Canada 150

Shaping the Future Part 2

Shaping the Future Part 2

The HMCS Chicoutimi was only days out of port on its maiden voyage when disaster struck. An onboard fire would leave one sailor dead and an entire crew bobbing in the North Atlantic for days as they waited for a towline to take them back to port. Typically the national media went into overdrive on the story with blow-by-blow accounts of the state of the submarine until it was finally in bay in Scotland.

The Chicoutimi tragedy serves as a metaphor for the Canadian Forces as a whole. The personnel were top shelf, highly motivated and trained, and committed to their jobs. The actual submarine was a second-hand buy from the British Navy, which required a substantial refit or "Canadianization" to even get it seaworthy. The commanders in the military thought they had a good deal — because they are forced to make decisions by political masters based on what is a good deal rather than what is good for the military — and even if they didn't, they had the attitude of "if you've got a lemon, suck on it." Their political masters couldn't care less other than to show up at the funeral and express how horrible it all was that such a good sailor, family man and father as Lieut. Chris Saunders had died. No mention of course that his tragic death might in any way be tied to the politicians' continued and inexcusable cost-cutting and downsizing of the Canadian Forces.

That the Liberal government has been loudly criticized for the neglect and deterioration of the Canadian military is not new. What is new is the growing sense of outright anger that is starting to be levelled at politicians like Paul Martin and Bill Graham when they make irresponsible decisions about the Canadian Forces and then have the gall to show up at military funerals afterwards. Within a week of the Chicoutimi tragedy, Minister of National Revenue John McCallum was already suggesting that the Canadian Forces would need to sustain yet further cuts — amputation would be a better word. So much for the "genuine sincerity" expressed by Martin and Graham at the funeral. "Genuine insincerity" is more like it.

The contemporary Liberal legacy for the Canadian military is one of chronic underfunding, delayed procurement policies that have cost lives, and an overcommitment of our troops resulting in such a severe strain on our fighting men and women that they have had to be placed in an "operational pause" period just to cope with their current duties. The chronic and continued shortchanging of the Canadian Forces has been juxtaposed by over-the-top PR announcements by Martin about "new spending" for the military. In fact, since becoming Prime Minister, Martin has made the same "new" announcement about spending in the military on six different occasions, without a dime being spent for what's left of the troops.

Canadian soldiers in Haiti lacked the basic equipment to do the job, while troops in Afghanistan were exhausted. At home, a civil employee defrauded the Department of National Defence of $150 million over 10 years. An August 2004 audit reported more than $80 million in improper accounting practices at DND in the previous two years. The Canadian military is the most civilian-heavy, bureaucratized military in the world, with an average of one civil servant for every three soldiers. Many military managers, academics and management professionals have suggested that civilians employed by the department should be cut by 80%. The fact is that there are too many chiefs and with that comes a whole lot of budget waste. Estimates are that if DND cuts its civilian component by 50%, the yearly savings would be about $4 billion. By most accounts, the department wouldn't notice the loss of this staff.

Politically, the military suffers even more. The Conservatives have lost most of their credibility on defence matters because they seem to be pro-military and vociferous in their support of the American government's worldview at any cost. In this regard, the Conservatives have drifted from the mainstream of Canadian public opinion. They interpret public support for our soldiers as support for a Canadian military policy that mimics the Bush Doctrine. This is a misguided interpretation of the Canadian view and rears its head when the Liberals constantly dismiss Conservative defence policies.

Conservatives wanted Canadian troops to go into Iraq; they want to be in line with the Americans in the War on Terror. They want Canada to join the U.S. Missile Defence Program, which most Canadians do not support.

When it comes to the New Democratic Party and issues related to defence, most would agree that its views are inconsequential