Broadly conservative journalist and commentator Matt Gurney says, in a column on the Global News website, with which I agree fully, that “Defence literacy is horrifically low in Canada. It’s not an issue the public is engaged in, and a few notable exceptions aside, it’s not something the media spends much time on. No doubt it’s a chicken-egg dilemma: if there’s no public demand, the media won’t report on it, which promotes even more public apathy, which lowers demand…” Absolutely true.
Then he gets to his main point; he says that he has “tried to push back on that, and to keep military matters on the mind of the public — to no overall effect, it would seem. As I’ve done this, the most typical reply, whether simply baffled or outright mocking, has always been, “But why should Canada have a military? The Americans will just protect us” … [but] … Really?” he asks, “Does anyone still feel like this is something we should take for granted?“
The other day I suggested one way to “push back” ~ I suggested using the inherently political defence procurement system to send a political message to Donald Trump and his supporters. We should, I suggested, be less tied to America’s apron strings and should look more broadly at issues like material interoperability.
Mr Gurney says that he is not trying “to suggest that we should be arming ourselves to resist an American invasion … [because] … Such a thing is virtually unthinkable, and even if it weren’t, Canada could bankrupt itself amassing the best military it could, and the U.S. would simply roll over us anyway. The U.S. is too big and too good at war … [but, he adds] … there are still many things that Canada should be able to do for itself, that we aren’t. And the reason we aren’t isn’t because we don’t have the know-how or the money. We’re one of the most high-tech nations in the world, with a gigantic economy completely out of proportion with our small population. We don’t have the military capabilities we need simply because, in the backs of all of our minds — in the forefronts of some of our minds, if we’re being honest — we have always believed there just wasn’t a point. Why spend money to do something your big, friendly neighbour will just do for you? … [and, he thinks, and I agree that] … That’s an appalling attitude. It is astonishingly cynical and self-absorbed. Countries should care about their own defence because that’s basically what countries are for. It’s deeply embarrassing that Canada has forgotten this. But I’ve long since reconciled myself to the bleak reality that whatever I might think about such a lazy, self-indulgent attitude, it is the accepted defence consensus among both our major political parties … [but, he ads] … it shouldn’t be, and Donald Trump, whatever else he might be, is a very helpful reminder of that.” maybe President Trump will do us a favour … maybe his mindless hatred of anything and anyone who isn’t American and doesn’t put “America First!” will, finally, convince Canadians that, by and large, we have been, since about 1970, lazy, cheap, freeloading slackers when it comes to doing our fair share of defending the West.
“Trump is wrong on most of his views on trade (he’s right about his views on our dairy subsidies, but that’s a column for a different day),” Matt Gurney says, “But he’s always been absolutely right that the U.S. has, for generations now, effectively subsidized the social welfare nets of many of its allies by underwriting their costs of national defence. He’s often inarticulate when expressing that view, but it’s an accurate one … [and] … This is a problem for Canada. We have no real counter-argument we can make. Our long neglect of our armed forces isn’t a matter of debate, it’s a matter of record. It’s objectively true. Prior U.S. presidents have had the good grace not to harp on it too publicly; Trump is not similarly restrained. And it absolutely puts us in a weaker negotiating position … [but] … While we’ll never be an equal partner in our alliance, there are still many things Canada could do that would at least leave us less dependent on U.S. military munificence. Canada would improve its standing with Washington, and do a better job just being a grown-up country, if it was more capable of taking care of itself at home. We’d find ourselves on firmer footing when dealing with a bellicose president, too.” It’s a bit embarrassing when it takes a semi-literate buffoon like Donald J Trump to tell us another “home truth.” We are, quite simply, very close to reversing Arthur Lower‘s suggestion (in 1946) that we had gone from “Colony to Nation” ~ we had, sometimes in the face of daunting obstacles, but, after 1968 we, Canadians, seem to have gotten tired of paying the price of nationhood and we have, almost imperceptibly, drifted back towards colonial status … this time with Donald Trump’s America as our master, not Queen Victoria’s Britain.
Taking better care of ourselves, at home and in the world, are, Mr Gurney says, “achievable goals … [but] … Canada does not have a large enough fleet to effectively patrol its massive coastlines while also contributing meaningfully to international missions abroad. I used the term “fleet” deliberately there — we could handle a lot of missions in our own waters by bulking up our Coast Guard, not just our navy. We’ve chosen to do neither. That’s sub-optimal … [and] … Our fighter squadrons, similarly, are too few and too old to be a significant player abroad while also watching our own massive airspace. Our search-and-rescue capabilities are inadequate for a country of our size. Our Army is well-trained and relatively well-equipped, but is too small and difficult to deploy for either missions abroad or emergencies (including disaster relief) at home. Our procurement system is a permanent disaster — every capability referenced above has recent procurement screw-ups that I could point to as proof.” I have made these same points over and over again but they are lost on both the Liberal and Conservative parties because, as Matt Gurney says, the overwhelming majority of Canadians simply do not care and politicians care about the things that matter to ordinary people.
“But,” Mr Gurney concludes, “since we haven’t gotten our act together, like it or not, we are almost entirely dependent on the United States. That’s a bad place to be when a country is locked in a testy trade dispute with its benefactor. A dozen extra frigates for the Navy wouldn’t magically turn Trump into a free trader, but it would give actual heft — the proverbial hard power — to bulwark Canada’s negotiating position. We will always be America’s friend and ally, but it would be a lot easier for us to stare down a hostile and unpredictable president if we knew, in the backs of our minds, that we didn’t really need them watching our backs for us … [but] … we do need them, because we’ve chosen to outsource a big chunk of our sovereignty to Washington. It’s not a nice thing to admit, but it’s true. We know it, even if we pretend otherwise. And the problem is, the man in the White House knows it, too. If we want to be taken seriously at the negotiating table, maybe it’s time to take ourselves seriously at home, first.”
There it is: Colony to Nation and now, since about 1968, because “we’ve chosen to outsource a big chunk of our sovereignty to Washington,” it’s Back to Colony, again. The choice is clear: we either continue to surrender our sovereignty to Donald J Trump’s America or we must pay to have real, practical independence. Being an independent, sovereign nation means, inter alia, having the sort of hard military power we need. Independence isn’t cheap; being a colony is easy … the choice is ours to make.