There is a troubling article, by Murray Brewster, on the CBC News website, headlined “Irving Shipbuilding consults with Ottawa on frigate design delay.”
Now, I’m not going to comment on any of the ship designs, proper, or on what Mr Brewster terms “the discord among the notoriously cutthroat contenders” in the shipbuilding industry nor even on what the suspension from duty of Vice Admiral Mark Norman means .. or doesn’t mean. The big issue, for me, is that delay increases costs, and, because, I suspect, this, Liberal government has no intention of increasing the funds available, the pressures of inflation ~ which is much higher for aerospace, weapons, ship and other high-tech defence systems than for houses, cars, food and TV sets ~ are relentless. No more money means, with almost absolute certainty, one of:
- Fewer fully capable ships; or
- Enough less capable ships; or, most likely
- Fewer and less capable ships.
This government is not the first to treat the defence budget as a pot full of money that can be redirected anywhere and everywhere else. John Diefenbaker and Mike Pearson were, I think, the last prime ministers to actually believe that the purpose of the defence budget was to provide an effective military force for Canada.
We need a philosophical and political return to the 1950s and ’60s …
… when reasonable, educated, responsible men led fiscally and politically responsible governments.
Although they shared little in the way of common visions, all three of the prime ministers pictured above, two lawyers and a career diplomat, shared the same general view of the same grand strategy. They also seemed to believe, as American Senator Arthur Vandenberg ((R) Mich.), the influential chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who provided key support to Democratic President Harry S. Truman, said when he admonished his colleagues that “we must stop partisan politics at the water’s edge.” It is the duty of governments to try to reach some, fairly broad, national consensus about the foreign and defence policies that ought to fall from a grand strategy so that changes in government, which are normal, healthy and often welcome feature of liberal democracies, do not force massive, disruptive changes in some policies. But that is what happened, increasingly, under Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien, Stephen Harper and, now, Justin Trudeau: the pendulum has been swinging too far, too fast and the business of sustaining an effective and cost effective military has become harder and harder for the admirals and generals and, especially, the bureaucrats to manage.
I am not arguing, here and now, for a specific policy nor for a specific level of defence spending, but I believe that Prime Minister Trudeau, given the current global strategic situation, must reach out to the Conservatives and try to reach some common ground on a long term, stable, grand strategy for Canada ~ recognizing that such a strategy will, almost certainly, require more resources for defence. This will not be easy for Prime Minister Trudeau, nor, I suspect will many Conservatives want to cooperate with him on anything, but it needs to happen ~ sooner, at manageable costs, rather than later, at high costs. Canadians deserve no less.