This article was originally published by the Forget the Box news collective.
The ruling Tories have dropped the ball in one domain they repeatedly claim to be almost exclusively their own – supporting the Canadian military.
Let me be more specific. Tories typically talk a good game around election time about how they, and in their minds they alone, support the Canadian Forces. Both Stephen Harper and Brian Mulroney began their terms in office promising sweeping reforms, new equipment procurement plans, increases to personnel levels and a general ‘re-investment’ in ‘our men and women in uniform’. Typically, statements of this nature will be bookended with snide commentary about how ‘previous Liberal governments’ have ‘gutted’ the military, leaving Canadians hopelessly defenseless. It’s a good tactic because it works; it plays off of well-established though completely erroneous sentiments and pays off for the Tories during the election cycles. And true to form, though much is promised, almost nothing is provided.
And here’s the kicker; you don’t need to be a military historian to know that when it comes to defending Canada and using military spending to stimulate the economy, no party has a stronger reputation in this respect than the gold old Grits. The dirty little secret of the Conservative Party of Canada is their defense and strategic planning legacy, which has all too often fallen short. The fact that anyone in this great nation still believes the Tories know anything about defense only demonstrates the extent by which Canadian politics is framed by the American discourse, and worse still, American stereotypes.
Historically, Conservative military spending has been very much in-line with Conservative foreign policy, which stresses Canada’s ‘military obligations’ to NATO and the United States (because the Americans apparently need our assistance) and this in turn means we arm ourselves accordingly. Under Liberal governments, the stress is placed on national sovereignty and peacekeeping. Moreover, Conservatives historically tend to buying foreign-produced military hardware, whereas Liberals find ‘Made in Canada’ solutions. And don’t forget our last legitimately Progressive conservative Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker, was so consumed with eliminating the fiscal excesses of St-Laurent era ‘big government’ he axed the Avro Arrow and retarded Canada’s aerospace industry permanently thereafter – we still have yet to recover the technical prowess and ingenuity of that firm, more than fifty years after the fact. Diefenbaker’s nuclear-missile replacement was ultimately what would cost him the 1963 federal election, not to mention that he would turn around and later acquire American-made jets in 1961. Similarly today the Harper Administration is procuring 65 highly-experimental and so-far unproven fighters incapable of fully replacing the capabilities of our current fleet of 103 strike-fighters. The Canadian taxpayers are being asked to shell out $30 billion to purchase aircraft that won’t have engines or weapons, and the aircraft won’t even be built here. When Pierre Trudeau signed the order to procure 138 Hornets in 1982, he made sure to acquire the licenses as well, so that the entire fleet was built locally, and further built to a better design than their American counterparts. Our aircraft were so well built they are still outperforming more recent models of the type, and as you can imagine, given that the money stayed in Canada, the indirect economic effects were considerable. And the Tories want you to think this is fiscally irresponsible. Using a search and rescue helicopter or government jet to go on vacation, by their standards, is not.
The Harper Administration has indicated that they consider national sovereignty and northern sovereignty to be synonymous, but aside from playing capture-the-flag with the Danes and Russians, the Tories have done nothing to further defend the Arctic. And defending the Arctic is much more than a routine sovereignty exercise for the Canadian Forces – its about ensuring our territorial waters aren’t used by American, Russian, British, French or Chinese ballistic missile submarines, about securing our resources from irresponsible foreign development and further ensuring that the Arctic ecosystem isn’t further damaged by international shipping and global warming. He said he would procure armed icebreakers – that was five years ago and nothing has happened since. Same thing with the proposed new joint support ships, amphibious assault ships and the upgrades to our existing fleet – lots of talk, little walk. What’s more distressing is that under Stephen Harper’s reign the Canadian Forces have been either selling off or otherwise shedding perfectly good military equipment; the common denominator being that the equipment was procured by ‘previous Liberal governments’. A case in point would be the sad fate of HMCS Huron, one of a class of four guided-missile destroyers with the potential to be used as a platform for a ballistic missile defense system, among other things. Extensively upgraded in the mid-1990s she was still fully serviceable when mothballed in 2000 due to personnel shortages. Instead of keeping the ship in such a static, still usable state, the decision was made by DND officials to tow her out to a Pacific Ocean weapons testing facility and sink her in 2007. Similarly, none of Canada’s four submarines are currently serviceable, and the Harper Administration purposely removed the long-range missile capabilities of these ships. The subs like the destroyers were procured by previous Liberal governments. So to were the reconnaissance vehicles used by the army, the coastal patrol boats used by naval reservists and most of our air defense equipment, all of which seems to have been ‘phased out’ by the Harper Administration. It seems these days that their only success has been to re-affirm our historically British military ties by denigrating our national sovereignty by re-affixing the Royal stamp to two out of three services. A great PR victory, but ultimately as useless as tits on a bull, to use a favoured Western Canadian expression. In sum it has come time for the citizenry to question this apparent Tory dominion on all things defense related. Time and time again they have proven themselves incompetent and fundamentally disinterested in using such large allocations of tax-payer revenue to better developing our high-technology and heavy-manufacturing sectors. It’s time to set the record straight on the Tory defense legacy.