David Krayden, who is a former Royal Canadian Air Force public affairs officer and legislative assistant on Parliament Hill, and who is, currently, the Ottawa bureau chief for The Daily Caller, a Washington-based media outlet, writing in the National Post, about the most recent Liberal budget reminds us that we “might recall the fanfare when Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan released the Liberals’ defence policy review in 2017: “Strong, Secure, Engaged.” It was already more than six months overdue and there was a feeling among defence analysts and most journalists that the Liberals had to deliver a document that suggested serious resolve … [and] … Sajjan promised a whopping 70-per-cent increase in defence spending, pledging to drive funding up to $32.7 billion from $18.9 billion. Naval ships, combat-support vehicles and 88 fighter jets would be replaced through “an open and transparent competition” .. [but, he adds] … there was one large disclaimer. All of this would happen over the next decade, assuming the realities of 2017 would remain constant during that period .. [and that begs the very good question] … How well would any government have done predicting the military needs of 1942 based on the geopolitics of 1932?“
In 1932, during the Great Depression, trans continental air trips were still dream … by 1942 Canada was a major allied military power, building the giant, four engined Lancaster bombers in Toronto and flying them across the Atlantic and then on raids over Germany.
Mt Krayden says that, referring to Budget 2019, “we’ve yet to see any indication that the Liberals were serious about the plan. They cut defence spending in 2018 and have ignored it in 2019 … [and, he asks] … Was there an alternative motive to the 2017 defence review? Canada was still in the midst of NAFTA negotiations with an American president who was increasingly critical of our defence contribution, especially as it pertained to NATO. Donald Trump had repeatedly cited Canada as one of the deadbeat members of NATO that refuses to fund its military at two per cent of its GDP — despite having promised to do so and notwithstanding that we have done so in the past. With Budget 2019, Canada is no closer to meeting that pledge, spending 1.23 per cent of its GDP on national defence.“
I said, back in 2017, that “‘Strong, Secure, Engaged‘ is a step in the right direction ~ but only a very tentative step and one that needs to lead to a “journey of a thousand miles … and Canada needs to take many, many more steps before the words “strong,” “secure’ and ‘engaged” have any real meaning again.” It seems pretty clear that Team Trudeau has no intention of taking anything but that first, small step; they gave us some words but putting any sort of flesh on those bare bones will require a new, serious, grown-up government.
David Krayden says, and I agree, 100%, that “The last prime minister who consistently funded the Canadian military was Louis St-Laurent. All successive administrations — Liberal and Conservative — have to varying degrees played the shell game with defence spending. While lauding a capital acquisition project here, they will starve another project over there to pay for it. While promising consistent funding, they will squeeze the military at the first opportunity when a fiscal need emerges elsewhere.“
As I have pointed out, almost two years ago (9th paragraph, near the bottom) when, back in 2012, “I think that Stephen Harper actually wanted to arrest the decline and rebuild the nation’s defences but he insisted, first, that the Minister of National Defence had to cut the fat that the prime minister could see, quite clearly, existed in the military’s command and control (C²) superstructure and he told his MND of the day, Peter MacKay to do that ~ just as a fat man must change his habits and shed dead-weight before he can add muscle, Prime Minister Harper told Minister MacKay to cut the fat from DND and the CF. But the admirals and generals disagreed and Peter MacKay made a cardinal error: he listened to the “hired help” instead of to the “boss,” and the “boss” decided to turn his attentions elsewhere and DND and the CF, once again, languished in the background … doing less with less.“
My Krayden concludes, and, again, I agree, by saying that “With defence procurement being so hamstrung by petty politics and policy inertia, no amount of government funding can guarantee a combat-capable military if those dollars are not efficiently and effectively spent. As Hillier said, “Our acquisition process in Canada, in particular for the Department of National Defence, is abhorrent. It is pointless to give the Department of National Defence increased spending if you then tie them in a Gordian knot where they can’t actually spend the money” … [but] … Sadly, that’s exactly what we’re doing.“
That’s not all Justin Trudeau’s fault … most of the really serious screw-ups in defence policy and procurement go back to his father, Pierre Trudeau’s, time in power. Equally none of the prime ministers between the Trudeaus, père et fils, made any serious attempt at cleaning out the many and varied messes in DND and the Canadian Forces, but Justin Trudeau has had three years, and, in the person of retired Lieutenant General Andrew Leslie, someone who actually understands the disease and (some of) the cures ~ in fact Justin Trudeau promised, in 2015 that “We will implement the recommendations made in the Canadian Forces’ Report on Transformation” which Andrew Leslie wrote ~ but he has done nothing because, I suspect, he simply doesn’t care. Harjit Sajjan is both a political token and a caretaker … so it’s not really his fault, either ~ he’s a poor duffer who is seven or eight steps above his actual level of competence.
So the question ~ how long can we continue doing nothing about our national defence? ~ is a good one. The Trudeau answer seems to be that we will do nothing as long as he in prime minister.