With the Hon. John McKay, M.P., Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence
A National Defence Consultation was held on on Wednesday, July 20th at Leaside United Church. The two hour meeting included opening remarks by Rob Oliphant, M.P. to provide context, followed by a detailed presentation about Canada’s current defence policy and challenges by John McKay, M.P., Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Defence. The session concluded with comments and questions from constituents and stakeholders that were in attendance.
Constituents noted that Canada has traditionally held a peacekeeping role in which it has excelled. However, there has been a shift in recent years towards more direct combat engagement. There was a genuine question regarding whether or not it would be better for Canada to move back to the niche role of peacekeeping rather than to engage in combat missions. Mr. McKay responded to the question by stating that distinguishing between peacekeeping and combat might be a false dichotomy. Increasingly, the role of the Canadian military may be in the field of conflict resolution which could involve either peacekeeping or combat or other activities that are helpful in resolving conflict. It was suggested that Canada does both peacekeeping and combat missions well. Those gathered seemed to appreciate the shift in language on this issue as well as the concept of conflict resolution as a priority. More than one constituent suggested that Canada should focus more on preventing conflict rather than on acting after the fact.
Canada’s procurement policy and the overall defence budget was a central focus of discussion, with constituents concerned about: the long replacement time for search and rescue aircraft; the fact that Canada does not provision its own ships; the perceived lack of funding provided to National Defence, (currently 1% of GDP, compared to NATO requested commitment of 2% of GDP); and the limited budgetary allocation for Reserves. Canada’s nuclear policy was also discussed at the meeting, with one constituent voicing the opinion that the changing nature of conflict means that Canada should be prepared for nuclear war. Another constituent emphasized the importance of Canada’s ability to reassure the United States that direct threats to the continent will not arise in or through Canada. The concept of sovereignty was discussed in detail as it relates to the arctic, with questions raised regarding the government’s preparedness and ability to surveille and defend the region as climate change opens the region to new activity and threats. A question also was raised about cyber security. Mr. McKay explained that the Communications Security Establishment is responsible for examining cyber threats, and is monitored to ensure it does so without breaching the privacy rights of Canadians. Canada’s current mission in Latvia was also discussed.
A presentation was made by a representative from the Military Family Resource Centre, which was well received by constituents who expressed concern over the level of support for military personnel both while they are employed or deployed, and afterwards. The importance of addressing mental health issues was highlighted with emphasis placed on the impact these issues have on the domestic lives of military personnel when they return home. While outside of the consultation’s scope, constituents discussed the importance of support for veterans. Also outside of the consultation’s scope were discussions on the oversight of security structures by parliamentarians, as several constituents voiced their unease over the former Bill C-51. Mr. Oliphant explained that Bill C-22 is the first step towards ensuring such oversight, and that the Public Safety and National Security Committee will be holding consultations with Canadians on these topics in Fall 2016.
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