Canada’s defence minister popular in Kelowna

Harjit Sajjan touted the federal government's planned defence review during a stop in the Okanagan Friday.

Harjit Sajjan

With the exception of Canada’s popular new prime minister Justin Trudeau, federal politicians don’t tend to attract lines of people waiting to have their pictures taken with them.

But Canada’s “bad ass” defence minister Harjit Sajjan may be the cabinet minister who can give his boss a run for his money.

In Kelowna Friday to deliver two speeches—one to a sold-out chamber of commerce lunch and one to the local air force veteran’s association annual dinner—Sajjan, a decorated former Canadian soldier and police officer who served in several of the world’s war-torn hotspots during his military career, shook hands, talked and posed for photographs with members of his audience at the chamber lunch for nearly half and hour following his address.

“It’s really quite humbling,” said Sajjan when asked about the reception he has had from Canadians since being named defence minister following last October’s federal election win by the Liberals.

The straight-talking, turban-wearing Canadian war hero, used his address to the chamber to tout the government’s plans to gather public, expert and military input for what he promised would be the most extensive review of the country’s defence policy in more than 20 years.

He told his audience Canada needs to not only change what it does when it comes to defending this country and participating in missions abroad, but it it needs to change the way it does it.

He said one way is to help stop wars before they start by working with authorities in areas such as the middle east to help train security forces.

He talked about government spending on new military infrastructure such as new air craft for the air force and new ships for the navy and coast guard.

But he was quick to say it is men and women who serve who are the “real strength” of the Canadian Armed Forces and, while the country needs a well-equipped, action-ready force, it also needs to take care of those who serve and have served in the past.

“My job is to serve all out men and women in uniform,” said Sajjan. “If I serve them, our national defence will be served very well.”

To than end he said both he and the country’s top soldier, the chief of the defence staff, would be “relentless” in making sure the Canadian Armed Forces are free from harassment and discrimination.

He said one of the first questions he was asked by his counterpart in the U.S. was about the role of women in combat in the Canadian Armed Forces.

“I said it’s not even a question here,” said Sajjan, adding he could speak from experience, having had his life saved three times in combat by female soldiers.

One of the areas where the former Conservative government ran into trouble was in its handling of veterans’ affairs.

Many veterans were unhappy with federal support programs for them after they left the service, especially if they were injured especially with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sajjan promised it would be different under the Liberal government.

“We have a lot of work to do but we will deal with it,” he said.