MP McCrimmon named chair of national defence committee

WEST CARLETON – As a retired member of the Canadian Armed Forces and a decorated member of the Royal Canadian Air Force, it’s no surprised Kanata-Carleton MP Karen McCrimmon was elected chair of the Standing Committee on National Defence last February.

The House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence is a permanent committee established by the Standing Orders, the written rules under which the House of Commons regulates its proceedings. It is mandated to review all matters pertaining to the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces. It may examine and report on matters referred to it by the House of Commons or it may undertake studies on its own initiative.

The current session of the committee started Dec. 5, but members weren’t named until early February and the election of the chair and vice-chairs on Feb. 24.

“They just named the members of the committee last February,” McCrimmon told West Carleton Online last week (March 4) following the announcement of a $400,000 federal grant to the Diefenbunker Museum. “Once I found out who was assigned to the committee, I talked to a few friends of mine who are involved in the committee and said, ‘you know, I think I’m going to run for chair.’ It’s usually a government member who serves as chair of this committee, so they all encouraged me to run. They said, yes, go run, we know you are credible. I was voted in to be the chair and I appreciate all the support from my colleagues and now the real work begins.”

In fact, McCrimmon was elected by unanimous vote. McCrimmon’s vote certainly was influenced by her outstanding military career.

McCrimmon joined the regular forces in 1980, and became an air navigator, the first female to gain such a qualification. In 1995, she was made a member of the Order of Military Merit and, in 1998, was promoted to lieutenant-colonel and given command of 429 Transport Squadron, becoming the first woman to command a Canadian Forces flying squadron. In 2000, she headed the Transport and Rescue Standardization and Evaluation Team. In July 2006, she was posted to Ramstein, Germany to serve as a senior staff officer at the NATO Air Headquarters. She did a tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2004 where she was responsible for NATO Airlift Co-ordination. She retired from the forces in 2006.

The 12-member committee has representative from four political parties including the Liberals, Conservatives, Bloc Québécois and NDP. McCrimmon says her job is to bring all the parties together.

“As chair, your job is to find common ground, help the committee move forward and be as effective as they can in their work,” she said. “We say the committee is the master of its own fate. We decide what we are going to study, and I see what the opposition members say and what the government members say and see if I can find some common ground.’ I think in a minority government situation it’s all about getting people to find common ground. Find common objectives so we can work together.

And there is no shortage of national security issues for the committee to work on.

“Cybersecurity is an issue, NORAD modernization is an issue, the continuance of our mission in the Ukraine, or the Baltic States, procurement is an issue,” McCrimmon said. “They are all coming up and the committee has to figure out best how to support National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces through their studies. You can call witnesses, so we get a really complete picture and hopefully support the government in its decision-making process.”

Despite the variety of political backgrounds, McCrimmon says the committee has found some common ground on outstanding issues.

“Yes, we have,” McCrimmon said. “Some people have put something forward on one topic and one of the other members asked, ‘could we include this?’ So, we were talking about northern Canada. How is the future going to impact on northern Canada? Well there’s also some people who want to talk about NORAD. Well, maybe we can do both. We can talk about the defence of northern Canada as well as looking at things that can be dual purpose – used both for defence purposes and for the people of northern Canada. We’re trying to knit things together.”

The other members on the committee include vice-chairs James Bezan (Conservative) and Michel Boudrias (Bloc Québécois) and members Hon. Larry Bagnell (Liberal), Yvan Baker (Liberal), Terry Dowdall (Conservative), Cheryl Gallant (Conservative), Randall Garrison (NDP), Richard Martel (Conservative), Yves Robillard (Liberal), Sven Spengemann (Liberal) and Anita Vandenbeld (Liberal).

The committee met earlier today (March 11) to discuss the matter of supplementary estimates but has no upcoming meetings scheduled.