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OTTAWA, Monday, November 27, 2023

The Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations met with videoconference this day at 11:04 a.m. [ET] to consider the review of Statutory Instruments; and, pursuant to rule 12-16(3), the committee determined to meet in camera.

Mr. Dan Albas and Senator Yuen Pau Woo (Joint Chairs) in the chair.


The Joint Chair (Mr. Albas): Good morning, members of the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations.

Just before we get into the meeting, there are some quick notes. First, we have some business that will be at the end of the committee to discuss whether we’ll be electing a vice chair from the Liberal side or not. We also have a few new members. I would like to welcome MP Lattanzio and MP Louis. Welcome to the committee. We also have some other MPs who are substituting in for various other members. Welcome. We’re looking forward to getting started right away.


(For text of documents, see Appendix A, p. 14A:1.)

The Joint Chair (Mr. Albas): We have before us the Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of National Defence. Minister, it is great to have you here today. I will let you introduce your officials from the Department of National Defence and from the Canadian Armed Forces. We will start with a five-minute opening statement from the minister. Then we’ll talk about the terms of how we’re going to conduct today’s hearings.

We’ll start with you, minister.

Hon. Bill Blair, P.C., M.P., Minister of National Defence, Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, senators, members of Parliament and colleagues. I want to begin by thanking you for the invitation to appear before you today. This is my first appearance before the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations. It provides me with an opportunity to update you on the progress being made toward amending the 11 provisions of the Canadian Forces Superannuation Regulations, or CFSR.

I’m joined today by Deputy Minister Bill Matthews; Acting Commander of Military Personnel Command Lieutenant-General Lise Bourgon; and Deputy Judge Advocate General for Administrative Law Colonel Ian Davidson. I am particularly pleased and grateful to be joined by my colleagues today. This is a matter of some particularity, and I will rely upon them to provide expert advice on the matters before you.

I recognize that the particular amendments we are discussing today have been a very long time in coming. It’s true that the regulations have undergone some significant changes, including the introduction of the Reserve Force Pension Plan. However, at the time that was done, we only had the authority, I’m led to believe, to update those specific sections. DND and the CAF have subsequently been working hard to expedite the 11 remaining amendments of concern. That’s why they’ve been bundled with an existing regulatory project that is in its final stages. It was felt that this would be the fastest way to finally resolve the many long-standing issues. Since then, they have been working closely with the Legislative Services Branch at Justice Canada to bring these changes to fruition.

I’m pleased to report that they are well on track to complete drafting by the end of the year, as Lieutenant-General Bourgon relayed when she last updated you when she was before this committee in July.

The final regulatory package will then enter approvals with our partners in the Department of Justice and at Treasury Board, and will ultimately be approved by the Governor-in-Council. We expect the updates to come into force in 2024.

As you know, the 11 amendments identified by this committee involved inconsistencies between English and French provisions related to the Optional Survivor Benefit, or OSB. The OSB came into effect in 1992 to give eligible retired CAF members who marry after the age of 60 the option to reduce their pension to entitle their spouse to a corresponding survivor benefit.

I’d like to emphasize that the 11 amendments of concern deal mainly with the translation discrepancies around the administrative requirements under the OSB provisions. They do not, and have not affected the application of the section of the regulation nor the provision of related benefits and services.

Committee members, we know we can never really fully repay the debt we owe to those who are willing to accept unlimited liability in the pursuit of peace and prosperity for their nation and for its people. As the Minister of National Defence, I want to assure you that I’m deeply committed to ensuring that CAF members are fairly compensated for their essential work and supported at every stage of their service journey and beyond.

I know this government feels the same. The Optional Survivor Benefit offers flexibility to veterans who marry after the age of 60, and in 2019, we committed $150 million over five years toward a Veterans Survivor Fund that further supports those veterans and their spouses. We also ensure members understand their pension plan by providing a broad range of free financial services and advice throughout their careers, including through retirement. We want current and former members of the Canadian Armed Forces to have peace of mind, knowing they can continue providing for their partners after they have passed. We also want Canadians to know that our support for our people continues long after they have retired from their uniform and from service.

Thank you again for your diligence in keeping the government accountable and on track with respect to these important matters. I welcome your questions.

The Joint Chair (Mr. Albas): Thank you, minister. I appreciate the short introduction. That leaves a little bit more time for members, as they wish. I would ask members of the committee to raise your hand, whether it be online or whatnot; I’ll do my best. My co-chair, Senator Woo, will elbow me if I’m missing someone. What we’d like to do is to have someone ask two or three questions. We will then move on to the next person. If you have further questions, raise your hand again so that everyone gets a chance. This is a very large committee.

Ms. Blaney: Thank you to the minister and to the folks who are with you here today. This is an issue particularly dear to my heart.

One of the questions I have for you is about the $150 million that you were talking about, which was announced in the 2019 budget. My understanding is that the only money that has been spent of that $150 million was towards research. There has actually not yet been a process to make sure that survivors are receiving some of those benefits. So it’s interesting to me that you say $150 million over five years. We’re in 2023, and none of that money has moved toward survivors, which, as you know, are largely elderly women who are often in very dire straits financially because of the lack of the survivor’s pension. Could you talk about that what your government plans to do and if there is a plan to extend that?

The other question that I have for you is about the Optional Survivor Benefit. I understand that there have been some changes made to that. I personally know the uptake is extremely low in that program, and a lot of veterans have shared with me that if they were to use the OSB, it would mean that they would currently be living in poverty and would then just leave their partner still in poverty when they leave. So it’s a hard decision and has a low pick-up rate. I’m wondering what changes are being made, why those changes are being made and what research they are based on.

Mr. Blair: Thank you very much, Ms. Blaney. First of all, with respect to the uptake of the OSB, I can advise that it varies from month to month, but it has averaged between 140 to 150 out of 120,000 annuitants. So I think the numbers are, proportionally, fairly low for people that are impacted.

As you mentioned, we committed $150 million over five years towards a veteran’s survivor fund that supports those veterans and their spouses. That’s administered primarily — as I understand it — through Veterans Affairs Canada. I don’t have the particulars, but if I may, I will turn to Lieutenant-General Bourgon to provide more particularity.

Lieutenant-General Lise Bourgon, Commander, Military Personnel Command, Department of National Defence: With regard to the $150 million, that is a Veterans Affairs Canada responsibility, so we don’t have that information in the CAF or DND.

On the changes that are being made to the OSB, it is the 11 changes that really apply to the differences between the French and English languages. I believe that was noticed in 1998. So, well done. It is time to do those changes, and they will be done, as the minister said, before the end of 2024.

A good thing, though, is that now the OSB applies to common-law spouses; it did not before. So this is a change that will come into effect with those new GICs because before it was only marriage and not spousal.

The Joint Chair (Mr. Albas): Are there any further questions?

Ms. Blaney: I’m not happy with the answer, as anyone can imagine. Are there any discussions at this level about looking at the survivor’s benefit and changing what is based on the “gold‑digger’s clause,” which is from 1901? You know, people live a lot longer. A lot of people are getting married after 60. I have talked to a lot of women who have married veterans, have been married for 25 years and are losing everything when their partner leaves because there is no survivor benefit after caring for a veteran for those really hard years.

So I’m just wondering if this is something that is being taken seriously, because I certainly hear about it a lot. I would also like to bring this back — of course, I’m coming from a veteran’s perspective — but the reality is that we are having a hard time recruiting people to the military right now. It is a challenge, and I think looking at a lot of things differently is really imperative if we’re going to have a healthy military, which I sincerely believe in. This is one of the things that creates a little bit of concern for people looking at that as a career choice. So are there any conversations?

I hear that you’re expanding the OSB to common-law partners, but at the end of the day, what that means is that veterans are giving up a part of their current income to hopefully support their loved one. If their loved one passes away before them, they lose all that money. I’ve worked with people who have lost over $100,000 because they’ve been putting it away for their spouse since they got married and they lose their spouse first. So it’s really just a system that doesn’t seem to be working. Is there any dedication to those people who served our country to do this right?

Mr. Blair: I’m going to turn to the deputy minister in a moment, but first of all, I would like to point out that amendments to the clause with respect to the OSB not only affect members of the CAF pension plan but also that of the public service and the RCMP. So there are broad-ranging implications involved in amending this act. That also recognizes some of the complexity. The amendment that we’re currently discussing doesn’t address the discrimination against common-law partners, and I think that matter will be addressed in an appropriate way, but I’ll turn to the deputy minister.

Bill Matthews, Deputy Minister, Department of National Defence: I will make two quick points. The minister touched on the linkages to the broader public service pension plan and other plans. There were, as I assume everyone on this committee knows, committee reports on this issue of marriage after 60 as well as the government response. I think both did a good job of articulating the issues, the linkages to other pension plans and what is common practice in terms of these types of clauses. The other point I would like to mention is that we do have some work on the books going forward looking at plans to look at compensation regime for military members. Early days, though — I would be cautious about drawing a link to pension and recruitments. What we find in general right now with the younger generation is they’re not as preoccupied as maybe some people my age were about pension plans when they join up. So it’s not necessarily on the top of their minds. But we have a lot of work to do in terms of the broader compensation regime and what that might look like going forward.

LGen. Bourgon: It’s about the language we are using, and we have to be very careful when say the words, “gold-digging clause.” I beg this committee to stop using it. When we’re looking at cultural change, words that we use matter, and when we keep repeating that, it’s pejorative and insulting. So I would prefer that we not use that word any more, and just use the term “OSB;” I would be very grateful.

Now, when we look at all the pension plans in Canada, none of them are as supportive as what we have right now. The OSB goes above and beyond what all of you will be collecting in your pension. We are providing opportunities for our members who are retiring quite young until they reach the age of 60 to be able to count their spouse, and at the point of 60, it becomes the OSB that applies, and it is a form of insurance, but this is much better than what most pension plans offer in Canada. I know I was very adamant when I was here last time to look at this not in a negative way but in a positive way: that we’re providing benefits to CAF members who have served and veterans, which is not available to other pension plans in Canada. But language does matter, and I would beg you not to use this term because it’s pejorative. Thank you.

The Joint Chair (Mr. Albas): Thank you, MP Blaney.

Mr. Davidson: Good morning, minister, and may I say “Merry Christmas” to everyone just so that I don’t forget.

Mr. Blair: Actually, the Santa Claus parade was in Toronto yesterday, so it is now time to say, “Merry Christmas.”

Mr. Davidson: We know, minister, you are appearing here because after eight years, REGS is seeking disallowance for an improper regulation that has not been corrected. Bill S-6 is your government’s only regulatory reform bill. After eight years, that was introduced in the last Parliament, and it only addresses 29 regulations and does practically nothing to address the burden of red tape facing Canadians.

Bill S-6 has been languishing in the House — as I said, your government’s only regulatory reform bill. I have two questions. First, why weren’t the Superannuation Regulations that we are here discussing today updated in Bill S-6 since that is the only, say, cutting-red-tape bill that we’ve seen from your government? Second, being here today — after eight years — and looking at this, is this an indication that your government doesn’t take cutting red tape seriously?

Mr. Blair: The answer is that is no, sir, but we also believe that as we approach regulations, it should be done in both a thoughtful and an informed way. Since the inconsistency in these regulations was first identified by this committee, I believe that National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces have maintained a high tempo balancing the competing priorities and demands in a shifting geopolitical context. However, the creation of the Reserve Force Pension Plan was a critical priority to ensure that the Reserve Force members receive the support and the pension that they deserve. The work that has gone on in the regulations has been moving forward apace but, again, in a thoughtful and informed way.

I’m fortunate to be joined today by the colonel who is primarily responsible for these discussions with Justice on the regulation. If you have any particular questions about the progress that they’re making as they work toward the introduction of these regulations through Treasury Board for a Governor-in-Council decision in the new year, I would be happy to provide you with any update.

Mr. Davidson: I appreciate that. After eight years, you’ve only on been the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations once, namely, today; and you and I have only had an interaction once. I’d like the questions to be answered by you, if I could, because red tape facing our military right now is an important concern for Canadians. I’ve had lots of Canadians reach out to me.

This spring, it was reported that Canadian Armed Forces personnel stationed in Poland to train Ukrainians were going out of pocket for their meals, causing significant financial hardship for their families. It was reported that the red tape and backlog for reimbursement caused some to go thousands of dollars into debt.

I’m trying to look at a macro approach regarding red tape and the burden it’s having on the military. Can you comment on that? That is just one example where we’ve had an issue like this.

Mr. Blair: First, Mr. Davidson, you mentioned this is my first appearance before the committee. It’s the first time I’ve been invited. Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the kind invitation to join you today.

I think it’s fair to note the complexity of what the Department of National Defence deals with and with deployments all over the world. We have people in various positions and ranks across the country. Some serve in the Regular Force; some serve in reserve. There is a responsibility to do everything we can to provide the appropriate level of support without an overly burdensome administrative burden upon those members. Their support is our number one priority. It’s certainly my number one priority to make sure we do everything we can to increase and improve the capability that they’re able to deliver for this country and for our allied partners around the world. Second, we know we have a responsibility to provide them with supports so that they can focus on doing the important and critical job that we tasked them with without overly being burdened by administration.

One of my observations is that we’re going to have to make significant new investments in digitizing some of those administrative processes. I believe there are opportunities to invest in order to save, but I also want to assure you that we remain absolutely unwaveringly committed to providing these men and women with the support that they need. I think there have been some significant improvements over the past few years on their contract and benefits. I don’t know whether you’ve had the opportunity to do so, but I’ve travelled across the country. I always speak to the men and women in uniform who are doing a critically important job. We talk about some of the challenges that we face. Overcoming those challenges for them is our first priority.

Mr. Davidson: I appreciate that, minister. I was in Dieppe. Last year, I was aboard the HMCS Kingston. The men and women did a wonderful job on the Kingston. They actually polished it down to the bare steel. I was comparing it to the new ship that pulled in front of us belonging to the Poles and the one owned by the Germans, who pulled in behind us in their brand new frigate. I couldn’t help reflect on that.

You’ve justified a $1-billion annual reduction in defence spending for your department as necessary because of too much bureaucracy. You were quoted as saying that significant increases to the defence budget have not led to an increase in military capacity. How can Canadians be assured these cuts will actually reduce red tape in your department and not inhibit the Canadian Forces to defend and protect Canadians and Canadians’ interests abroad?

Mr. Blair: Thank you, Mr. Davidson. This is a terrific question because we always have a responsibility to be careful when spending the public’s money and to make sure that we’re producing real public value for every dollar that they invest of their hard-earned tax money. That is why it is incumbent upon us as a government and me as a minister to look carefully at every expenditure to ensure that we’re actually producing that value. The direction I’ve given to the deputy minister and the Chief of the Defence Staff is that we are going to look carefully at our expenditures for such things as consultant fees, professional services, executive travel and even some of the ways in which we administer the Canadian Armed Forces to see if there are opportunities for savings.

In my experience — and I used to run a small bureaucracy in my time — I always found it useful to go back and look at opportunities for saving and how we’re spending money to ensure we’re producing real value. We can provide assurance to Canadians through transparency. That’s why I have spoken publicly about the need to do this work. We have to be transparent with Canadians. It’s their money we’re spending. They care about the Canadian Armed Forces and National Defence, but we have assured them that every dollar we’re spending is producing real value in the National Defence. That’s our responsibility.

The instruction I’ve given both to the Department of National Defence and to the Canadian Armed Forces is that none of these reductions can impact on the capabilities of the Canadian Armed Forces or the supports and services that we provide to its members. The members are the most important part of getting that job done and I want to make sure that they have the resources they need to do the job. Thank you.

The Joint Chair (Mr. Albas): For the people who are attending virtually, if you raise your hand we can ensure that everyone is included in this meeting.

Mr. Louis: Thank you to everyone for being here. Minister, thanks. I know this is your first time on this committee. It’s also my first time on this committee so I appreciate you being here.

I’m going to start where my colleague left off because you mentioned that the Canadian Armed Forces would need to be properly funded. At the same time, you’ve said that we need to be respectful of public dollars. You said that “. . . we’re spending public dollars, so it’s incumbent on us to make sure that our processes are efficient.”

Your previous role as a police chief required transparency. How would those skills help you to apply that level of transparency, responsibility and duty to both citizens and the Canadian Armed Forces?

Mr. Blair: I don’t want to take up too much time talking about my history on this but I have been responsible for running a small bureaucracy of about 8,000 people and a budget of a bit over $1 billion, but we were spending the public’s hard-earned money. I had the benefit of having worked for a Police Services Board where I had to report every year publicly on every expenditure. We had a large book on our budget. I would go forward and ask for additional resources to provide more policing services to my city in the same way that we often ask the Department of National Defence to provide more services to Canadians. I’ve called upon them to help fight fires and floods and to respond to hurricanes. We also deployed them around the world for NATO and for NORAD in the Indo-Pacific. We ask much of the Canadian Armed Forces. My responsibility, along with my colleagues, is to make sure not only that we provide the members of the Canadian Armed Forces with the tools that they need but also that we provide Canadians with assurances that the investments we make in National Defence are investments that produce the best possible value for their hard earned tax dollars. That is our responsibility.

In my previous experience with a large bureaucracy, I found that over time bureaucracies tend to be risk averse. They add additional processes and procedures to a number of things. Although many of those processes and procedures are critically important, I think it’s always incumbent upon us to go back to look and see if this is the most efficient way to get the job done. The job is supporting the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces and improving their capabilities to provide defence to our country and globally to make sure we fulfill our obligations. It is our job to go in and look at how we can get the job done, at the type of investments we make, at our processes for administration — that is, at our HR processes for recruiting, retention and support of our people — and at how we deal with procurement. All of those processes are necessarily complex, but it is incumbent upon us to go and take a good, hard look to make sure that we’re doing it in the most efficient way possible and that every Canadian tax dollar that we’re spending will produce real value for Canadians.

Mr. Louis: Thank you for that. You mentioned that large organizations like the Canadian Armed Forces would be risk averse, but we are living in a rapidly changing world. We have military situations all over the world and climate crisis. You mentioned some of the things that Canada’s Armed Forces are doing. How can that modernization fit with the balance of running a large organization while at the same time being responsible to citizens?

Mr. Blair: I ground myself in the importance of the men and women who serve, the members of the Canadian Armed Forces and at DND, because we also have a large civilian group who do critically important work for Canadians in the National Defence realm. I look very carefully at the supports we provide to those men and women and also at how effective we are in being able to recruit, retain, train and equip them so that they can serve. That is where the priority has to be.

We are also clearly hearing that there are some very complex and significant investments that have to be made. Mr. Davidson made reference to visiting one of the ships. The Halifax-class frigate, for example, is a very important platform for the Royal Canadian Navy, but they are aging out and becoming expensive to maintain. We now have a new project for the construction and development of a new Canadian surface combatant ship to replace those Halifax frigates. That takes time, but it is also an opportunity. We are working with the Royal Canadian Navy and also with industry, Canadian workers, provinces, territories and communities across this country to develop that shipbuilding strategy that will provide the navy with the platforms they need. I also think it creates a great opportunity for the men and women who serve. They will be working on the best boats, planes and platforms using the best equipment. That’s our commitment. It takes time and dollars, but it is our priority to make sure that we support those men and women and enable them to do the job we ask of them. It is an extraordinary job.

I will come back to your regulations, but that is one of the reasons that the men and women who put up their hands and choose to serve — I don’t think there is a higher calling than public service, and I don’t think there is a higher public service than the choice to protect others and to defend your country. We have to recognize that. It is therefore incumbent upon us that we do the work to provide them in their service with all the supports they need to do that job, and that when they are finished doing that job, we continue to support them.

Mr. Louis: I have one more question. Thank you for your service, as well, Lieutenant-General Bourgon. We want to make sure that the Canadian Armed Forces have the supports they need. We also want to inspire them to be recruited, to be involved. We have used the word “modernization” a few times here already. You mentioned that this will now affect common law and not just marriage. Is that in effect now, and if not, when will that be in effect? What steps would be required on the part of the Canadian Armed Forces themselves?

LGen. Bourgon: Thank you. The change to common law will be in effect when we deliver these 11 modifications to the regulations, so sometime in 2024. We should see that.

When we look at recruitment and retention, it’s a whole-of-government and whole-of-Canada approach on how to get more Canadians to show up to the recruiting centres to serve their country. We need everyone’s effort. In your constituency and your role, if you can sell the CAF and DND — again, it’s a whole-of-government of effort — I would be grateful for that.

The Joint Chair (Mr. Albas): Members, if you wish to have a chance, senators and members of Parliament, please raise your hand.


Mr. Garon: Good morning, minister. Thank you for joining us. Lieutenant-General, it’s always a pleasure. I’ll go straight to the question about regulations.

I understand there’s a lot we can talk about, but I’m interested in the time it takes to make the changes.

Minister, we invited you, you’re here, you’re very transparent with us and we appreciate that. However, the reality — and I’ve already mentioned this to the committee — is that when this file was opened, I didn’t have the right to vote, I was in high school. Since then, I’ve had the time to have a great career, get elected, become a member of Parliament, and we’re still working on the file.

There’s clearly a systemic problem with the inability to move these regulations forward, and it’s independent of political persuasions. Something in the machine is making it difficult for us to deal with this.

We tried to invite your predecessor, and it was difficult. Obviously, you can’t take responsibility for her, but we had trouble getting replies to our messages. We’d go unanswered, we’d invite her and it was difficult.

How do you view the work of this committee? We’re required to send a repudiation, but this committee is very much based on good faith. We send messages, we know you’re busy and we know that the Canadian Armed Forces have important operational responsibilities; we respect all that. However, this is a file that, for the most part, was opened in 1997. I’d like to know how, within your department, you want to change the way you work with the committee.

I’m going to ask you my three questions in quick succession, as I know you have a good memory. My second question concerns official languages. Obviously, the lieutenant-general answered the questions very well last time. When there’s a mismatch between the French and English versions of the statute, the courts interpret it in such a way as not to put anyone at a disadvantage. But there’s something symbolic and important here.

You know, I can’t help being a Bloc Québécois member here; official languages are always fragile. When it’s been 7, 8 or 10 years — the Conservatives like to say 8 years, but it’s been longer — an important message is sent that official languages are still a secondary issue. Do you have any thoughts on this?

The third question concerns the famous clause that I won’t name pejoratively, as people may give me a hard time. We’re told it’s complex, and yes, actuarial calculations are complex. There are financial issues and all sorts of factors involved. There is the fact that there are clauses not just for the armed forces, but for other bodies, too. It’s long and complex, and there are costs associated with it.

The last time we had witnesses before the committee, they mentioned that this has been going on for 15 or 20 years. From an actuarial point of view, when it’s been two or three years, we can say that it’s complicated to reform. After 15 or 20 years, we’re almost at the average length of service of a person in the Canadian Armed Forces.

How is it that, year after year, we always work in the short term and are unable to plan for the long term? We’d like some dates. For example, you tell us that a regulatory reform will take place in 2024. At this committee, we were given a lot of dates that were not respected. We’ve been burned by this.

How can anyone believe that a regulatory reform will really be made in 2024 for the 11 provisions? Will it be on December 31 or February 1? I won’t surprise you by saying that there are 12 months in a year, and that this is really about time. Why does it always drag on? Why are there always good reasons to drag it out? Why does it always seem difficult to have a constructive dialogue with the department?


Mr. Blair: Mr. Garon, let me try to answer all three of your questions. I apologize that my answer will be in English, but that’s because of my limitation; I apologize for that.

On the first question of how we can work better, this is my first invitation to appear before this committee, and I happily accepted it. I have told my people that appearing before this committee is a priority. Perhaps this is from my background, but regulations are important. We all recognize how challenging it is to pass legislation at times, but I have also found that I believe strongly in the importance of regulation. I have lived by regulation and enforced regulation most of my adult life, so I want to assure you that the work of this committee is important to me, and I was very pleased to receive the invitation.

Partly in answer to your last question about how we can be assured this will remain a priority, this has gone on for a long time. I have been advised that it was a complex issue, which had many implications beyond the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence, and that has been one of the challenges. I am also assured by Lieutenant-General Bourgon and by Colonel Lewis that this work will be moving apace and it will take another couple of months to complete the work, and then we will bring regulations forward. If we fail to do so, I would encourage the committee to invite me back to provide an explanation because I do believe in accountability and transparency.

We will move forward on this because we’ve heard clearly in this committee — and I want to assure you that our officials, who have been working diligently on this, have continued to work diligently on it. I’m told that meetings have been taking place on a weekly basis between DND, the CAF and the Department of Justice. It remains a priority. I wanted to assure you of that.

Perhaps I’m not the best person to provide an explanation about the challenges on the official languages, but I wanted to provide you with my personal assurance that both English and French are equally important to this government and our country. We have a responsibility to ensure the language differences are reconciled in an appropriate way and that the French regulations are equally as effective as the English regulations. I can assure this committee that there have been no impacts on the services being provided to the members due to a delay in making these necessary changes. Currently, the CAF is applying the English version of the regulations, which frankly offer better coverage than the French version. However, getting this right is a priority for us, and we will do the work necessary.

By the way, any assistance you or this committee may be able to provide on how to resolve the challenges of making sure that both the English and French versions are appropriate to the task and consistent with each other would be very welcome. It has been a challenge for the Canadian Armed Forces, but please be assured of our commitment to both official languages. The English and French versions are of equal importance and a priority for us.


Mr. Garon: Quickly, I’m willing to take your word for it. I think you’re a person of good faith.

That said, the question was about the symbolic aspect. You can say that something is important, that official languages are important. I’m convinced that, as a minister, you think so; I have no doubt about that. However, when there have been shortcomings for 15 years and the department is slow to correct them, don’t you think that the symbolic aspect is important and that, in the end, it undermines all of the government’s work on official languages, if only from a symbolic point of view?


Mr. Blair: Mr. Garon, I cannot argue with you. I cannot dispute. This has been a very long time in reconciliation. It needs to be done. I am assured by our officials that it is a priority. They believe that the 11 regulations they will be bringing amendments forward for in the new year will address the concerns raised. I acknowledge to them that this has been a complex issue that has taken some time, but we recognize — and I think the direction from this committee is fairly clear — the priority you place upon us moving forward on this. Therefore, that’s what we will undertake to do, and if we are unable to do it, then I would ask you to invite me back.

The Joint Chair (Mr. Albas): Colleagues, we have 15 minutes, because I know the minister’s schedule is quite full. We have three members and 15 minutes, so that’s five minutes apiece. If I start motioning that it is time to cut off, please respect that because we want every member who has put their hand up today to have an equal chance to question the minister.

Mr. Davidson: I opened with “Merry Christmas,” Minister Blair. I had a lot of emails this morning that people were actually concerned. Last week, your government’s Canadian Human Rights Commission said that Christmas should be cancelled because the holiday represents religious intolerance. I know that the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, and children around Canada are going to be excited for NORAD to be tracking Santa this coming Christmas on Christmas Eve. In light of the commission’s findings, do you agree that Christmas should be cancelled, and do you think the annual tracking of Santa should be stopped?

Mr. Blair: Mr. Davidson, I will be celebrating Christmas with my family, and NORAD will make sure that Canadian children know of the progress Santa makes.

Mr. Davidson: I am happy to hear that, and we will be tuned in from coast to coast to coast.

Based on your last comments when we were talking about ships — we made reference to the frigates — my concern is more of a macro concern for the forces with red tape and cuts. Our two new Airbuses — I think it was two — were purchased used from Kuwait Airways. We purchased used CF-18s from Australia. I want to know — and I think Canadians want to know — that the Canadian Armed Forces are not going to suffer from the billion dollars in cuts. I think that is a question, minister. Do you have every confidence as a minister that they’re not going to lose any of their capabilities?

Mr. Blair: Thank you very much. My job is to provide the Canadian Armed Forces members — the men and women who serve — with that assurance that we are committed to investing in them.

I will point out that in 2017, we came forward with the Strong, Secure, Engaged plan to invest significantly in additional capabilities for Canadian Armed Forces members. We’re well into that plan, but we still have a couple of more years. The Strong, Secure, Engaged plan actually increases spending — from the low we experienced in 2014 when defence spending fell below 1% of GDP — by nearly 70%. In addition to that, we have made significant announcements, for example, with NORAD modernization — $38.6 billion. There is a very large commitment of funds for the new shipbuilding strategy and the acquisition of the planes and platforms that the Canadian Armed Forces needs.

There is a lot of work to do. Let me acknowledge that — it is my job. My job is to get that work done but also assure Canadians that we are spending their money thoughtfully and well, and producing real value in National Defence and real support for the men and women who serve.

Mr. Davidson: The concerns were out this summer. I had a number of people reach out to me. For example, Trenton has always been excellent in providing for the troops when they are out on a training mission, for a flyover for our troops or on Remembrance Day. However, I know there were a number of occasions when they were stretched too thin. They could not free up a Hercules on training for any outside measures whatsoever. Rightly so, I was concerned — and Canadians were concerned — about what we are seeing.

We’ve got these two new Airbuses. How long will it take for them to be converted into fuel tankers? I think they are being converted.

Mr. Blair: If you are asking for specific dates, I don’t have those. There are a number of processes in place, but I think the deputy minister may be able to provide more insight.

Mr. Matthews: I will come back with a firm date, but the process to convert those fuel tankers may not be obvious, Mr. Chair. They come off the line in one configuration. We may actually use them for a bit. Then they go back in to get reconfigured by the designer to turn them into fuel tankers, so it is a lengthy process.

I will come back with the information.

Mr. Davidson: I appreciate that. Dates matter. That’s why we’re here today. That’s why my colleague from the Bloc Québécois asked if these regulations were going to be ready January 1 or December 1 — that is a whole other 12-month period. These are the struggles we always see.

I will give my time over to the chair.

Thank you very much, minister, and again, Merry Christmas.

Mr. Allison: Thank you very much, Minister Blair, for taking the time to be here today and answer our questions.

I know there have been a couple of conversations about actual timelines here at the end of the year. I heard about the first few months. What are the actual timelines for this happening as we look at the coming weeks and months?

Mr. Blair: I will turn to Lieutenant-General Bourgon, who is leading this particular bit of work. She will give you a clearer answer on timelines.

LGen. Bourgon: Thank you very much. I was looking forward to coming back here and being able to give you the good news that we were done. Well, I failed, but we are almost done.

As the minister said, there are conversations and reviews every week, and we will have our final product going to the Department of Justice before Christmas — before the first of the year. At that point — once we give the package to the Department of Justice and to the Treasury Board — it gets into the formal regulatory framework, which is very complicated and not within our control. It will be the Justice and the Treasury Board who carry on with the Governor-in-Council, or GIC. However, our work will be done by the end of this fiscal year, by December 31.

Mr. Allison: Thank you.

Mr. Blair, I know your intentions are honourable in terms of what you would like to do for the department. I want to quote a former defence minister, who will show how complicated your issue is. Peter MacKay, in the National Post, said:

In my experience, there has been a distinct lack of co‑ordination and communication between the departments responsible for military procurement. Industry Canada, Public Works and Procurement, and National Defence — all overseen by the Treasury Board — often work at cross purposes and in silos. . . .

Certainly, we have seen that. I have been here for 19 years, and crossing silos is the understatement of the year for how these departments work.

. . . These woes have long plagued Canada’s approach to defence spending, from boots to battleships. It would not be a stretch to call Canada’s defence procurement system among the worst in the West, having bedevilled successive governments for years.

With the failure to get new and necessary equipment to our troops in a timely and efficient fashion, Ottawa has fostered a crisis of faith in Canada as a defence partner. Our allies and adversaries alike have called us out as a laggard and free rider. Perhaps more troubling, our men and women in uniform are acutely aware that Canada has under invested in their success, which has led to serious morale and personnel deficits. Most troubling, we have put them in harm’s way at times of elevated risk due to improper equipment, uniforms and personal protection.

I quoted another defence minister, Minister Blair. We talk about the recruitment issue, the backdrop to some of these comments and the complications. I have no doubt that you are honourable in saying what you want to do, but the complexity of the issue is difficult. You said in a recent article that you’re short about 9,000 active members. So I have a hard time balancing the cuts with attracting new people and the morale issue.

We might not have time for you to answer all of those questions, but I would love your thoughts on that statement.

Mr. Blair: Thank you very much, Mr. Allison. I read former Defence Minister Mackay’s letter in the National Post. It was directed to me. I spoke to him just last week. I thanked him for his reflections and the advice. We had an opportunity to chat briefly about his experience as a defence minister. Mr. MacKay had the very difficult experience of seeing very significant cuts to defence spending during his tenure.

I think you have rather accurately accounted for the complexity and sometimes the lack of effectiveness in some of our procurement processes. That is incumbent upon me and my colleagues to work through those things.

Again, however, we’ve actually created real opportunity, because we have made significant new investments in defence, beginning in 2017. There is more work to be done — even just the acknowledgement that there is more work to be done. Again, in the current fiscal environment, we have to be able to provide Canadians with assurances that we are going to spend their hard‑earned money in a way that produces real value for them in the form of increased capability of DND and support for the men and women who serve in uniform in our Armed Forces. Therefore, not all of our administrative processes should be considered a negative. It is appropriate for us to do the work that is necessary to ensure we can provide Canadians with assurances that we are spending their money well.

At the same time, there is an important discussion taking place. Canada puts up its hand; we volunteered, for example, to lead the NATO brigade in Latvia as part of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence initiative. We are also making new commitments to have more ships and a more persistent presence in the Indo-Pacific. We have made $38 billion-plus in investment in NORAD modernization.

All of that is Canada’s recognition that we need to, must do and will do more. “More” is not the answer to every question; doing things well and doing things in a smart and efficient way are also incumbent upon us. That’s my job. I have clear direction from the Prime Minister to move forward on these initiatives. I am also compelled, as I believe all parliamentarians are. We listen carefully to the Canadian Armed Forces to tell us what they need. I think we have to respond in a positive way.

To your last point about recruiting the best people into the organization, I have already said that is my number one priority, because the men and women who serve are the ones who get the job done. We have a responsibility to make sure we create a work environment for them that is safe, supportive, respectful and inclusive, while simultaneously giving them the equipment and platforms that will enable them to be effective and safe as they do the job of keeping the country safe.

That’s the job. It is a big undertaking. I might suggest to you, Mr. Allison, that it is not a partisan issue at all. That’s what we should all be — and are — committed to. I have enjoyed my conversations with former Minister MacKay. He is a thoughtful and experienced fellow who faced many of the challenges I face. I will continue to seek his advice and input going forward because we all have an interest in getting the job done.

The Joint Chair (Mr. Albas): It is my job to make sure everyone has an opportunity for questions. We have five minutes.

Mr. Maloney: I want to pick up on a few points that my friend Mr. Davidson made. First, I am very much looking forward to Christmas, and I can assure him that the celebrations of Christmas in the Maloney household will be full on.

Second, he was talking about the regulatory changes. I always find that if you are going to look through a window, it is not a good practice to peek; rather, pull back the curtain to get a complete picture. The window we are looking through now much is bigger than eight years. Mr. Garon addressed that.

Minister and Lieutenant-General, I want to thank you for taking the initiative and finally dealing with this issue that has been languishing for decades.

Third, Mr. Davidson alluded to — and, minister, you touched upon it too — the need to spend the money well. You talked about the need to equip people properly so they can achieve their goals. From a Canadian military perspective, this means setting priorities. One of our priorities has been assisting our friends in Ukraine and making sure they are equipped not only with the weapons but all of the proper training necessary so they can win this war against Russia. I know the Canadian government has been involved in training upward of 40,000 military members now. We provided in excess of $2 billion in military aid just in the last two years.

Last week, minister you made announcements on some weapons and artillery. Could you give us an update on our commitment on that front? What has that meant, both to our military and to those in Ukraine?

Mr. Blair: Thank you, Mr. Maloney.

Unfortunately, our very extensive support to Ukraine in its struggle against the Russian invasion will probably take up more time than the chair will allow me. However, we have made significant investments — over $2.4 billion in military aid — including munitions and anti-aircraft missiles. Just last week, there was an investment of almost $10 billion in rounds of ammunition, including 155 millimetre artillery ammunition about which the Ukrainians have made clear — some winter uniforms and equipment. The Prime Minister also made an announcement of $650 million earlier this year that will include a significant number of over 50 of the light-armoured vehicles and armoured medevac vehicles. That is what Ukraine has said they need from us. They are being sourced by Canadian industry; they are being manufactured here and sent over there.

We have made significant commitments.

You mentioned one of the most important and game-changing supports that Canada has provided, which is that we have trained nearly 40,000 members of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. I met with both the President and the Minister of Defence, and they tell me that training was critical in their surviving the first few weeks of this armed conflict. We continue to train in various places, particularly in the U.K. and Poland — the Canadian Armed Forces members. That training is beginning to evolve not only to train front-line people but also a “train the trainer” initiative. We will continue with that commitment because it makes a difference. We will provide them with the equipment they need as well as the training and support they need to win this war. In many respects, I believe that Ukrainians are fighting on all of our behalf against a very real threat to the international rules-based order. Our support for them, although it is immaterial in money, they are paying for it in blood. I believe this is the right thing for Canada to do.

The Joint Chair (Mr. Albas): We only have a minute left.

Ms. Lattanzio: Thank you, minister, for being here. My question is addressed to Lieutenant-General Bourgon.

The issue this morning seems to be timetables, and time seems to be of the essence. We understand we are nearing the end of the regulatory work on the amendments. Is there already a proposed timeline for the said consultations? Which groups will be consulted?

LGen. Bourgon: On the 11 files going forward, at this point it will be to give to the Department of Justice and Treasury Board to go through the regulatory formwork that makes it to the GIC.

The Joint Chair (Mr. Albas): Thank you very much for the presentation today, minister. Thank you for bringing your officials both from the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces. We appreciate all the work you all do for our men and women in uniform and for Canadians more broadly. I want to thank all members for their participation and patience in working with me.

Joint Chair Senator Woo will bring us into the next stage of our meeting today.

Thank you again, minister and members.

The Joint Chair (Senator Woo): The first order that we need to clear is to allow for the in camera portion of today’s meeting to be transcribed. Let me read the motion and seek your approval:

That this committee allow the transcription or the audio recording of the in camera portions of today’s meeting; and

That one copy be kept with general counsel for consultation by committee members or staff and that the transcript being destroyed by general counsel when authorized to do so by the joint chairs.

Any disagreement? Seeing none, it is approved.

(The committee continued in camera.)

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