they need and we’ve got an obligation as well internationally to our allies and and Canada has to do its part and we’re absolutely committed to doing that Minister Blair we’ll leave it there thank you sir thank you very much Ros

Rosemary Barton speaks with Minister of Defence Bill Blair from the Halifax International Security Forum about the preparedness of Canada’s Armed Forces amid global conflict and whether he anticipates cuts to the Department of National Defence in the upcoming fall economic statement.

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