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December 31, 2018 | Local, Aerospace, Naval, Land, C4ISR, Security

A year-end Q&A with Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan


Federal Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan spoke with iPolitics for a year-end interview. Here's what he had to say.

Q: During your time as Canada's defence minister, what are you most proud of?

A: The thing I'm most proud of is that our defence policy is focused on looking after our people. I've always said our Number 1 asset is our people; if we look after them, everything else will start to fall into place. I'll give you an example of this: putting the tax-free allowance in the defence policy; if you're deployed on an operation internationally, it's tax-free. That gives families back home tremendous flexibility with what they can do. That's one of the things I'm proud of. We also include families as part of our defence policy. We're seeing tangible results. We've done some work, we've got more work to do. As you can see, this is what I'm focused on. Those procurement projects — ships, jets — are absolutely important, right? But the thing is, if we don't look after our people, those ships and jets don't mean anything. And that's probably what I'm most proud of: turning into a reality our focus in the defence policy, which is to our people.

Q: What do you regret during your tenure as defence minister?

A: Sometimes things can't move as fast as you want. I wouldn't call it a regret, but you want to see progress as fast as possible, and sometimes you end up pushing so hard, like with procurement: Why aren't we moving faster? We have these questions, and we're reminded that we need to hire enough people to move on these files. And so it's a reminder — it's not a regret — to never put your people in a position to over-extend themselves. You need to have a holistic Canadian Armed Forces that will look after itself. This whole conversation of more teeth, less tail — I hate that. In reality, making sure your pension cheques are given on time is just as important.

Q: Is there something you really want to accomplish during the time remaining in your mandate?

A: It goes back to my first point: making sure we have enough momentum that we're able to start executing all the things that we want, and having the right number of people to be able to move our projects forward. Also, making it a reality that, from the time somebody joins the military, we're focusing on resilience and that they know the country has their backs. For example, with the Transition Group, we've ensured that no future government can ever take that focus away from the people ever again.

Q: Whether you or someone else takes over in a year's time, what will be the most pressing issue he or she faces?

A: For me, a Number 1 priority will be making sure the environment inside the Canadian Armed Forces is one that's inclusive, that's harassment-free, and I know it seems very idealistic to say this, but any other goal is unacceptable, because it leaves leeway for things, because when you create that environment, you'll be able to get the best potential out of your people at the same time. That's the challenge we're working on. General (Jonathan) Vance is aggressively dealing with this, and Operation Honour is showing results. To me, it's a challenge, and a challenge that has to be met, regardless of who's in this position.

Q: Is there something you wanted to accomplish that was pushed aside by larger or more pressing priorities?

A: There's one thing I was really looking forward to doing, which is learn French. I sort of underestimated the time required of the job. However, I am still committed to learning French. I do what I can in my own time, and I'll learn it when I leave politics, because I think it's important for all Canadians to be able to speak both official languages.

Q: You're up for re-election. You've been defence minister for three years, which is a relatively long time. Aside from Peter MacKay, who held the job for about six years, you've had one of the longest tenures of the past 20 years. If re-elected, will you seek re-appointment?

A: I got into politics because I wanted to represent the neighbourhood I grew up in of Vancouver South, and I was very privileged to have that honour. When it comes to the next election, my job is going to be to make sure I connect with my community in my riding. That's the Number 1 job that I'm fighting for: to become the member of Parliament for Vancouver South. If the prime minister thinks again that my skills are needed, regardless of portfolio, I'd be honoured and privileged to serve.

Q: Considering you got into politics to represent Vancouver South, is there something that being defence minister prevented you from doing, and that, given another term, you'd like to take on?

A: In Vancouver South, my focus has been a lot on the youth, and I've done a lot of things in the riding, but I always feel like I wish I could do more. I want people to know that I — a person who grew up in that riding — can do some interesting things, and reach this portfolio, and that every single (constituent) can reach the highest levels. So that's the one thing I wish I had a little bit more time to do. But at the end of the day, if I still had that time, I would still have that regret, because I want to make sure we inspire the next generation, because I see so much potential in them.

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