19420 Commander Angus Topshee, R.C.N., RMC Class of 1994 was also in attendance.
The PM met with the premiers of all provinces to discuss the health and funding of a robust healthcare plan. How do you think that will or if it will affect the budget at DND?
When you look at the budget, it is pretty clear what is on the mind of Canadians; cost of living, healthcare…Obviously, healthcare is going to take a fair amount of budget space, but we are working on a defence policy update and there is a fiscal question about how much the government is willing to spend. I am a big believer in letting the finance people do finance and we will do our best when we do the policy update to present the risk environment, the threat environment and what the defence’s teams’ best advice on how to address that. I don’t see us as competing for space with the healthcare. Since we are still working on the defence policy update, the government will have decisions to take in the future regarding what moves forward.
Is there a timeframe regarding when the new policy update will be available to the public?
Since it is going to the cabinet, we do not really have control over the delay it might encounter to get processed, but we are aiming to deliver to the cabinet in the spring. What happens after that will depend.
Side note: Strong, Secured, Engaged is the Defence Policy adopted 5 years ago. It was a 20-year plan, but many things have changed since. When it was drafted, we were hoping for better things from China, so the threat environment has changes. Obviously, Russia is invading Ukraine which makes Russia an ever-bigger threat. Cybersecurity is even more important now than what was envisioned. Same thing for the Arctic which is deteriorating much faster than we ever thought. The policy was built so that decisions had to be taken further down the road, which happened last summer, for example.
You did mention what’s going on in Ukraine and the Chinese air balloon. Do you see the first draft of the review? Is it starting to align with Foreign Policy objectives?
I think there has to be. I could argue that defence is an instrument of foreign policy, so they’d better be aligned. So, am I sensing any misalignment? No.
Can you give us an update on CSC, JSS, submarines?
The CSC project is moving at the pace we anticipated, but we have to keep in mind that it is a timely project. Submarines were put on hold before but with the new policy update is a great chance to engage with that question. Obviously, the government will have some decisions to make but there is certainly work going on what it might look like.
What is the leadership of the CAF DND doing to address shortfalls in personnel and do you think it is working?
We were down numbers before Covid, and it only got worse. It is a recruitment challenge but also a retention challenge. A number of things are being done:
- Reconstitution: Close look at what jobs can be done by whom. Civilians vs. CAF members)
- Elements of compensation: We are currently looking at new options to bring to the government.
- Family perspective: support for families
- New advertising campaign
- Recruitment of permanent residents. (Works well, but the challenge is to go through all the applications quickly.)
What is your interpretation of the Asia Pacific policy as it relates to DND and specifically to the RCN?
I think it rightfully puts focus on the Navy from a military perspective. There is a desire to be more visible, more consistently visible in the water. We want to work more proactively with some of our allies in the region. Our allies have been really complementary so far.
Is the government fully committed to Arctic security and North End Renewal?
The government has made a decision for North End Modernization, there is funding. We are now in “implementation” mode and are working actively with our U.S. partners on what that looks like. The defence policy update is going to be key for the Arctic Security. With climate change, the region is far more accessible and with what is going on with Russia, the government wants more defence presence there.
Admiral John Anderson: Replacement of the equipment sent to Ukraine. I’d be interested in the DM’s view on the capacity of industry to respond and to bringing our army back up to its former level of equipment.
Some of the equipment we sent was no longer useful to us. The tanks we gave do impact our capabilities. There needs to be a plan to replace those tanks.
Industry is asking for more clarity on what we want, more importantly they are looking for it earlier. We would need more aggressive management on project schedule. Industry does have some capacity to build, but I don’t think the Canadian defence industry can do it all. They are a key partner. Consider relying on our allies to slowly build our capacity back up.
Is there a way to fix the training backlog?
Training backlog: looking at training can be streamlined. When you are already short on staff, sending personnel for training is a concern.
The training system appears to be struggling mightily with a very large backlog (and this despite the current low numbers of recruits and in the CAF in general).
Is there any involvement with McKinsey and Company at DND and do they have a role in “modernization” plans for RCN?
Does Defence use McKinsey? Yes, it has. Are we one of the leaders in terms of contracts? Not as far as I know. Has RCN used them in some of their work? Absolutely and I’m sure we will a have a chance to explain why in an upcoming parliament committee. But I am not worried at all.
Given the situation in Europe and the rise of China, neither of which is going away soon, has there been consideration of creating a North American defence industry integrating both Canadian and USA industrial bases?
We are having discussions. Many of the big U.S. suppliers have presence in Canada as well. We are definitely collaboration and exchanging, to make sure we are as efficient as we can be.
With the advent of AUKUS centered on nuclear submarines, and what is viewed by some as a vehicle to assist the US with the strategic heaving lifting in the INDOPAC region, is there a fear that Canada (and NZ) will become the junior partners in FIVEY. What would a strategic contribution (or contributions) by the RCN and Canada look like to improve out standing with our closest allies? OR is our standing not in question?
I think if Canada makes the right investments and talk to our allies about what they would like to see from us, we could be a good contributor. Our defence searchers’ association and our cyber are great assets as well. Things like quantum and AI, we are doing work that makes us relevant. We will keep pushing for Five Eyes as the right model.
Given that you are the DM of DND, what is the state of play with Air Force, Army and other critical support areas, such as Cyber?
Air Force is a lot like the Navy; They have a couple of massive critical projects in the future. (F35) The Army has smaller but many more critical projects. I think one of their challenges if to find the people to put on these projects, so they can drive them properly. Beyond that, every state is pretty similar; We are struggling with HR issues, there are backlogs, etc.
If you were in the UK, your title would be “Permanent Under Secretary for Defence.” Would your ability to manage defence and provide effective advice to government be enhanced if you and the senior leadership of the PS had a longer term in a position?
Our colleagues don’t stay any longer than we do even though they have “permanent” in their title. I think when deputy ministers or “Permanent Under Secretary for Defence,” it’s largely for HR reasons. I think the non-political public service works best.
Is there a chance that the “Securing and Open Society” National Security Policy gets revived considering the changes in the world?
The most common discussion we have about this is that there are so many players who could be defined that are National Security. I don’t think we necessarily need a policy. I am waiting for a good articulation of why we need a National Security Policy and what it will do. Also, the way you define National Security these days is almost every department, it includes defence, borders, health, economic, etc. There are too many players for now.
Is the Government addressing that some Canadian students are doing joint research with China’s military scientists?
The Government it is taking steps to curve that type of thing, but from a defence perspective, we are not doing anything that I am aware of.
RMC, what is going on?
Madame Arbour gave her reports and that’s the third independent report. Some of the recommendations were incredibly precise, e.g. change the name from X to Y, and others were more general like do a study or an assessment. She finished them off with one recommendation that the Minister appoints an external monitor, which has been done. Also, that the Minister report to Parliament with an intent on which recommendation she will move forward with and the Minister has done that.
Her recommendation with RMC was to do a study. If you read the media, you would have assumed that that the third independent report concluded that RMC should be closed- there is no such thing. She said you should do a study- and question is the best way, is there a better model, when we are looking to be more diverse and inclusive, is there a better way. Minister intends to follow up on the recommendation and do a study. This will not be the first study that RMC has endured. Earlier report said RMC is not a good deal, universities do it way cheaper and better from a value of money perspective; Government did not agree then.
We are in a process of getting ready to do a study. We will draft terms of reference, appoint some external people to lead it. Once we get the study back, then the Chief and I will make recommendations to the Minister based on the study. Government is under no obligation to agree or disagree with the study. That will be in due course.
I was at RMC last week- did a session like this- knowledge was based on what they read in the newspaper vs. the actual study: When you read the reports recommendation was not to close the RMC but to do a study.
Was recently suggested that Canada needs to pay more attention to the defence of Canada and support to other Government departments for things like floods, and health and security of Canadians rather than things like NATO commitments, international threats and global security. What are your thoughts on that?
I don’t think there will ever be a discussion that the armed forces only ever does international, they will always the force of last resort for domestic response. There is an interesting public policy debate about are their other mechanisms either provincially or federally held that could be put in place to reduce the calling of armed forces, that’s an active file right now. Armed forces are the last resort but they get called upon frequently and that frequency will only increase with climate change. Equally we hear with Russia and Ukraine, NATO and NORAD commitments are commitment but they also secure our own safety, we work with allies to try and keep the world more secure. The one where there are maybe some disagreement is this notion about a more stable and international order, all of our systems are based on that, trade, orders, air space, safe passing of vessels, etc. My argument is all the western allies have a role to play in terms of contributing to a more stable international order.
We can’t say that we are going to focus on our own boarders. I don’t agree with that view of the world.
There are so many boilerplate answers in this interview that could be questioned that it is useless.