A few days ago I took issue with the conventional wisdom in Ottawa which says that severe budget cuts must be the order of the day for the Canadian Armed Forces. I do not disagree that almost everything but defence is higher up on the Trudeau regime’s priority list, but some harsh realities ~ signed contracts (which mean jobs in place) and US pressures ~ may make cutting defence spending harder to do than some people think.
Now I see that Lee Berthiaume, of the Canadian Press, in an article published in the Ottawa Citizen, has joined in the guessing game about the new Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) and how (s)he might somehow ‘signal’ the Liberal government’s priorities.
The Liberals’ lack of interest in defence is displayed by the lassitude with which they have treated naming a replacement since General Vance announced his retirement in July. General Vance had been in place as CDS for about five years … his retirement was, if anything, overdue and a competent government would have had a very short list of replacements (updated about every six months) at hand. But in the Trudeau regime the military is an unwelcome reminder that the world does not run on “sunny ways” and unicorn farts and handouts of borrowed money.
Mr Berthiaume quotes my friend Lieutenant General (retired) Guy Thibault who says, very correctly, that with an election possible (as it always is in a minority government situation) “You just don’t want to have a chief in waiting with a chief caretaker in place.” The military is a large and important institution (even if it is unwelcome by many Canadians) and it requires order to function well when needed. That “good order and discipline” rests, in some part, on the men and women in the ranks, in ships, in regiments and in aircraft, having confidence in their leadership, starting at the very top.
Lee Berthiaume says, repeating rumours that I have heard, that “The seemingly obvious choice is Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau … [because he] … spent years in the field before becoming commander of Canada’s special forces in 2014, at a time when the elite soldiers were in Iraq and elsewhere … [and he has, more recently] … been burnishing his credentials in Ottawa, first as commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command, which oversees all domestic and foreign operations, before recently taking over as Vance’s second-in-command.” One argument against Mike Rouleau, who I regard as a sterling leader in most regards, is that three of the last four Chiefs, including General Vance, going back 15 years have been Army officers:
Inter-service rivalry is, in my experience, a minor issue; but ensuring that there is broad strategic thinking, which is, in large measure, based on experience in 30+ years of service, is more important, and for 20 of those 30 years the experience gained on the bridge of a ship (or even in its engine room) or in an aircraft cockpit is different from that gained in the hatch of a tank or in a light armoured vehicle.
But Gut Thibault says, and I agree, that ““I think Mike is really the full-meal deal of all the current three-stars” … [and Mr Berthiaume says that he is] … echoing an assessment shared by many defence insiders and observers.” He (Berthiaume) adds that “Rouleau’s appointment would signal a continuation of the current path set by Vance’s five-year tenure — the longest in modern Canadian history — and enshrined in the Liberals’ defence policy … [and] … That policy — known as Strong, Secure, Engaged — released in 2017 promised massive billions of dollars in investments over the next 20 years for more troops, new equipment such as warships and jets, and new capabilities in cyber and space.” He also says that “A similar signal would be sent if the Liberal government tapped Royal Canadian Air Force commander Lt.-Gen. Al Meinzinger, Canadian Army commander Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre or Royal Canadian Navy commander Vice-Admiral Art McDonald … [and] … They, along with Lt.-Gen. Christopher Coates, who recently moved into Rouleau’s old job as head of the Canadian Joint Operations Command …
… would bring their own skills and styles, but they are also viewed as largely similar in terms of continuity.“
“Many have wondered … [Lee Berthiaume says] … whether the Liberals will appoint a woman to become Canada’s top military officer for the first time … [and he adds] … Such a move would fit with the Liberals’ progressive, feminist credentials and signal the government wants to see more action on addressing cultural issues such as racism as well as sexual misconduct and hate in the ranks.” While I think “hate” is a poorly chosen word, I will admit that the military, almost 25 years after I retired, has still not managed to stamp our overt sexual harassment. Some observers believe that token appointments can be useful in leading change … my personal sense is that Justin Trudeau ~ or whoever does his thinking for him ~ believes that.
There are at least a dozen female generals in the Canadian Armed Forces today. Two of them, Christine Whitecross and Francis Allen, are lieutenant generals, the right rank to become CDS. The argument against them is that General Whitecross is at retirement age and neither has much operational command experience . But Major General Jennie Carignan and Commodore Josée Kurtz have lots of that:
I suspect that the Trudeau Liberals want to appoint a female CDS for purely partisan political reasons. Most polling shows that there is a real gender divide in Canada, women support the Liberals and men support the Conservatives. But I suspect that there is considerable worry in Liberal ranks that Erin O’Toole, who is a social moderate, could undermine that support … appointing a female CDS. might burnish the now tarnished Trudeau-feminist myth when an election could be in the offing.
I do not think there would be anything wrong with promoting e.g. Commodore Josée Kurtz over the heads of dozens of higher ranked and equally well or even better qualified admirals and generals, including Mike Rouleau, IF her appointment would address some major policy issue. Is making the Canadian Forces “gender blind” such an issue? If the answer is yes then she or Generals Allen and Carignan would be good choices. If that case cannot be made then the choice seems limited to Lieutenant Generals Frances Allen, Chris Coates, Wayne Eyre, Art McDonald, Al Meinzinger and Mike Rouleau. But, every single officer I have named, here, is ready and able to lead Canada’s Armed Forces, to fight for Canada’s national interests and to execute the policies of any democratically elected government.