The National Post, in an unsigned National Post View (editorial) piece asks: “Which branch of the military, exactly, do the Liberals plan to gut this time?“
After explaining that underfunding the military and choosing to ignore our
commitment aspiration to spend 2% on defence is a bipartisan Canadian political tradition, the Post reviews the current deficiencies:
“Perhaps it’s the Army?” the NP asks itself. “There are any number of projects that the government may have decided simply aren’t needed before the 2030s. Perhaps the long-delayed plan to replace the Second World War-era 9 mm pistols carried by military personnel (mostly but not exclusively in the Army) will be postponed, to save the government a few million bucks. After all, these 70-year-old guns can probably be kept in service for a generation longer. Some might even reach a century of service before being retired. But, no. That’s too ridiculous, and would only save a little bit of money. Perhaps the much more expensive plan to retrofit the LAV III combat vehicles that form the backbone of our infantry battalions, the core of our Army, will be delayed instead. These vehicles were driven into the ground through hard and honourable service in Afghanistan, but can remain effective weapons if properly taken care of. But maybe that can wait 20 years. Or perhaps maintenance of base facilities and barracks will be deferred instead.“
“Or maybe it won’t be the Army,” the National Post suggests. “Perhaps the government has decided that the Navy is simply too flush with cash and really ought to make do with less. But that would be silly, seeing as we still haven’t replaced the 50-year-old Sea King helicopters, we’ve retired both our supply ships without replacements, we no longer have any destroyers, our submarines have perhaps a decade of useful service left in them and the 12 frigates we’re left with are barely enough to patrol our own coasts, let alone contribute meaningfully abroad. So no, surely, the government won’t defer spending from the Navy or its shore bases (as quiet as they must be these days, as our fleet rusts itself into retirement).“
“That leaves the Air Force, then,” the National Post View concludes, because “With the Army and Navy both clearly in need of as much new equipment as we can provide, the cuts — sorry, the “reprofiling” — must be intended for the Air Force, which, presumably, the government believes has all it needs. But wait! What of the Liberals’ insistence that our fighter squadrons are in such dire shape that only an urgent purchase of 18 “interim” F-18 Super Hornets, at a cost of as much as $7 billion, can save them? This is in fact so urgent a priority, say the Liberals, that there isn’t even time to hold a proper competition to choose our next full-time fighter. The Super Hornets must be rushed into service, whatever the cost. So, maybe we’ll just wait until the 2030s to acquire those fancy new search-and-rescue aircraft we just announced. Try not to get lost, everyone.“
“You see the problem here, then,” the editorial goes on to add. “The government recognizes the urgent need for new Army weapons and refitted vehicles. It admits the Navy has rusted out and needs dozens of new ships and support vessels. It insists the Air Force is in such crisis that only a rush-buy of fighter jets can keep it flying. And yet it also proposes to cut billions from the equipment budget.“
Actually, I think it’s simple. None of Justin Trudeau, Maryam Monsef, Bill Morneau, or Judy Foote care about national defence or the military … and neither, somewhat sadly, do Harjit Sajjan or Andew Leslie, despite their heritage and medals and military backgrounds … or, perhaps, it’s only fair to say that they care more about their own political careers than they do about one of the country’s great and noble institutions. And there’s a good reason for Liberals not to care: the overwhelming majority of Canadians (80%+ I would guess) don’t give a damn, either. The Liberals are just doing what the people want: spending in ways that appear to “give” something that people want while depriving the country of what it needs.
Erin O’Toole is promising that, if he’s elected leader of the CPC, he will campaign to bring defence spending up to 2% of GDP. It will be a very hard sell … to Conservatives and to Canadians. Many Conservative insiders know that most Canadians do not want more for national defence. They want a good, strong, ready, capable military … they just don’t want to pay for it: not through any new, additional taxes and not through cuts to programmes that they believe benefit them. I’ve been told by a source I trust that Conservative polling, in the early 2010s, while we had troops in combat in Afghanistan, were consistent in ranking defence spending as amongst the lowest of Canadians’ priorities ~ down with spending on symphony orchestras and ballet companies. Canadians do not believe that there is any existential threat to the country, to its sovereignty or to its vital interests in the world.
Before anyone can propose to actually rebuild the Canadian military it might be necessary to cut it, quite dramatically: perhaps, even, from something in the range of 65,000± full time people with 25 warships a dozen plus army regiments and several air force flying squadrons down to, say, 25,000± full time sailors, soldier and air force members with, say, 10 warships, one, single combat brigade ~ not at full strength, and only two, small NORAD fighter squadrons and one transport squadron. It may not need to come to quite that before a media storm arises, in Canada and in foreign capitals, too, demanding to know just what sort of policy madness Canada is making in a dangerous world. But, some people, General Vance and his successors and Harjit Sajjan and his successors, are going to have to make some hard decisions, soon. Even without new equipment a $20 billion defence budget is too small to support 65,000+ full time military members. In many cases the people in the service will “vote with their feet;” sailors without ships, soldiers without armoured vehicles, trucks and parachutes and aviators without aircraft will resign and it will become harder and harder to recruit and retain replacements.
Minister Sajjan and General Vance could start right now by cutting about ½ of the headquarters that litter the bureaucratic landscape and firing about ⅓ of the admirals and generals and Navy captains and colonels who populate them. That would help … but the problem is deeper.
I think that official Ottawa is convinced that $20 Billion is about as much as Canadians are willing to spend on defence. For reference our GDP is about 2.15 Trillion (Canadian) dollars. The defence budget at about $20 Billion is less than half of what we have
promised told NATO we aspire to spend, eventually, sometime … maybe.
Not much of anyone, outside of a very few people like me and Erin O’Toole, cares anything about defence or what % of GDP we can or should spend on it. One key task of the Minister of National Defence and the service chiefs is to explain what “what, why and how” (and how much) of defence to politicians, opinion leaders, the media and the public. That is a much, Much, MUCH more important task than any of the social engineering “operations” and “missions” that DND and the CF are currently undertaking. Maybe, if the public understands more about their military and what it does (and doesn’t do) then they might give a bit more a damn about how much it is worth.
It would be nice if Canadians could decide, for themselves, how much they need to support their military before James “Mad Dog” Mattis, H.R. McMaster and Rex Tillerson have to tell us …
… how much to spend, and how and where to spend, and what to do with the forces that we have. It would be nice, in other words, if we could decide, for ourselves, to be independent, not an American colony.