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Blair pledges to increase defence funding. “The world is becoming more challenging and dangerous place”

Mar 14, 2024 | Canada, Featured

Ministers Bill Blair and Randy Boissonnault with demining trainers from Operation Unifier. Photo: L. Wasylyn

Lidia M. Wasylyn for NP-UN.

“I want to acknowledge that although we are significantly increasing our investment in defence, we must do more. And Canada will do more, the world has changed, the world is becoming more challenging and dangerous place,” stated Minister of National Defence Bill Blair, at a press conference March 4, 2024 at the Edmonton Garrison. The primary reason for the press conference was to announce a significant investment into up grades at the Edmonton Garrison. It was also an opportunity to question the Minister about Canada’s continued commitment to supporting Ukraine.
After the press gathering, Minister Blair along with Randy Boissonnault, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Official Languages, met informally with Ukraine’s Consul General in Edmonton, Oleksandr Danyleiko and a small group of representatives of the Ukrainian Canadian community to share some information about Operation Unifier.

The morning’s events were introduced by Brigadier General Steven Graham, commander of the 3rd Canadian Division headquartered at the Edmonton Garrison. He explained that it is the largest Division of the four Canadian Divisions and covers all the army units from Thunder Bay to Victoria, and from Lethbridge to Resolute Bay.

Brigadier General Graham stated “the 3rd Division is the Army of the West and the Army of the North, and we live and work in over 130 communities across that vast region. The 3rd Division trains forces for both expeditionary operations and domestic operations and is ready to respond to what ever it is that the Government of Canada asks us to do. Over next few months the 3rd Division will deploy troops on numerous operations around the world including Operation Unifier, that is the Canadian armed forces’ military training and capacity mission in support of Ukraine and Operation Reassurance, that is our largest overseas mission supporting NATO in central and easter Europe.” The 3rd Division has a large geographic footprint and remains ready to support Canadians domestically as they did last summer in 2023, when they deployed 8 different times to support disasters in Alberta, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.

In his remarks, Minister Blair stated “We have an obligation to provide our troops with all the tools and modern infrastructure that they need to do their job. Whether this by increasing our defence spending, providing our forces with new and modern equip or working to make things easier for military families and more affordable with more affordable housing and childcare. Because each of our personnel represents the very best of what Canada has to offer.”

Blair continued, “Our military members also deserve to work in modern, clean facilities that are sustainable now and into the future. It is important that they have the equipment that they need to do the job and that, that equipment be maintained in good working order. Today I’m here to provide on update on some of our efforts to modernize our military base here in Edmonton. I am pleased to announce that we will be investing $43.3 million to upgrade the 124 building at the Edmonton base. They will receive modern retrofits that will better serve the military’s needs and save money for the Canadian taxpayers. They will be upgrading everything from lighting, heat, energy recovery systems, installing better and more efficient water fixtures and much more. These upgrades will help reduce energy costs at the base by 21% saving taxpayers $2 million annually that can be better invested in other ways to support the Canadian Armed Forces. These upgrades will sustain more 125 jobs in the construction phase. This is good news for the military and the environment.” The work will not disrupt the operations of the base and will continue through 2026. Similar upgrades to military facilities are being done across Canada.

In his comments, Minister Boissonnault highlighted the Edmonton Garrison’s history. He said “this base and its personnel have a long history, and a proud history serving our country’s most important military missions dating all the way back to the Second World War. We remember how instrumental each and every person on this base was in putting together Operation Unifier in the United Kingdom after Russia’s brutal and illegal invasion of Ukraine in 2022. We just had a sombre anniversary, two years into this illegal war, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine trying to upset the international rules-based order that has literally led to prosperity and peaceful times since the second world war.

Minister Boissonnault, addressing the Canadian Armed Forces members in attendance, stated, “you have provided our Ukrainian friends with training in tank operations, battlefield medicine so they can defend their country and democracy at large around the world. The work that you do here is critical on the international stage as well as for Canada here at home.”

Concerning Operation Unified, Minister Blair acknowledged that soldiers from Edmonton have deployed on Operation Unifier providing Ukrainians with excellent training. “Many soldiers here in Edmonton have also deployed on Operation Unifier providing Ukrainians with crucial combat skills. I was in Ukraine just last week with Prime Minister Trudeau and we heard directly from President Zelensky, as I have heard from their military leaders, about the incredible impact that training has had. So, to all Canadian Forces Members who have deployed to Operation Unifier and have contributed to those efforts I want you to know that your efforts to train over 40,000 Ukrainian troops is being recognized around the world and is greatly appreciated by the people of Ukraine,” he said.

Left to Right: Brigadier General Steven Graham, Commander of the 3rd Canadian Division, Dennis Scraba, Dr. Walter Kowalchyk, Ivan Lypovyk, Minister Randy Boissonnault, Orysia Boychuk, Minister Bill Blair, Lidia Wasylyn, Olesia Luciw-Andryjowycz, Sergeant-Major, Chief Warrant Officer Wayne Bantock. Photo: Minister Blair’s office

To questions about Canadian troop readiness Minister Blair stated, “We are going to rely on the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces to defend our country, to maintain our sovereignty and to support our alliances. We know we need to invest more in the Canadia Armed Forces, and we will invest more in the Canadian Armed Forces.” He further stated, “My assessment is that we’ve got some work to do. Right now, we have a number of challenges ensuring that our military production provides, for example, the munitions that the Canadian Armed Forces need. I am also very mindful of how important people are, there is no more important investment that we can make then to build the strength of our armed forces through attracting personnel, new personnel with new skills.

On the question concerning the operational condition and expeditious delivery of surplus CRV7 rockets that are scheduled for disposal, but still in service with many of Canada’s allies and are in fact compatible with the F-16, Minister Blair explained that “Expeditiously supplying Ukraine with what they need, yes, we are absolutely committed to that. There were initially about 83,000 CRV7 rockets that were placed in storage. They were actually acquired in the70s and early 80’s, they were taken out of operations and use in 2005 and the 83000 missiles or rockets that we had that time were placed in storage and scheduled for disposal. Some of that has already taken place. We do not have fully 83,000 but I believe there are a number of those rockets that are still useable and there are a number of motors that come with those rockets which the Ukrainians, in my meeting with them last week, had indicated that they can use. We are doing the work right now, to make sure that those munitions can be safely transported. Once that has been determined, and that should be only a matter of days, we will as move as quickly as possible to get all that resource to Ukraine.” Blair did not confirm how many of the CRV7 rockets are available nor what percentage of the rockets are believed to be usable.
The Ukrainian Government has been asking for NASAM missiles to be able to defend its territory. Canada already paid $406 million to the United States for the delivery of the NASAMS a year ago but these have not yet been delivered to Ukraine. When questioned about the reasons for the delay, when Ukraine can expect these defense systems to be delivered and what Canada is doing to ensure that it gets what it paid for, Minister Blair stated, “Ukraine has been very clear that they need those NASAMS missiles in order to defend their country. We believe that best way to do that, most expeditiously acquire those missiles that Ukraine said they needed was to do it in partnership with the United States which was already in the process of putting together a very significant contract for a number NASAMS missiles systems for Ukraine. So, we joined in that partnership, and we committed over $400 million to that partnership, and we put that money into that coalition for that purchase. Unfortunately, the United States has encountered some challenges with that procurement. I have spoken to the US Ambassador to Canada. I have also spoken to the Secretary of Defense, asking them that they expedite Canada’s purchase as quickly as possible. I also met quite recently with the Minister of Strategic Industry and the Minister of Defense in Ukraine about our efforts to support them and they said they want us to continue to proceed with the acquisition of those NASAMS missiles as quickly as possible and we are doing everything possible to make that happen. But they have other needs; for example, we just recently announced the acquisition and delivery of 800 drones that Ukraine will require. We are working on the delivery of some of the munitions they have indicated are require.”

When asked if the Ukrainian Government has requested that Canadian Armed Forces be sent to the country, Minister Blair was very clear. He stated, ‘We have worked very closely with Ukraine from the outset. In 2015 after the initial invasion of Crimea and the Donbas when Russia invaded the sovereign territory of Ukraine, we began training Ukrainian Armed Forces in Ukraine in 2015 and over the past 8 years we have trained in excess of 40,000 Ukrainian Armed Forces members. After the Russian invasion into Ukraine that began two years ago, we moved some of that training out into the United Kingdom, Poland and Latvia and some of it is occurring in Canada. We have had discussions with Ukrainians that suggest that when the conditions are right, we may be able to return to training in Ukraine. Those conditions do not yet exist.”

When pressed further on this question, if Canada is considering sending a limited number of military personnel to Ukraine under certain conditions and what those conditions might be, Minister Blair was unequivocal that his priority is to ensure the safety of all Canadian Armed Forces personnel. “If Canadians are to undertake training missions for example, in Ukraine, it would have to be under circumstances which would be safe.” Blair said Canada is also very mindful of that the Canadian Armed Forces cannot have any combat role or what could be perceived as a combat role. “ I think our training has been very effective. We are also committed to supplying Ukraine with the munitions, equipment and other material supports in order to assist them in their valiant fight against Russia. But as I said, those conditions do not currently exist with the agreement. Our Prime Minister and President Zelensky entered into a security assurance agreement just last week when we were in Kyiv. In that agreement there is a provision that allows for consideration of deployment of training resources when conditions are right, unfortunately right now those conditions are not there.” Minister Blair stated the current circumstances are not appropriate for that training to take place in Ukraine. The minister said Canada will continue to train. He had the opportunity to be at a Polish military base just on the boarder with Ukraine but in Poland where Canadian Armed Forces members were delivering medical training to Ukrainian Armed Forces personnel and that training is saving lives. “It’s making a difference, and it’s highly valued by the armed forces of Ukraine and we’re going to continue to do it, safely, in Poland,” he said.

Following the press conference, several members of the Ukrainian Canadian community heard personal recollections from a participant of Operation Unifier. He described the work done by the Canadians and highlighted the personal relationships and bonds that developed between the Canadian and Ukrainian military personnel. A display of various land mines (all blanks) and some portable demining equipment were available for examination. The Operation Unifier participants who work with demining were proud to share their experiences of training the Ukrainian Armed Forces on demining techniques and equipment. To facilitate further training and overcome the language barrier, the Canadian Forces developed a training manual on demining that was translated info the Ukrainian language. Each Ukrainian soldier who trained on demining received a copy of the manual for future use. It is a fantastic training tool and the Canadians described how the demining training is saving lives in Ukraine.

During further informal chats, Consul General Danyleiko took the opportunity to express the gratitude of the Ukrainian Nation for the tremendously important work of training the Ukrainian military personnel that is being done by Canada. Each one of the community representatives in attendance also expressed their profound appreciation for all that Canada is doing to support Ukraine in its defensive war.

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