Following on from my comments, yesterday, Professor Doug Bland,* Queens University, writes, in the Ottawa Citizen, that “the Liberal government, among other fundamental defence policy decisions … dithers over committing perhaps hundreds more military personnel to risky, ill-defined missions in Africa” all without offering parliament or Canadians anything like a coherent vision of how the military “fits” into the government’s (also undefined) broad, strategic plan.
But, Prof Bland, explains, “The reality, however, is that Trudeau does have an active, but undeclared, traditional Liberal national defence policy founded on the longstanding Liberal defence bromide: You must not take the CAF seriously. It will not be required for the defence of the country, as the United States will protect us from enemy aggression … [but] … Liberal governments were compelled by public opinion to build significant military forces during the First and Second World Wars and in the early years of the Cold War. After 1960, political support for a modern, robust Canadian Forces gradually, then rapidly, faded from the national political agenda … [and] … The Liberal government’s 1964 White Paper On Defence raised “doubts” about the traditional structure of armed forces and looked to “organizational efficiencies” to reduce defence spending. Former prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s 1971 defence white paper belittled the traditional roles of armed forces, “(especially) at a time when national social and economic needs (were) considerable.” He concluded that “the size of the defence budget can only be made in the context of the Government’s (other) national priorities and programs” and cut budgets and capabilities yet again … [and then] … Prime minister Jean Chrétien’s 1994 defence white paper was clear and ultimately disarming: “Everything is being made leaner, everything is undergoing the closest scrutiny.” Deep cuts were made to budgets, infrastructure and administration, but most radically to operational capabilities and to plans and budgets intended to modernization of next-generation armed force.“
That “bromide,” was, of course, begun when Prime Minister Mackenzie King more or less understood Roosevelt’s grand strategy: Britain might, unfortunately, fall, the British Empire must fall, Canada would be kept safe, bound, securely, to America and being, more or less, an American protectorate… pace, Arthur Lower, but Roosevelt’s plan, which King, again more or less accepted, was that Canada should go from “Colony to Nation,” as Lower had it and then back to Colony, again, but this time an American one … still a self governing dominion but with certain key policy decisions being made in Washington. Prime Ministers St Laurent, Diefenbaker and Pearson all fought against being too tightly tied to the USA but none questioned that America was, ultimately: right, good, the leader of the West and the ultimate guarantor of Canada’s liberty. But, for Pierre Trudeau, who was, in his soul, a post-nationalist European, it was the perfect excuse to refocus Canada in directions that made sense to him and none of those directions involved using the military, an institution which he both mistrusted and despised, for much of anything.
“The tradition continues,” Professor Bland says, and he predicts that “Trudeau’s national defence policy – if one is presented to Parliament – will also aim to produce, as he announced during the election, “a leaner, more agile” defence force, a target that can be achieved only by reducing CAF operational capabilities … [and] … Informed observers expect that, as a minimum, Trudeau will reduce significantly the defence budget, cut the personnel strength of army and militia units; delay plans to rebuild the navy’s dilapidated submarine fleet; greatly restructure downward the navy’s shipbuilding program; and delay into the far future any decision to replace the CF-18 fleet.“
But, Doug Bland concludes: “If Trudeau believes, after the election of Donald Trump, that Canada can continue to free-ride on the defence policies and budgets of the United States, then he will be greatly disappointed after his first meeting with the president-elect … [and, it is] … Better for Canada’s security and relations with the United States if Trudeau immediately assured Trump that Canada intends to significantly modernize the Canadian Forces and shows him his government’s budget to do so.“
I’m afraid that the “longstanding Liberal defence bromide” and the consequential desire to ignore the military and misuse resources which should go to national defence for social programmes is well beyond being just a part of the Laurentian Consensus: it is now a very mainstream Canadian notion and it is hard to blame this government, or its predecessor, for doing what their very assiduous polling tells them is what Canadians want … especially when Canadians’ desires for more “freebies” reinforce the Liberal Party’s own “values.”
I expect very, very little from Justin Trudeau’s government: they were elected because of a finely “machined” campaign that had (almost) something for everyone. But governing is different, and since there is no way that they can ever hope to keep most of their promises they will put up (expensive) smokescreens and hide their incoherence under a camouflage net of half truths and half measures ~ like sending 450 soldiers (not even ½ of a battalion) to Europe when a full brigade (7,000 soldiers) is needed, and dithering about where to send 650 soldiers who will be misused by the UN.
* Caveat lector: Prof Bland and I go back a long way; we were junior officers together in the 1960s and we were regimental commanders at about the same time. He is a very smart fellow, full of useful ideas, always worth reading, and I respect his honesty and scholarship.