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FEATURE INTERVIEW – Minister of National Defence – Anita Anand

FEATURE INTERVIEW – Minister of National Defence – Anita Anand

BY JAMES CARELESS

The MINISTER of NATIONAL DEFENCE

THE HONOURABLE ANITA ANAND

CDR recently sent Ottawa Bureau Chief, James Careless, to sit down with Canada’s Minister of National Defence, Anita Anand, for an exclusive interview on the CDR Radio Podcast.

Canada’s continuing response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its impact on our military readiness, the need for the CAF to replace donated equipment, and the CAF’s challenges in recruiting and retaining troops, were some of the many topics raised in our year-end interview.

Read the full interview here with an abridged version available as a podcast on the CDR website www.CanadianDefenceReview.com/Podcast

CDR: Hi Minister Anand, thanks for joining us today. There is lots to talk about so let’s jump right in. Canada’s been supporting Ukraine by giving them armoured vehicles, artillery, drone cameras, and winter clothing. How will the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) replace those donations made from its inventory and can we expect an uptick in procurement to replenish the equipment?

Minister Anand: Well, thank you for asking that question, especially because I was recently in Kyiv and saw the horrors and devastation of an illegal and unjustifiable invasion. And it is important now more than ever for us as allies to continue to be united.

You’re exactly right about extensive aid: Over $1 billion of aid flowing from Canada to Ukraine in terms of military equipment. The latest announcement entailed 200 armoured vehicles taking our military support alone to an even greater level in terms of armoured vehicles.

I will say that, at the same time, I am focussed on making sure that the CAF have the equipment that they need to protect and defend our country. And so, we are also ensuring that we are procuring capabilities under our defence policy, Strong, Secure, Engaged. In addition, we have a defence policy update that is forthcoming and that was announced in budget 2022. And so, the additional work to ensure that we are providing for the CAF is continuing.

CDR: Minister, you recently announced the donation of 4 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. Please tell our readers a little more about what’s included as part of this donation.

Minister Anand: On January 26, I announced that Canada will supply Ukraine with four Leopard 2 main battle tanks from the CAF’s inventory. Canada will also provide ammunition, spare parts, and will deploy CAF members to train Ukrainian soldiers on the use of these tanks in a third country. The Leopard 2 is the main battle tank of the CAF and of several Allies and partners. These heavily armoured and highly protected vehicles provide soldiers with a tactical advantage on the battlefield, thanks to their excellent mobility, firepower, and survivability. The Leopard 2 is an outstanding battle tank that serves the Canadian Army well. The donation of Canadian Army Leopard 2 tanks, combined with donations by Allies and partners, will significantly help the Armed Forces of Ukraine as they fight heroically to defend their nation’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.

CDR: Recruitment and retention are major issues for the CAF as they are for many military organizations. Where do we stand now in terms of getting new recruits and keeping the people we have and what is the CAF doing to make itself a more attractive employer?

Minister Anand: We need to continue to grow the CAF and attract new members so that it becomes a robust organization in the long term. The first important point is for us to create a CAF where all members are protected and respected. And I recently announced that all 48 of Madam Arbour’s recommendations are being worked on and implemented in an effort to do that. In addition, we do have a reconstitution directive and a retention strategy, and those will be the pillars of the strategy for the CAF to continue to recruit new members. We announced in the fall that permanent residents will now be able to apply to be members of the CAF. So, we’re taking now applicants from a very diverse and deep pool of talent. We’ve actually seen thousands and thousands of applications from permanent residents in Canada. And this alone will make a substantive difference in terms of the applicants to the CAF. So, you can see that we’re taking a very comprehensive approach to rebuilding and reconstituting the CAF and I’m really excited about the prospects for our institution.

Minister Anand met with Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov Credit: Ukrainian Ministry of Defence

CDR: What role can industry play in covering some of the CAF’s human resource shortfalls?

Minister Anand: Industry partnerships are crucial when it comes to ensuring our CAF’ operational effectiveness and readiness. I am in very close contact with industry partners on a frequent basis, and we will continue to work together to equip the CAF with the tools they need to do their jobs. I’ve been clear throughout my mandate: we need to grow the CAF. That’s why we released the Directive for CAF Reconstitution last year, as well as a Retention Strategy – and I announced in December 2022 that permanent residents of Canada can now apply to enrol in the CAF.

MILITARY READINESS

CDR: Given the recent donations to Ukraine coupled with Canada’s recruitment and retention issues, are you concerned about our military readiness??

Minister Anand: We do have the level of readiness we need, and I will point, for example, to Hurricane Fiona when that weather event hit the east coast of our country. Very early in that situation, we saw the CAF being deployed to Eastern Canada. We are continuing to work to better address our readiness with our procurements such as the 88 F-35s. So let me say that while we are definitely working hard domestically and internationally to meet our obligations, we do see that there is more to do and we will continue to deliver modern equipment to the CAF such as the Canadian Surface Combatant.

CDR: Now the Canadian Surface Combatant, like so many projects in Canadian procurement history is having problems with major cost overruns. Now last year when we spoke, you said the program was full steam ahead. Is this still the case?

Minister Anand: It has been a focus area for us to ensure that the procurements that are contemplated in Strong, Secure, Engaged continue to develop, and we are most definitely committed to ensuring that the members of the Royal Canadian Navy have the equipment that they need to protect Canadians, while at the same time ensuring the best value for Canadians. This project is a critical part of those efforts, and it is one that will help to revitalize the Canadian shipbuilding industry. It will generate over $30 billion in GDP while also creating and sustaining more than 10,000 jobs over the next 25 years. I want to stress the importance of the benefits to the Canadian economy of this procurement and those statistics hopefully do just that. Simply put, we need to deliver our sailors the equipment that they need to defend Canada, and yes, we will move ahead to procure a new fleet of ships for Canada while creating economic benefits and jobs for Canadians as well.

CDR: It has been reported that Irving is asking the federal government for additional money to modernize its facilities to build the Canadian Surface Combatant. Industry sources have claimed the Liberals are considering providing $300 million to the shipyard. Is this true?

Minister Anand: I’m focussed on ensuring that the Royal Canadian Navy has the modern equipment that it needs, while ensuring the best value for Canadians. National Defence continues to work towards finalizing the design for the CSC. This will help us better understand costs based on all factors, such as ship size, crew size, ship complexity, and operational roles. We will remain transparent and open with Canadians as this important project moves forward.

NEW FIGHTER JETS

CDR: Speaking of price, and you touched on this, we’ve recently agreed to buy 88 F-35s at a cost of $85 million a jet, which is apparently the same price the Americans are paying. Do you feel this is a good deal for Canada and the right aircraft for the RCAF?

Minister Anand: We are first and foremost ensuring that our Royal Canadian Air Force has the equipment that they need to keep our country safe and to ensure that we are collaborating in an interoperable way with the United States and our other allies. We have to remember that this investment in the Future Fighter program is the largest investment in the RCAF in three decades.

What was distinctive about this process is that it was an open competition, and it was the result of this robust process that the F-35 was chosen as the right plane at the right price for Canada. Eight of our allies already use this plane, and as I mentioned, it is so important from an interoperability standpoint.

There are also significant economic benefits that will flow to this country as well. For example, the potential to contribute $425 million annually to GDP and close to 3,300 jobs for Canadian industry and supply chain partners.

There are many more opportunities to come for Canadian industry as we build associated infrastructure and fighter squadron facilities for example. But rest assured the result and the work that is to come is because of this competitive and open process that was run out of Public Services and Procurement Canada.

: Minister Anand made a surprise visit to Kyiv and Irpin in January 2023 - Credit: Ukrainian Ministry of Defence

PROCUREMENT ISSUES

CDR: Canada’s procurement system, particularly relating to defence, is notoriously slow. Does the Government have any plans to streamline the process? With the invasion of Ukraine top of mind, is there a renewed sense of urgency at DND?

Minister Anand: My team and I have been actively engaging with industry partners to discuss the ongoing partnership between DND and their organizations. Just this month, I met with the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries [CADSI] and the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada [AIAC]. This engagement is crucial to me, and we will continue to meet with industry partners – including during the course of our Defence Policy Update. We will also incorporate the feedback that we hear into the Defence Policy Update.

There is no doubt that the world is getting darker. We are facing the greatest threats to international peace and stability in decades. As Minister of National Defence, I’m focussed on ensuring that our CAF have the equipment that they need to protect Canadians from current and future threats. In fact, that is at the top of my mandate letter, and I am squarely focussed on delivering. I just announced the acquisition of 88 F-35 fighter aircraft, and we’ve procured new capabilities like the Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships. We will continue to deliver the right equipment to our military at the right price for Canadians.

CDR: We know the Victoria-class subs are near the end of their service life, and CDR has reported on DND setting up something called the “Canadian Patrol Submarine Project”. Other countries like Australia are far ahead of Canada in preparing for a new generation of submarines. In fact, Australia has said it plans to acquire nuclear-powered submarines using technology supplied by the US under the AUKUS deal. Is Canada prepared to consider a nuclear submarine option?

Minister Anand: Submarines are one of Canada’s most strategic assets for conducting surveillance of Canadian and international waters, including the near Arctic. Our current fleet will be able to operate into the 2030s through the Victoria-class modernization project. Concurrently, we are exploring options for a potential replacement class of submarines to avoid any gap in our critical submarine capability. I look forward to sharing further updates with Canadians as this project progresses.

CDR: Staying with procurement, are you concerned when Canada selects an aircraft like the CC-295 for Fixed wing search-and rescue and then the Initial Operating Capability is delayed for over 2 years? What can be done to avoid such delays in the future?

Minister Anand: I am committed to ensuring that our CAF members have the equipment needed to protect Canadians – and in particular, to fulfil the vital function of Search and Rescue. That is why we are acquiring 16 new fixed-wing search and rescue sensor-equipped aircraft – the CC-295 Kingfisher – to replace our existing fleet and ensure search and rescue capabilities for decades to come. The delay in Initial Operating Capability is due to the extended timelines associated with design and development, along with other factors such as the impacts of COVID-19. Let’s be clear: the CAF’s search and rescue role is of the utmost importance, and we have a plan in place to maintain SAR coverage using existing fleets until the new CC-295 capability is operational. We will never waver in our commitment to keep Canadians safe.

DIANA INITIATIVE

CDR: Back in November at the Halifax International Security Forum, you announced that Canada is proposing Halifax to host NATO’s Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic, or DIANA for short. Why do you think Halifax is a good home for DIANA?

Minister Anand: DIANA will bring together the best and brightest minds from the public and private sectors and act as a catalyst for home-grown research and innovation. The initiative will also enable close collaboration with NATO’s best as we sharpen our technological edge and safeguard our economic security.

As a proud Nova Scotian, I’m thrilled that we’ve put forward the Halifax Regional Municipality as the proposed site for DIANA. Halifax is home to 300 start-ups in science and technology, and there are multiple universities, community college campuses, and private career colleges within the Halifax Regional Municipality. The city is also home to Canada’s Atlantic naval fleet and Canada’s largest military base in terms of personnel. This marriage between a thriving innovation sector and a strong armed forces presence makes Halifax the ideal location for DIANA.

CDR: You had the opportunity to visit deployed CAF members in Scotland, Kuwait, and Jordan before the holiday season. How was that trip and can you provide any insight into the morale of deployed CAF members?

Minister Anand: One of my favourite things to do as Minister is to hear directly from the CAF and to thank them for their service to the country. That is exactly what I did during the holiday season, during my visits to Scotland, Jordan, and Kuwait. Through Operation REASSURANCE, Operation IMPACT, and other global missions, Canada continues to make important contributions to peace, security, and stability around the world.

On the trip, I visited Prestwick where a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Air Mobility Detachment is deployed and delivering Ukraine-bound military aid donated by Canada, allies, and partners. I also visited the Middle East, where our Armed Forces are helping to promote peace and stability under Operation IMPACT. Throughout the trip, I reiterated my sincere gratitude for the service and many sacrifices of CAF members deployed around the world – especially those who are deployed far from home during the holiday season. Their commitment to serve our country is profound and inspiring – and we are grateful for their incredible contributions.

CDR: During our interview last year, you stated, “My top priority is building a military culture where all members are safe, protected, and respected.” So, it’s been over a year since you’ve assumed the role as Minister of National Defence. We know you’ve launched a number of initiatives, but can you please update our readers on some of these, and what further initiatives can be taken to achieve the goal of culture change within the CAF?

Minister Anand: Since my appointment, I have said clearly that my top priority as Minister is to build a military where all members feel protected and respected. No CAF member should be put in danger by their own colleagues.

In December, I presented our response to Madame Arbour’s Independent External Comprehensive Review in Parliament. I confirmed that we are not rejecting any of Madame Arbour’s recommendations – and that we intend to move forward to address all 48 of them.

Of course, just a few days after my appointment, I accepted Madame Arbour’s interim recommendation to refer Criminal Code sexual offences to the civilian system for investigation and prosecution. We have expanded the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre, we have made changes to General and Flag Officer promotions, we have created better screening processes for cadets, and so much more.

My appointment of Jocelyne Therrien as external monitor will ensure a transparent and accountable process ahead. A number of recommendations have already been implemented or are in progress, and we are committed to building an inclusive institution that can attract and retain talent from all segments of Canadian society.

LOOKING AHEAD

CDR: What’s on your agenda for 2023? What do you hope to achieve?

Minister Anand: 2022 was an inflection point – for Canada, for our CAF, and for the rules-based international order. We have worked with allies and partners to respond to Russia’s illegal and unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine. We announced significant investments in our military infrastructure through projects such as NORAD modernization. We responded to natural disasters like Hurricane Fiona. We announced a strategy to increase our presence in the Indo-Pacific region, and we released a comprehensive plan to address sexual misconduct at DND and in the CAF.

The CAF were there for Canadians every step of the way. For 2023, my goal is to put our shoulder on the wheel and push ahead with our key priorities: delivering military aid to Ukraine, modernizing NORAD and ensuring a robust contribution to NATO, and reforming this institution so that it is here to serve the next generation of Canadians.

CDR: Now, on a personal note, you’ve been in office for over a year now, so how has your life changed since becoming Minister of DND?

Minister Anand: I am spending every single day working to support the members of our CAF and ensuring that they have the equipment that they need to protect Canada. At the same time, I am also working to provide Ukraine with the military aid that it needs to fight and win this war ever since Putin’s further invasion, which began almost one year ago. And of course, I’m working day in and day out to build a more inclusive military where all members feel protected and respected by their own colleagues. In short, this file is extremely important for the future of our country, and it is a complete honour to be able to serve as Minister during this time.

CDR: One final question, which is really for our readers at CDR who are in the defence industry. If you had the ability to expedite one procurement project to the point of initial operating capability, which one would you choose and why?

Minister Anand: There are many extremely important procurements on the horizon for the CAF under Strong, Secure, Engaged.

I’d have to say that it is impossible to pick any one of them as being more important than the others, because the overall goal is to ensure that we are delivering to our soldiers, sailors, and aviators the equipment that they need to defend this country. I want to make sure that we engage with representatives of the defence industry in Canada and abroad. And so, I’m going to continue to do that and to discuss opportunities to collaborate on scaling up production, so that we can meet the security needs of Ukraine and continue to equip our own military with the tools that it needs to protect Canadians.

I will say that we are going to continue to engage, to improve defence procurement requirements, and enable industry to plan, innovate and, offer creative solutions in a timely fashion. And I will leave no stone unturned as we continue to provide the CAF with the equipment that its members need to defend Canada while donating aid to Ukraine to meet its urgent defence needs.

Engagement is crucial, especially during the course of our defence policy update. And that’s what we’re going to be continually focussed on, so that we can make sure we are doing the very best job we can for Canadians and the CAF.

CDR: Thank you.

James Careless is CDR’s Ottawa Bureau Chief

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