OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau has recruited the woman who successfully led Canada’s vaccine procurement to tackle its military, currently engulfed in a sexual misconduct crisis amid widespread demands for cultural changes.
The prime minister introduced Anita Anand as the country’s new defense minister, one of the most notable moves of Tuesday’s post-election Cabinet overhaul.
“She is a world-class expert in governance with decades of professional experience that she will bring to bear to make sure that the Canadian Armed Forces, the leadership and the operations thereof are worthy of the extraordinary women and men who choose to serve,” Trudeau told reporters after the swearing-in ceremony.
Anand, a former law professor and expert in corporate governance, was first elected to Parliament barely two years ago with a lengthy resume but no military experience.
But the lack of a political background didn’t prevent her, as Trudeau’s procurement minister, from overseeing Canada’s effort to secure tens of millions of doses of Covid vaccines.
She is credited with helping amass one of the world’s biggest supplies of shots on behalf of a country with no capacity to manufacture its own. Canada also has one of the world’s highest vaccination rates.
Early in the pandemic, Anand’s efforts helped Canada snap up mountains of masks, syringes and gowns amidst intense international competition. As one of the faces of Canada’s pandemic response, she appeared to be one of Trudeau’s most capable ministers during public briefings on the crisis.
“Like you saw with vaccines, I am determined,” Anand said in French to reporters late Tuesday. “I work very hard and I am results-oriented. So, these are the qualities that I will bring to this file.”
She later said that she will be “reviewing everything,” including past reports on misconduct in the armed forces and the recent independent review of the military justice system.
“I will be asking the department for an analysis of the recommendations that have already been implemented as well as the ones that have not been,” she said. “There’s no one switch that we can turn on to change everything overnight. This is going to take time and, while that may frustrate some, I want to assure everyone that I will put in the necessary work for as long as it takes to get this done.”
A senior government official who worked with Anand told POLITICO that “it’s not too much of a stretch to say that it’s like she’s the minister of justice” for the Defense Department.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the change, said Anand is detail-oriented and will ask lots of questions.
She will press people to explain their approach, ask them about alternatives and will give directions, the insider said.
“She’s gone toe to toe with Big Pharma executives for the last several months and won,” the official said. “That’s set her up well to be able to do this with generals and like.”
Anand, the second woman to hold the defense minister’s post, takes over from Harjit Sajjan, who had served as Trudeau’s defense minister since the Liberals came to power six years ago.
Sajjan, a former soldier who was moved Tuesday to international development in what was seen as a demotion, has been the target of criticism about the Trudeau government’s handling of the military crisis.
Anand’s lack of military background is seen by some as an advantage.
“I don’t see it as an obstacle or as detrimental in any way,” Leah West, a Carleton University national security expert, told POLITICO on Tuesday. “We saw that having military experience is not necessarily a recipe for success. … I’m actually not at all concerned by that. What military responds to is strong leadership and it doesn’t necessarily take military experience to command that kind of respect.”
West, who served for a decade in the Canadian Armed Forces, said Anand has proven to be a strong communicator. She argued it’s something that’s been lacking at the defense minister’s level.
On Tuesday, Trudeau credited Sajjan with taking on the military’s “old boys network.” In doing so, the prime minister also hinted at the challenge that awaits Anand.
“I don’t think anyone can be surprised at the kind of push back he saw as he was trying to bring about changes over the past number of years,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau also mentioned a forthcoming report by former Supreme Court of Canada justice Louise Arbour. Her review, launched earlier this year, will examine the causes of harassment and sexual misconduct in the military despite the efforts to get rid of it. The work, to be completed in 2022, will also seek to identify barriers to reporting inappropriate behavior and problem with the responses to it.
Arbour’s review follows a 2015 review into sexual misconduct and harassment in the military. The report, prepared by retired Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps, called for policy changes to confront “the problem of sexual harassment and sexual assault.”
The Deschamps report found “an underlying sexualized culture in the CAF that is hostile to women and LGTBQ members, and conducive to more serious incidents of sexual harassment and assault.” The report then said: “Cultural change is therefore key.”
Beyond the sexual misconduct issues, Anand faces other major decisions.
Stephanie Carvin, a national security expert from Carleton University, said in an interview that the modernization of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is a big one for Canada.
For example, Carvin said the U.S. military has been warning that many of NORAD’s systems in the Arctic will be obsolete by 2023.
She said NORAD modernization will be a difficult conversation for Canada because it will require funding and it will reopen a potentially contentious debate over ballistic missile defense.
“I’m not sure that’s the debate that the Trudeau government is going to want to have now — but that’s gonna fall to her,” Carvin said of Anand.