Lessons from down under

There is a very interesting article on The Embassy website by David Perry, the Senior 031616_coverAnalyst of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, and Tom Ring, a Senior Fellow at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and a former Assistant Deputy Minister, Acquisitions Branch, at PWGSC, about how looking at the recent Australian defence review (which resulted in a white paper I discussed earlier) might help Defence Minster Harjit Sajjan with his review of Canadian defence needs.

Messers Perry and Ring note that “the Australian approach to undertaking a defence review provides a good template for Canada to use as we conduct our own. While differing timelines will require some deviations, and our specific policies will necessarily be different, the Australian process lays down a clear roadmap to follow. ” They go on to describe the Australian process as being on that “sets out three specific sovereignty and security interests – homeland defence, near region stability, and broader region and global security – then establishes specific defence objectives that outline the activities the government expects its defence forces to be able to undertake in pursuit of its strategic interests. From that, the investments required to achieve them are itemized, along with a long-term budget plan. Finally, a strategic plan for working with the domestic defence industry to implement the defence policy was also published.” It is, they conclude, and I agree, a good roadmap for Canada to follow.

There is one fly in the ointment as far as, I suspect, the Trudeau government is concerned. According to the article, the Australian “defence policy review includes a fully-costed and independently-verified investment plan covering all planned equipment and infrastructure over a 10-year horizon. In doing so, it commits Australia to increasing its defence expenditures to two per cent of GDP, the same target that Canada had long signed up for within NATO but failed to meet.” This is, I think, far out of line with Liberal Party plans and policies.

1101490912_400Slide1There is an obvious question: how did the Liberal Party of Canada get from the estimable Louis St Laurent, who gave Canada a coherent, broadly accepted (by Conservatives and Liberals, alike) and responsible suite of foreign and defence policies to the questionable Justin Trudeau who leads a party with its strategic head buried deeply in the sands of groundless hope.

The answer is found in the 1960s …


… Pierre Trudeau profoundly reshaped the Liberal Party of Canada and, because of its central role in Canada, the country itself.


It is impossible, I think, to understand what Pierre Trudeau did without understanding a bit about why he did it. Much has been made of a young Pierre Trudeau riding around GroulxMontreal, during World War II, wearing an old, spiked (World War I) German helmet. The young Pierre Trudeau had become attached to the ideas of Abbé Lionel Groulx, a priest and historian who espoused a fervid French-Canadian nationalism, who taught that the war was just a routine, periodic settling of scores amongst foreign imperialists and was of no concern to Quebecers, and who was also an apologist for Marshal Pétain’s Nazi collaborationist Vichy regime in France. His Ligue d’Action française was very influential, especially with some young, educated, French Canadians like Pierre Trudeau. But during and after the war he, Trudeau, began to turn away from nationalism of every sort ~ first, in Harvard, he became enamoured with communism, even writing his MA thesis on the topic of communism and Christianity.

Triquet_e010786012-v8Pierre Trudeau was not unique in this. Many, many young, educated French Canadians fell under the same influences and shared the same world view. Abbé Groulx and other French Canadian ultra-nationalists were plentiful and had many pulpits, in churches and in universities, from which to preach their narrow minded, confused message. But for every Pierre Trudeau who ducked the war there was, of course, a Paul Triquet who went into action and earned a VC! It is wrong and dangerous to generalize too much about French Canadians and their attitudes towards the war, as many pseudo-Conservatives are prone to do. Pierre Trudeau was typical of one fairly small group; Paul Triquet of another; and most French Canadians were, probably, somewhere in the middle.

When he studied in France in the late 1940s Pierre Trudeau completed his turn away from nationalism; it was pretty much a complete volte-face and anti-nationalism became something akin to an obsession with him. He was the sort of thinker that the great English liberal philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin would describe as a hedgehog, based on the notion of the Greek poet Archilochus that “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Anti-nationalism was Pierre Trudeau’s “one big thing” and it coloured almost everything he did, later, as prime minister of Canada.

Trudeau’s antipathy towards nationalism, which he seems to have seen as the root cause of the 20th century’s destructive wars, drew him even closer to Marxist-Leninist communism which he seems to have believed represented, in e.g. the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the best hope for a post-nationalist world order. qvive-le-quebec-libre-q-The same anti-nationalism drove him, back home in Quebec, to oppose Premier Maurice Duplessis and his writings in his obscure, left wing journal Cité Librebut those writingsarguably and perversely from Pierre Trudeau’s standpoint, strengthened Quebec nationalism and helped bring about “maîtres chez nous” andVive le Québec libre” and, ultimately, the FLQ and then René Lévesque, and, and, and … everything Prime Minister Trudeau had come to despise came to Quebec thanks, in some part, to his own confused political philosophy which, even when he was prime minister of Canada, still had too much of Lionel Groulx and Henri Bourassa and little of Louis St Laurent and Georges Vanier.

Pierre Trudeau’s anti-nationalism led him, also,  to distrust the Americans (he started off mistrusting the British thanks to Abbé Groulx) because he thought their anti-communism was based, in large measure, on the chauvinistic and militaristic nationalism of the “military-industrial complex” about which Eisenhower warned. In his mind, it seems to me, the profession of arms was, of necessity, a too powerful manifestation of all that was wrong with nationalism.  His mistrust of the Americans, especially of the US military,  was deepened by the Vietnam War, and he came to associate all of the Western militaries, including Canada’s, with notions that he though to be destructive.

Many Liberals thought his anti-nationalism either naive or even counter-productive and some even organized a small revolt in cabinet when, late in the 1960s, he planned to withdraw, completely from NATO and even, it was rumoured, disarm Canada and become shutterstock_192110084something like a Puerto Rico of the North. The anti-nationalism didn’t survive Pierre Trudeau ~ in fact subsequent Liberal governments (Jean Chrétien’s and Paul Martin’s) were actually quite fervently nationalistic, especially when Canada was, several times, named as the best country in which to live, or happiest country and so on ~ but the anti-military sentiment did. It, putting the military at the bottom of every priority list, is one of the remaining “hangovers” from the Pierre Trudeau era. So is a “soft left/anti-American”foreign policy that is often disguised as being “balanced,” which is a codeword for anti-Western.

Defence Policy

Given that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is, most likely, in full accord with the left-Liberal anti-military sentiment then we ought not to expect that he will be looking for a return to the St Laurent era … that must be a goal of the 21st century Conservative Party of Canada.

(We must not confuse the St Laurent era with the 21st century. Canada shouldered a vastly heavier burden in the 1950s because the countries that are, now, our NATO and Asian allies were, then, just starting to recover and rebuild after World War II. No one expects Canada to spend 7% or even 3.5% of GDP on defence in 2020, but 2% is affordable and reasonable.)

Still, there is no reason why the Trudeau government cannot, as Messers Perry and Ring suggest, adopt a similar methodology to the one used in Australia:

  1. Set out specific, strategic vital interests in the sovereignty and security (regional and global) realms;
  2. Establish specific defence objectives that outline the activities the government expects its defence forces to be able to undertake in pursuit of its strategic vital; interests;
  3. Define the investments required to achieve them and  itemize them, along with a long-term budget plan; and
  4. Produce a strategic business plan for working with the domestic defence industry to implement the defence policy.

The authors recommend another “area that should be of interest in Canada.” It “is the … clear vision of the strategic partnership with the defence industry … that is needed in order to meet  strategic objectives. This is focused on delivering capability, fostering innovation, driving exports and cutting procurement red tape.

In 2014, the previous Government of Canada outlined similar objectives with the release of its Defence Procurement Strategy. It is unclear whether similar objectives are part of the current government’s approach to defence.

And the new Australian approach of recognizing its defence industry as a fundamental building block of defence capability, and crafting a framework oriented around maintaining sovereign industrial capabilities in key strategic areas, goes far further than Canada’s current procurement strategy in forming a partnership with industry.”

So, even if the Trudeau Liberals are uninterested in defence, per se, and unwilling to spend more, they are, I am about 99.9% certain, being briefed by senior Canadian officials and by trusted allies about threats to Canada that they did not, could not in most cases, imagine while sitting on the opposition (third parry) benches. We are learning that they are learning that not everything the last government did, like controlling what scientists could say in public and how to manage public service sick leave, was unreasonable. The government, even if it wants (needs) to cut defence, can and should, at least, follow up on a strategic defence-industry business plan and learn  some other lessons from down under.

Published by Ted Campbell

Old, retired Canadian soldier, Conservative ~ socially moderate, but a fiscal hawk. A husband, father and grandfather. Published material is posted under the "Fair Dealing" provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act for the purposes of research, private study and education.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: