A good question

andrew_scheerMurray Brewster, writing on the CBC News website, says that Andrew Scheer, “in the first of a series of election-framing speeches for the Conservatives, pledged yesterday to wrap his arms around Canada’s allies, take the politics out of defence procurement, buy new submarines, join the U.S. ballistic missile defence program and expand the current military mission in Ukraine in an undefined way … [but] … What was absent from the Conservative leader’s speech — a greatest-hits medley of road-tested Conservative policy favourites, blended with jabs at the Trudeau government’s record — was an answer to the first question his supporters usually ask on these occasions:

How are you going to pay for it?”

That is, indeed, a good question.

Mr Brewster says that “The Liberals have set the federal government on course to increase defence spending by 70 per cent by 2027 … [but no one seems sure about how much of that they really intend to spend, how much is just accounting tricks, and how much is an outright fabrication] … The cost of what Scheer is proposing — submarines and missile defence — would have to be shoehorned into that framework somehow. Either that, or he’d have to radically redesign the current defence spending program … [and] … Scheer’s speech was greeted with raised eyebrows by more than one defence sector observer. “When he starts talking about deficits, you can kiss all that goodbye,” said Stephen Saideman, a professor of international affairs at Carleton University … [who said] … “In other speeches, he talked about being a deficit hawk. That would have real implications for the defence stuff.”

There is no doubt in my mind that we need better (both qualitatively and quantitatively) armed forces and that means more expensive armed forces and even with the seriously bad deficits that Justin Trudeau has run up we can afford to spend more but getting our national financial house in order must be the Conservative party’s main goal.

As always, politicians like Andrew Scheer, and the pundits and all the armchair quarterbacks like Professor Michael Byers talk about how “removing politics from procurement decisions would be a fantastic step forward, one that could save taxpayers boatloads of money by doing away with pet projects and regional interests,” but that’s nonsense. Politicians need to be involved in defence procurement. It’s your money and mine; the Governor General and General Vance don’t bring their own, magical pot of money to the table. It all comes out of our wallets when we pay our taxes. We elect politicians to decide how to spend it and then to manage that spending prudently. I expect that when the bureaucrats and generals and outside experts have made their final recommendation about which fighter jet is best for Canada that the cabinet will, fairly hotly, debate that expert recommendation and make a decision. If we are going to take the politics out of defence procurement then why have politicians at all? Let’s just hire bureaucrats. Anyway, those with some experience inside the defence procurement system will tell you, truthfully, that the “pet projects” are far more often than not the fault of assistant deputy ministers and generals, not politicians, and “regional interests” are damned near enshrined in law. The defence procurement system is in dire need of reform but political interference supervision is the least of its problems.

I wrote about the defence budget dilemma over two years ago and I said then that I was pleased to see that then CPC leadership candidate “Erin O’Toole has promised to double 21030548_erin-otooledefence spending, according to an article in the Toronto Sun(just reinforced by an e-mail from Mr O’Toole to CPC members). The Sun says that Mr O’Toole’s “policy paper is clearly designed to show O’Toole is serious about not only national defence but also key foreign affairs issues. “The security of Canada, its sovereignty and the safety of its citizens must be recognized as the first and most important responsibility of Government – and is even more so today than it has been for over a generation,” the statement notes. “Every day, we see the war against terrorism, Russian aggressiveness and Chinese geopolitical posturing in the news” … [and] … O’Toole served in the Canadian Armed Forces for more than a decade before becoming a lawyer, entering the House of Commons in 2011 … [and, further] … Other measures O’Toole proposes in the paper include creating a Defence Procurement Agency with the aim of depoliticizing major equipment purchases; strengthening Arctic security measures; implementing new co-operation agreements with Israel and Ukraine; and creating a cyber warfare division within the Canadian Forces.” Mr O’Toole is to be commended for this stand, but now he has to:

  • Convince ordinary, hard working Canadians in, say Surrey Centre (a suburban riding in the Greater Vancouver area) that they should want to take that surgeon’s scalpel to e.g. health care transfers so that Canada can have more soldiers, and voters in Calgary Centre that building more warships is more important than helping refugees come to Canada and voters in Brampton Centre (in Greater Toronto) and voters in Halifax West that fighter jets matter almost as much as the social safety net. It will not be an easy sell;
  • Demonstrate that he will cast a wide net over defence spending so that what we “claim” is fully consistent with the NATO standard and embraces parts of our coast guard, national police services and even the border services; and
  • Enunciate a concrete set of proposals that politicians like Scott Brison, Marc Garneau and Andrew Leslie cannot shoot down on simple, logical grounds …

Those three tasks now fall to Andrew Scheer. he must persuade Canadians that increased defence spending is both wise and necessary; he must have a plan that makes sense to our allies, too; and he must enunciate a coherent plan that will not be ridiculed by the press and the public.

Another point, about which I have commented again and again, is that before any government can put any more money into national defence the whole DND and CF command and control (C²) superstructure needs to be reviewed and reformed by a tough-minded, businesslike minister so that money can be spent wisely and political direction will be acted upon despite the personal preferences of the admirals, generals and bureaucrats.

Andrew Scheer’s speech, on Wednesday, about foreign and defence policy was a good start, but it needs fleshing out. But we must all remember that Canadians don’t elect or reject governments on foreign and defence policy issues.

2 thoughts on “A good question”

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