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Interview with the Minister of National Defence

THE MINISTER OF NATIONAL DEFENCE

The Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan

 

 

 

Improving the Defence Procurement Process

& Working with NATO

 

 

 

 

CDR recently sent Ottawa Bureau Chief, James Careless, to interview Canada’s newly re-appointed Minister of National Defence, and with a number of high profile capital projects, such as CSC and FFCP currently in play, there was a lot to talk about. Sajjan is now a veteran in this portfolio and he spoke candidly about international missions, defence policy, procurement, and Canada’s role in NATO. There were some surprises too. Here is a preview of our in-depth conversation with the Minister.

 

CDR: Minister, it’s good to speak with you again for, what’s become, our annual chat. Can we start by looking what progress is being made on major capital projects like Future Fighter, and as a corollary to that, what new procurements do you think we’ll be seeing in 2020?

Minister Sajjan: When it comes to procurement projects and our defence policy, one of the things that Canadian defence industry asked us to do is to provide predictability.

We’ve done that. Even though the defence policy is a 20 year program, we have put out a 10 year defence investment plan to industry. This gives them an idea of where we’re at – and we’re updating that.

 

STARTING LAV PROJECT SOONER

 

CDR: What role has your ‘Strong, Secure, Engaged’ defence policy played in speeding up defence procurement?

Minister Sajjan: One of the things about our defence policy is that it gives us authorization to move money around. This allows us to do projects faster when opportunities make this possible.

The LAV support projects that we just announced in the summertime was a great example of that. We’re going to be getting those five years sooner, because we can start these projects five years sooner. So we were able to move money quicker and get that going.

 

CDR: Many ofCDR’s readers are small and medium-sized defence contractors (SMEs), and they’re always concerned about getting their fair share of procurement contracts. So what steps has the government taken to make sure that their share doesn’t just go to the big players?

Minister Sajjan: Depending on the size of the project, we’ve actually taken a lot of time to consult our defence industries; not just the big companies, but the small and medium size businesses as well.

One thing we’ve done as we build the requirements, is to ask, “how does it benefit Canadian companies?” So now the bids that come in have much greater Canadian content to them.

 

BATTLE GROUP IN LATVIA

 

CDR: NATO recently celebrated its 70th anniversary, and President Trump used the occasion to once again pressure member countries to increase defence spending up to 2% of their GDP, as they have promised to in the past. Given that Canada’s defence spending is only about 1.3% of GDP, where does the country stand in terms of meeting this 2% target? Because, I’m sure our readers in Canada’s defence and aerospace industries would be more than happy to see Canada increase defence spending as much as it can.

Minister Sajjan: I think we should go back to even before Trump. Many U.S. administrations have been asking NATO member nations to step up when it comes to their defence spending.

When we formed the government in 2015, we looked at this. This is one of the reasons why the prime minister asked me to do a thorough defence policy review, because it’s only then you’re going to find out what is the appropriate defence investment that’s actually needed — not just for us, but for our allies.

I think many people don’t know that this is probably one of the first defence policies that’s actually has come with all the money attached to it. That allows us to do a thorough analysis about which capabilities are important; not just a shopping list of things we need to buy. If you focus on the capabilities, you’re able to evolve what’s needed.

What that has allowed us to do is look at how do we need to be Strong in Canada, Secure in North America, and Engaged in the world; investing in the right capabilities with a 70% increase in spending. That’s the way it just turned out, based on our plan.

 

CONTRIBUTIONS TO NATO

 

CDR: Given this, do you think NATO should stop focussing on 2% of GDP and instead focus on tangible contribution to international security.

Minister Sajjan: I would say that we shouldn’t be having strictly a conversation about 2%. That’s why the NATO Secretary General has always talked about the three Cs: Cash, capabilities and contributions; because if you need all three of them to be effective.

The plan that we have proposed to NATO is something that they welcome. They know that we’re going to be investing in types of capability, and what kind of impact that it actually can have.

 

 

CDR: In last year’s interview with CDR, you spoke about the importance of retaining Canadian armed forces members and trying to do better for them and their families. What have you been able to do in the last year and what are you hoping to do going forward?

Minister Sajjan: The Number One priority has always been to look after our people and their families.

We have made a lot of policy changes in how we support our people. The biggest one that we did right when we launched the defence policy was to make every authorized international operation tax-free for our members. This sends a very strong message to the families.

People think that this is about CAF members but it’s actually about their families. Now the family can have more flexibility on choices. If their family is younger, they can have more daycare opportunities; making sure a spouse can continue with their career.

Relocation has been a significant challenge. A year and a half ago, we dealt with the 10 Biggest Dissatisfiers to relocation and there’s a little bit more work needs to be done with that.

 

MORE EMPHASIS ON CYBER SECURITY

 

CDR: You’ve been Minister of National Defence since 2015. You’re now very well versed with the requirements of the job and long past getting to know the ropes and dealing with immediate crises. What do you want to achieve going forward? What do you want your legacy to be at DND?

Minister Sajjan: It’s not about legacy. We spent a lot of time and very extensive consultations with experts, key people, and more importantly, civilians at the department and the Canadian Armed Forces to come up with the plan for the Defence Policy. And because it comes with money attached, this plan has enough focus and flexibility to adjust to any situation that we have to deal with around the world.

My goal is for us to be thinking long-term about how we look after people, how we look at threats and where we need to be to make sure that we have a very strong deterrence.

This is one of the reasons why we’re putting a lot of emphasis on cyber-security. I’m working very closely with CSE as well.

 

WORKING OUT TO TRANCE

 

CDR: Finally, on a more personal note, we’ve heard that you do a mean workout to the beat of electronic music, is that correct?

Minister Sajjan: Yes! I listened to a lot of a particular type of electronic music known as Euro Trance and I’ve evolved it a little bit. DJ Markus Schulz is somebody I listen to, and there’s a number of other deejays there as well.

It drives my wife crazy. But I love working out and getting into a high energy pace; it just keeps me motivated.

I know it sounds nuts, a 49 year-old listening to Trance. People think I should grow up, but I can’t knock everything out of me from high school.

 

CDR: How did you get into this music?

Minister Sajjan: I’ve always liked the mixes and I went to a lot of clubs in my younger days. Then when I was in the UK, they had a really good Euro mix and I used to listen to that a lot. When I was in Germany, I realized that they have a lot of different ways of doing it as well.

So, I would try to find that music, which wasn’t that popular back then. But now it’s everywhere. And, it’s easy to download that music.

My wife always says, “it’s the same beat.” I say, “exactly!”

 

CDR: Thank you very much, Minister.

 


James Careless is CDR’s Ottawa Bureau Chief

 

The full interview with Minister Sajjan will be availble in the next issue of CDR

 

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