2016 was a year of change for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces. It was a year in which the government started the hard work of setting our nation’s military affairs back on track.
There were unprecedented levels of consultation about Canada’s new defence policy, announcements about our renewed commitments to NATO and the United Nations, the beginning of efforts to replace our CF-18 fighter fleet, the resettlement of 25,000 Syrian refugees in Canada, and the expansion of our mission in Iraq to defeat Daesh.
I’d like to extend my gratitude to the women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence for all they have accomplished. It’s truly remarkable.
In the first months of 2016, the CAF assisted with the resettlement of 25,000 Syrian refugees here in Canada. CAF members supported whole-of-government efforts to welcome refugees to Canada where we forward deployed personnel to assist with security and health screening, as well as logistical support.
We also announced Canada will lead a multinational battle group in Latvia, becoming a NATO framework nation and a leader among our allies. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg praised this decision as a sign of a “strong transatlantic commitment.” It fits with the way our government views Canada’s role in the world. When President Obama visited our Parliament, he said “the world needs more Canada.” I couldn’t agree more.
Through a whole-of-government effort, we refocused our contribution to the global coalition’s fight to defeat Daesh. Expanding our train, advise and assist mission with the Kurds, and increasing our intelligence and air refuelling capacity was applauded by our coalition partners. Efforts made by our Ministerial Liaison Teams, Role 2 medical facility, and All-Source Intelligence Centre are having significant impacts on the ground as our Iraqi partners take the fight to Daesh. These efforts are paying tremendous dividends as now the Iraqi Security Forces are in the process of liberating Mosul, the last major stronghold of Daesh.
Our commitment to multilateralism also extends to United Nations and I look forward to talking with Canadians more about peace support operations in 2017.
Our government is committed to providing the women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces with the training, equipment, and resources they need. Last year, we announced the way forward on the replacement of our legacy CF-18 fighter aircraft. This consists of a three-step approach that will see the government move forward on the purchase of an interim fleet of Boeing Super Hornets, hold an open and transparent competition for a full fleet replacement, and invest in the recruitment and training of new pilots and technicians. This is a significant investment in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and provides expanded economic benefits for Canada’s aerospace and defence sectors and high-value, middle-class jobs for Canadians. 2016 also saw great strides made in other procurement projects, including a decision on new search and rescue planes – 12 years after the need for new planes was identified – and investing in our Navy through the National Shipbuilding Strategy.
Over the past year, we held an unprecedented number of consultations about the future of Canada’s defence policy, hearing from over 100 stakeholders and policy experts, receiving more than 20,000 online submissions, and consulting face-to-face with dozens international partners and allies.
The new Defence Policy will have a significant focus on how we take care of our women and men in uniform, and their families. I’ve heard too many stories of soldiers, sailors, and air personnel who have fallen through the cracks, read too many letters from veterans struggling after leaving the Forces, and spoken to too many parents and spouses whose loved one might still be here today if they had received the right support. We need to do right by our military personnel and their families. It will take time to get this right, but we won’t rest until we do.
In 2017, our government will continue to build upon the work we’ve done over the past year to ensure our women and men in uniform have the support, training, and equipment they need to ensure that Canada and Canadians are safe at home and abroad. We also look to recruit more women into our Forces, and to work towards the kind of diversity in our ranks that will make the Armed Forces better reflect the cultural mosaic that is Canada.
I am so proud of the work done by the women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence. It is truly an honour to serve them as Minister.