In The Media

Leaders missing chance to discuss future of Canadian Forces: experts

by Amanda Connolly (feat. Feat. David Perry)

August 31, 2015

Experts say party leaders campaigning in the federal election are seriously missing the mark when it comes to discussing the role and future of one of Canada’s most significant institutions: the Canadian Armed Forces.

The very simple defence discussion would be, ‘Where do you see the Canadian Armed Forces going in terms of its capacity to contribute to international affairs, in terms of its capacity to defend the Canadian national interest?'” said Adam Chapwick, a professor focusing on defence and Canadian politics at the Royal Military College, noting the topic could cover other, more complicated issues like procurement. “What do you plan to do to give it that capacity?”

Despite touting itself as a supporter of the military, the Conservative government has come under fire for not doing enough to make sure the Canadian Forces have the tools they need to keep up with the demands being placed on them.

With roughly 600 Canadian Forces members currently engaged in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the training mission in Ukraine and the 2011 military intervention in Libya, it’s been an active few years for the Forces.

Critics have said the Canadian Forces is making do with sub-standard equipment and that procurement deals to replace antiquated helicopters, ships and planes are taking too long to get going. A recent report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer found that the current funding model for the Canadian Forces is “unsustainable.”

But despite an ever-more-complicated global security situation, there has been little discussion among leaders on the campaign trail about what Canada’s big picture role should be. Some observers aren’t surprised.

“There’s not really a lot of easy-to-implement and easy-to-digest campaign talking-point-type solutions to deal effectively with these issues,” said Dave Perry, senior analyst at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. “I’m not actually anticipating there’s going to be a lot of mention on defence. I think that there should be, but I’m not really anticipating a whole lot.”

One of the issues opposition critics were quick to hit the government over the head with during the last session of Parliament was procurement — specifically, the lack of it.

The government hit pause on its plans to replace the Canadian Forces’ aging CF-18s with F-35 fighter jets after the Auditor General said they kept the public in the dark about escalating costs for the project.

The National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy is also languishing, with repeated delays and speculation among defence industry insiders that the government won’t be able to meet its scheduled targets for getting the ships in the water.

It was only this summer that the 30-odd-year process of replacing the aging fleet of Sea King helicopters actually came to an end, when the first six machines out of a planned purchase of 28 CH-148 Cyclone helicopters were delivered to a base near Halifax.

The rest are expected to arrive by 2021 — but it’s probably worth noting the the Cyclones were scheduled originally to be delivered in 2008, with full delivery over and done with by early 2011.

The entire process has been so badly bungled that it led Maclean’s magazine’s Scott Gilmour to write in a recent column that “you are forced to wonder if foreign saboteurs infiltrated DND years ago.”

Chapwick said that, given the government’s record, it’s not surprising they haven’t brought up the issue during the campaign.

Presenting a solid vision of how to fix procurement and define the role of the Canadian Forces could help a party shape a ready-to-govern image. The fact that no one has done so suggests there are few easy answers to the problems they may soon have to address.

“If a party had something really creative to say that was at the same time also extremely realistic and had the backing of experts across the country, there would be some value in introducing it because it would add to your credibility as ready to govern or capable of governing,” said Chapwick, adding that unless a party is able to come up with a comprehensive vision for the future of the military to share with voters, “I don’t see anyone with a lot to gain.”

Requests for comment made to spokespeople for the Conservative party, the NDP and the Liberal party went unreturned.

Perry said that even if opposition leaders shy away from the having a discussion on the future of the Canadian Forces during the campaign, it doesn’t mean they will be equally timid if they form government after Oct. 19.

“I think the two main opposition parties, one of the things you’re probably likely to see from potentially both of them is that if they do form the next government, they will engage in a substantive defence review, potentially combined with a foreign policy one, to essentially lay out their view and vision for what they want the country to do on the world stage and how defence would support that,” said Perry.

“This would be one of those issues that is not politically sexy but it’s really important.”

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