Town Halls on Defense Relied on Lack of Public Understanding
THUNDER BAY – LETTERS – As a retired Canadian Naval Officer, I attended one of the Town Hall meetings on Defense here in Thunder Bay. In general, Canadians by and large know little about defence policy, are largely ignorant of the roles and missions of the Canadian Armed Forces and have little real understanding of Canada’s current role in foreign affairs and its’ obligations under international treaties such as NATO and NORAD and indeed the UN. Justin Trudeau is counting on the wishy washy response to this defence review. It is quite clear that this public consultation was undertaken with the Liberal tongue firmly in its’ collective cheek allowing them to spend less while promising more.
Essentially knowing that these town halls would be populated by many who yearn for a return to “peacekeeping” and an often imagined role for Canada as an independent “middle power”, Trudeau and Defense Minister Saijan are gambling that the Canadian public will save them from having to make substantial investments in the armed forces, allowing them to once again leave Canada’s sailors, soldiers and aviators to struggle along without the appropriate equipment, training and maintenance. Without having the ability to create peace, you have no ability to keep the peace.
Mr. Trudeau’s recent pronouncement that although Canada lags near the bottom of NATO with regards to the amount of national gross domestic production (GDP) (with just under 1% for 2017) Canada makes up for this by responding to a greater number of requests than other NATO allies. Well although there might be a small grain of truth in this, what he did not say was, that by continuing to utilize the forces at a high rate while not reinvesting in the equipment, training and infrastructure, he was essentially spending investment put into the forces by past governments, both Conservative and Liberal. Clearly such a rate of reinvestment is not sustainable, but this fits into the Liberal view of the CAF as “peacekeepers” …in an era when there is no peace to keep and those who venture forth in the name of the UN need to be prepared for medium and high intensity conflict, no doubt with Canadian men and women coming home in body bags. This is not in any way like the blue helmet missions of the past, but conveniently this fact is ignored and the Liberals would also like to avoid having to debate this kind of deployment in Parliament.
In contrast, Australia is investing heavily in all branches of their armed forces with the latest percentage of GDP expended on defence being in the 1.7 percent range, nearly double what Canada is spending. Some will say that it is Australia’s proximity to world hotspots that is driving Australian investment. This is partly true, but it can be said as well that the Australian view of the world and Australia’s place in it, and the values that the Government and people of Australia wish to stand for are also a huge factor as well. By and large, the people of this nation do not want to be dependent on other nations for their defence, and understand that if they do not look after Australia’s vital interests, someone else will be minding it for them…not necessarily in their best interests.
Canada needs to adopt the realistic approach that our Commonwealth friends have adopted. With increasing tension in our world, a realistic and rational approach to Canada’s place in the world is the need for forces to be able to independently respond to conflict and war at both the state and non-state levels, respond to challenges to Canadian sovereignty at home and natural disasters at home and abroad. Unknown to many Canadians, our ability to do any of this has been eroding over the years and all indications are that rather than keeping the substantial commitments to renewal that he made during the last election campaign, Justin Trudeau will continue to try and muddy the waters, use the selected input of people who agree with him, declare a need for a peace dividend and continue to surrender Canada’s rightful place in the world in pursuit of a Security Council seat and a “progressive” approach to Canada’s domestic challenges. Sunny ways …indeed.
John A. Bell, LCdr, RCN (Ret’d)