In The Media

With defence review announced, generals need to speak out before they retire

by David Krayden (feat. Mike Day)

The Ottawa Sun
April 6, 2016

Why do Canadian Armed Forces generals have to retire before they can publicly express any concerns about the state of the military? You’d think that removing a uniform was the equivalent of being liberated from a straitjacket – you can almost hear the exhalation of relief as these former senior military leaders unburden themselves of a tremendous psychic weight.

It’s not that they possess any clandestine motive to undermine the government or even fantasize about committing louche insubordination.

No, in Canada, generals live in chronic and debilitating dread of appearing disloyal, seeming overtly aggressive and receiving the resulting measure of public opprobrium – even when they are merely providing sound direction and fair comment.

But retirement loosens their tongues. So, with the Liberals announcing a defence review on Wednesday, former lieutenant-general Mike Day came out swinging against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “sunny ways” mantra in a well-reported speech at a Mackenzie Institute conference here in Ottawa. The dissertation from the former special forces commander was a total repudiation of the Trudeau world view: “No matter how many sunny ways we have, my experience in deploying around the world is people will want to continue to kill other people and we need to be ready for that,” said Day.

Bravo for Day, but did he really need to wait for retirement to publicly say something that is – excuse my frankness — patently obvious? Without directly criticizing Trudeau’s fair-weather approach to defence policy, Day could have made the same observation with a general’s rank on his shoulders – and those who remain in uniform need to do so.

The CAF is facing a potentially catastrophic defence review. Trudeau continues to lower the national security bar, and just cut defence spending in last month’s budget.

After last week’s nuclear security summit, he issued the enigmatic appraisal that the nuclear threat was lower today than it was “five or six years ago.” Really? What did he base that declaration upon?

Which should give us some reason for trepidation over this defence review. You can bet that the review will focus not on the need for vital equipment purchases that the Liberals just placed on indefinite hold but on the imagined need to generate more sensitivity and harassment training to correct the supposed “systemic” problems within the military. Even more ominously, the review might suggest that Canada’s military devote more resources to extinguishing forest fires at home and maintaining bogus peacekeeping missions abroad.

To counter this liberal agenda, the senior DND leadership cannot sit idly by and watch the Liberals de-militarize the military again; it needs to eloquently and frankly describe the urgent need in the real world to maintain a combat capable – a genuine – national defence.

They need to remember the leadership approach of former chief of defence staff Gen. Rick Hillier. Canadians in and out of uniform embraced his leadership style.

They celebrated his willingness to eschew talking points and communicate directly with the national media about military issues. When he talked to the media, he was ensuring that the public, fully aware of military requirements, would hold the government accountable for the decisions it made to either satisfy or not satisfy those requirements.

Hillier often butted heads with then-prime minister Stephen Harper – and Harper hated it – but Hillier was only doing his job and Harper knew it too. That job was – and is today – to ensure that Canada’s military is equipped, both with training and equipment, to defend Canada and fulfil its many national and international obligations.

The current CDS, though frequently used as a government spokesman for Trudeau’s lethargic and uncertain plan to counter ISIS terrorism, is often an unwilling collaborator in the Liberal occupation; but Gen. Jonathan Vance needs to emulate Hillier’s example and echo Day’s recent words.

The members of Canada’s military need to know that he is working for them as much as he is for the government.

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