Minister Anand started by talking a bit about how she got here--that her academic law prof work on corporate governance caused her to enter the policy space via op-eds and other engagement. This led to invitations for her to run for office. She ultimately won a contested nomination and then ran in a not so safe riding, and did not expect to either be in cabinet or that the post she got (Minister of Procurement) would be so central. But her background in contracting helped out when she was able to get vaccines for Canada quicker than most non-producing countries.*
* I tried to take the best notes I can, but having lawyers as colleagues, I have been informed that they are very precise about their words. So, I need to be clear that I may not have gotten everything you see below word for word.
After her intro, I asked the first question. I had noted that the coverage of the budget yesterday had indicated that we would be having a defence review which I had thought was in contradiction to an answer she gave at the CDAI Ottawa Conference on Defence and Security. Today, she said that she very much favors having regular defence reviews as they serve to form the "backbone of defence policy." She did note that we need to accept that some decisions must be made given the events of our time before a review will be complete. So, we will have a review, but that will not stop her from making decisions as they arise. She said it was good to have a good, multiyear plan.
I pointed out that most IR types recommend that defence reviews best take place within a foreign policy review and that, well, we can't really expect a timely foreign policy review. She indicated that she works closely with the Foreign Minister, but there are plenty of issues, such as procurement decisions that can essentially stand alone.
Then the students asked questions. The first was on continental security and NORAD. She said that the government was already spending some $250 million to do the research to figure out what is needed--sensors, communications. When pushed on priorities, she said that climate change was a greater concern than Russian encroachment--that is deterred in part by membership in NATO.
The second question was more civ-mil-ish (most questions were not): does one need to be an expert to be a Minister? She said that her law degree was the key--that she could not function without understanding legislation, policy-making, processes to be accountable and to ensure others are accountable (sounds like an MA in International Affairs or Public Policy would be handy). She notes that she has plenty of experts giving her advice and so the key is to know her authorities and to make the best rational decisions. Her job is to "stay engaged with what Canadians need." She "doesn't need to be an expert in military strategy, but does need to understand the National Defence Act."
A student asked if Canada might serve as a guarantor of any Russia-Ukraine agreement. She indicated that was more of a Foreign Minister question. She then noted all that Canada has been doing for Ukraine, including talking twice this week with their Minister of Defence.
The next question focused on China, and Minister Anand indicated she is a supporter of the sail throughs, where our ships go through international waters. In response to a cyber question, where she noted that the Communications Security Establishment is her area of responsibility, she noted that part of Canada's assistance to Ukraine was helping Ukraine in the realm of cyber surveillance and that continues even as the training mission has been withdrawn. That bit was the most surprising/newsy thing she said.
I wish I had primed the students to ask more civ-mil questions given the focus of the course and my desire for them to ask questions that I want to ask... but it was a fascinating 30 minutes. We got a lot in and were most grateful she made time for us on this very busy budget day.