With Canada’s allies, including some of our closest friends, telling us the World needs more Canada we have to ask ourselves, Is there a plan to achieve this? Alternatively, will Canada, once again, get up from the table and walk away just as the bill comes due?
If history is any indication; Canada will excuse itself, slink off to the backdoor and then escape while stiffing our allies with the costs. This is a well-established pattern; we have done this for decades. Canada touts its ability to arrange Free Trade deals, but it is the ability to free load on defence budgets that truly marks Canada’s role in the international community. Let’s be clear, Canada is a participant in many international missions UN or NATO. We can take pride in our willingness to show up. There is however something distinctly distasteful about an apparent willingness to place our Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen in harm’s way, but be cheap in equipping them or giving them the numbers they need to contribute in truly meaningful ways.
This is the shameful message Canada sends to the World, Canada values its treasure more than its troops.
We see this expressed in many ways, but three come to mind immediately.
First we have the announcement that the RCAF will receive 18 “interim” Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet fighters to augment the current fleet of 76 “legacy” Hornets. The explanation has been that Canada lacks sufficient fighter strength to meet both its NORAD and NATO commitments concurrently. This creates a “capability gap” that urgently needs to be addressed.
Two problems emerge:
First, the “interim” fleet was accompanied by an announcement that the full fighter replacement competition would take five years. Five years for an issue that has been studied for years. Many experts have already said that the contest could be held much faster, with a winner chosen before the end of this government mandate instead of being pushed back into the mandate of the next government.
Second, and more telling, the government has said nothing about that future fighter force having the numbers to meet NORAD and NATO missions concurrently. Not one single word. In fact, the only thing we have heard is that the budget for that future fighter force remains unchanged, despite the fact that the interim force will stress that budget.
Combined, these two facts make it clear that this exercise is a political dodge. An artificially created capability gap will be addressed. Once the nation forgets, we can expect the government, in the interests of affordability, to roll back the requirement and once again seek the minimum number of fighters possible. It’s a shell game on a multi-billion dollar scale. Nothing more.
The second way we see Canada’s “cheap” mindset expressed is the abject lack of interest we have seen in a proposal from Irving Shipbuilding to convert and provide one or two Maritime Support Ships for the RCN. These ships would be relatively inexpensive and geared toward the mission of Humanitarian Relief/Disaster Assistance (HA/DR). It sounds like a real no-brainer for a country like Canada right? Ships designed to meet the very roles the Canadian public takes so much pride in should have been snapped up. What makes the issue even more confusing is a ship that the US Navy calls a Maritime Support Ship, the exact same designation.
That ship is MV Ocean Trader (previously Cragside). Ocean Trader is very closely related, but its mission is vastly different. Ocean Trader is being converted to be used as a Special Forces base. Ocean Trader will carry, support and deploy special forces troops in missions world wide.
There is no reason to doubt that an RCN Maritime Support Ship could easily meet either the HA/DR role or the Special Forces support role easily. The ships is designed to be modular and easily reconfigurable. Given the growing importance of Special Operations in today’s world the silence on the proposal is both deafening and inexplicable.
Lastly, we see Canada being cheap in the treatment of Veterans. Promised changes to Veteran care have been slow, and gains by Veterans have been hard-fought. This is the most depressing point, for it solidifies one single conclusion. Canadian Forces personnel will not be supported in the budget, in the field, or when they come home. Truly, Canadian politicians, of all stripes, value the votes they can buy with tax dollars more than they value the troops. Troops are expendable, money has worth.
Canada can, and must, do better.
It won’t though, there are no votes in it. That means there is zero chance our politicians will do it.
Not unless the public demands it. That makes us, the voters, the ones responsible. The ones being cheap.
The folks getting up from the table and not meeting our obligations.