National Defence Bill Blair attends CANSEC 2024

eAwazCanada News

Ottawa – Minister of National Defence Bill Blair spoke at CANSEC 2024. He said:

Good morning, everyone.

First of all, thank you very much, Chris, for that very kind introduction. This is my first opportunity to come to CANSEC. It’s a very, very well-done and impressive gathering of industry, public servants, partners and friends. As Canada’s Minister of National Defence, I draw great strength and encouragement by the crowd I see before me today and the conversations that we have shared.

Let me begin also by thanking Christyn Cianfarani and the entire CADSI team for putting on this extraordinary conference, but also for providing me with good advice and great support. I also want to take the opportunity, if I may, to acknowledge and thank Deputy Minister Bill Matthews for his many years of service to the department. Bill is being moved to another and very important position, and a position that’s going to be very important to all of us as the new Secretary for the Treasury Board. His work in our Department of National Defence has been extraordinary and exceptional.

He’s been an enormous partner to me, but also to so many of you, and the progress that we have made together. And I think the future that we will share together has been well shaped by the exceptional work of Bill Matthews. And we’ll have other opportunities to thank him, but I’d be remiss if I did not mention it today. A truly outstanding public servant.

One of the things I’ve learned in my many years of service, but particularly as Canada’s Minister of National Defence, is that Canada’s defence industry is truly world class. You are renowned for your innovation and leadership, and you have, over many years, ensured that the Canadian Armed Forces are well-equipped and well-prepared. Your work has kept Canada safe, and it creates tens of thousands of skilled, well-paying jobs right across the country.

When I was appointed to this job, one of the very first things that I undertook to do was to meet with our defence industry. I met with your associations. I went to visit a number of factories. I wanted to hear, quite frankly, what you needed from us and how we could better support you. You told me very clearly that you needed clarity and certainty about where we were going and how we were going to get there. You told me that you wanted to build a stronger relationship based on transparency and trust. And you told me that you were ready to step up and to increase production but that you needed the stability and predictability of long-term contracts and reliable funding.

And we listened to you. Earlier this spring, in April, we released our new defence policy update entitled, Our North, Strong and Free: A Renewed Vision for Canada’s Defence. And I sincerely hope that all of you saw your advocacy in that document because as Chris mentioned, and I have often said, we needed a new defence policy, but, quite frankly, we also needed an industrial policy. We needed a national policy that could explain to Canadians where we were going and why.

And through this policy, we have now locked in $9.5 billion dollars over 20 years to scale up the production of battle-decisive munitions, as an example. This is a direct result of what we heard from industry. With this investment, we’re going to strengthen our production capacity right here in Canada so that our military will have the stockpiles it needs and so that you have the certainty that you need to scale up. I really believe that production is deterrence, and our investment in industry and our partnership together is what will keep the country and the world safe.

I also want to take a moment, if I may, to thank our Assistant Deputy Minister for Materiel Troy Crosby for his remarkable and continued hard work on procurement. When it comes to improving our procurement processes, I’ve listened to all of you, but I’ve also had the benefit of Troy’s expertise. And so, Troy, thank you. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for your remarkable commitment. While you have been helping us bring faster capabilities to our Armed Forces, you’ve also been an important partner to industry.

We’ll be piloting a Continuous Capability Sustainment approach to upgrading our equipment. Rather than simply upgrading our equipment in fits and starts, as perhaps has been a bit of a pattern in the past, we intend to rapidly integrate the latest technology and innovations in far more frequent and predictable cycles that will create new opportunities for all of you. And on top of this, we’re going to be investing more than $100 million dollars in the NATO Innovation Fund, which is going to help Canadian innovators develop dual-use technologies that are critical to defence.

And in this policy, we will invest $8.1 billion dollars over the next five years, and $73 billion dollars over the next 20. This is a very significant new investment for the Government of Canada. It will result in a 27 percent increase of our defence budget next year over this, which is really quite extraordinary. But let me acknowledge to you all as well, we need to do more, and we will do more. By the end of this decade, we’ll have almost tripled our defence investments compared to 2014-2015. But there are additional things not even yet included in our defence policy update which we know Canada is going to need. And so, I look forward to the opportunity to work with everyone in this room to make sure that we chart out our appropriate path forward.

And as I’ve often said, the Defence Minister in Canada has two very difficult jobs. One is getting money, and the other is spending money well. And I think it is incumbent upon us, when we’re spending hard-earned Canadian tax dollars, that we demonstrate to Canadians that we are producing the best return on their investment in our national defence, and we do that through partnership. We do that through working together, and we do that through demonstrating our commitment to making sure that we get the very best of equipment as quickly as is required in order to keep up with what we are being challenged on.

Now, this is a very significant defence investment for us. It brings us much closer to that target of 2 percent of GDP. But we need to get this right. Every single taxpayer dollar, as I’ve said, needs to be spent to produce real value, and to do that, we have work to do. We’ve got to acquire the capabilities that we need, and we’ve got to make sure that the people who fly our planes and steer our ships have the very best platforms to work upon. We need to demonstrate that we can spend Canadian taxpayer money well and wisely. And we need to also acknowledge that defence investment isn’t just about hitting a numerical target. It’s about delivering real capability for the Canadian Armed Forces.

When we drafted this policy, we looked very carefully at all of our needs and our future needs, and we came back with a very clear strategic focus. This policy makes it very clear that job number one is defending Canada and North America. It makes clear that our most immediate task is to protect every inch of our sovereign territory in the face of growing security challenges, especially in our Arctic and Northern regions. And to be clear, if we are going to be a good partner in NATO and in NORAD and in the Indo-Pacific and around the world, we must be strong at home so that we can be strong around the world.

And that strategic focus has informed the capabilities that we’ve chosen to move forward with. These will include specialized maritime sensors and more modern and mobile helicopter capability, early warning aircraft, a new strategic ground station in the Arctic, ground-based long-range missile capabilities, and a series of Northern Operational Support Hubs to ensure a more robust, year-round presence in Canada’s North. These investments are going to create good jobs, and they will create opportunities for Canadians, and in particular for Indigenous and northern communities. They are going to create significant opportunities to build multi-purpose infrastructure in the north that will serve both a civilian and military purpose. And it will strengthen our security here at home.

But in order to do that, we have a great deal of work to do, and we must do that work together. We’re going to move quickly to implement the projects that we’ve been funding in Our North, Strong and Free, and we are going to turn those options, which I refer to as explore options, into a reality.

And while we pursue these projects, we’re also implementing the projects that we outlined in our 2017 defence policy, Strong, Secure, and Engaged. The Canadian Army is taking delivery of new Armoured Combat Support Vehicles that are built right here in Canada. Four Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships are now in the water. And this year, we will begin to cut steel on a new fleet of the Canadian Surface Combatants. And in the past 18 months, we have signed deals for approximately 140 new aircraft, including F-35 fighters, Poseidon sub hunters and tankers from Airbus. But we’re going to, and we must keep going.

And with that in mind, today I’m very pleased to announce that some additional progress in delivering new platforms for the Canadian Armed Forces has been made. Today I have the privilege of announcing that we have now signed an $11.2 billion dollar contract with SkyAlyne, which will deliver Future Aircrew Training Program, in collaboration with the Royal Canadian Air Force.

SkyAlyne will help to train RCAF pilots, air combat system officers and airborne electronic sensor operators. And with this contract, our aircrews will train on five different fleets, more than 70 aircraft in total, varying our crews to operate both fixed-winged aircraft and helicopters for the RCAF of the future. SkyAlyne will also provide classroom instruction, simulator flight training as well as onsite support at RCAF Wings. And with this program, we’re ensuring that current and future RCAF aircrews will have the most advanced equipment and training available.

And this contract will, of course, include an Indigenous Participation Plan which commits to investing a minimum of 5 percent of the total contract value, excluding the cost of aircraft and simulators, to indigenous businesses.

This particular contract will create and maintain over 3,400 jobs in Canada over the next 25 years. It’s going to deliver for the RCAF precisely what they need. It ensures a strong future for the RCAF. And this is just one element of the largest investment that the Royal Canadian Airforce has seen since the Second World War. This year we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of the RCAF and as we celebrate this centennial, I am more optimistic than ever about its future.

We also, of course, have to make pretty significant investments in the Canadian Army. And today, I’m also announcing that we are investing $2.58 billion with General Dynamics Land Systems Canada and Marshall Canada in a joint venture for a new fleet of light and heavy logistics vehicles, equipment and in-service support for the Canadian Army. In total, this investment is going to deliver over 1,000 light trucks and approximately 500 heavy trucks to our military, as well as associated equipment such as armoured protection kits, containers, trailers and interchangeable modules that can be turned into ambulances, command posts, and much more.

These new vehicles are going to be the work horses of the Canadian Army. They will transport everything from personnel to equipment to supplies in combat zones and across Canada after natural disasters. Our new fleet will carry heavier workloads. It’ll be more mobile. It’s going to offer much better protection for our people in uniform. The first vehicles are currently expected to arrive by 2027. And I understand some of them are on display at the General Dynamics booth just outside this hall, and I invite you to go by and have a look at them.

This contract will also include an Indigenous Participation Plan, committing up to 5 percent of the total contract value to Indigenous businesses—as well as to employment, training, and skills development for Indigenous Peoples.

I’m very proud that these contracts have been awarded to leading Canadian industry partners who have demonstrated their commitment to supporting the Canadian Armed Forces in creating real economic benefits for all Canadians. To everyone involved in these projects, to our partners today, as we announce this project, but in the many years of work together that we have in front of us, I want to say thanks. Thank you for your commitment. Thank you for your partnership. And we will be with you as we deliver for the Canadian Armed Forces.

And finally, I would like to talk a little bit about the future of our partnership together. Our partnership with industry is only becoming more crucial, as the video we shared today demonstrated. Because, as I’ve said, production is deterrence, and there is an increasing number of threats that we must contend with. Over the past two years, we have seen Putin massively increase the output of his war machine, and we, in the West, have not always done enough to keep up. We must do more. We will do more.

Our European Allies are making historic investments to increase production. The United States is also scaling up to production. And we must do the same. Whether it’s planes or ships or ammunition, we need to build more and we need to build faster. As I said, since day one, Our North, Strong and Free is more than a defence plan. It’s an industry plan. It’s a jobs plan. It’s a production plan. And together, we need to do what is necessary to implement these projects.

You told us very clearly that you needed a more strategic relationship with government. You told us that you needed defence procurement to be faster and more flexible. We heard you. We heard you loud and clear. So, let’s ensure that this defence policy update is not the end of an important conversation, but rather the beginning of a new one. Over the next few days and in the months ahead, I want very much to hear from all of you about how you can help us deliver on the projects of this policy and how we can help you.

Let’s take real steps to do things differently to secure our defence policy supply chains and to increase productions to levels that have not been seen in this country for decades. Together, let’s prioritize Canadian innovation so that we maintain an edge over our competitors, so that we can sell solution to our Allies around the world. And together, let’s provide the Canadian Armed Forces with the tools that they need to protect our sovereignty in a rapidly changing and challenging world.

I want to thank you all for being here today and for the warm reception that I have received. I want to thank you for the extraordinary work.  When we talk about doing things better, that should not be perceived as criticism of what has gone on in the past. We have worked well together for many years. We, together, have achieved some very extraordinary things. But the world is changing rapidly. The challenges we face with the aggressive and hostile actions of certain adversaries, with climate change resulting in far more accessibility to our shores, and the advent of new technologies which are challenging us all to keep up, we recognize the importance of doing more. And doing more effectively means doing it together.

And so, I want to thank you very much for all the work that you have done in service to our country, and to Canadian industry and workers. We have a big job ahead of us, and I’m very much looking forward to working with all of you. The Canadian government is committed to being there. We’ve heard what you needed from us. We’re doing our best to deliver. We still have more to do, and we’re going to continue doing that work with each and every one in this room. Thank you all very much.