The National To-Do List II - Reinvesting in Canada's Military

Previously on my list:

HCMS Victoria

In the early 1990s, we as a country made a mistake, and it’s time to own up to it. During this period, our years of undervaluing our military came to a head and we ducked an opportunity to reverse the trend. True, it was the Liberals who cancelled a suspect multi-billion dollar military helicopter deal, but they were only following through on a key promise from a campaign that had swept them into office. The New Democrats and the Bloc Quebecois certainly didn’t criticize the Liberals for this decision, and whatever opposition the Reform Party or the Progressive Conservative rump retained, wasn’t vocally expressed, so far as I remember. There were visionaries who said we would regret this decision, but sadly they were voices in the wilderness.

A few years later, we suddenly realized that the helicopters the new helicopters were designed to replace, the Sea Kings, were decades old, and required five minutes of maintenance for every minute spent in the air. Our four diesel submarines bought from the Brits on the cheap arrived in shoddy condition and one, the HCMS Chicoutimi, sparked a fire that killed a Canadian soldier.

But 1993 was a more innocent time. The Berlin Wall had fallen and the Soviet Union was in a state of collapse, and everywhere there was a sense that we didn’t need the Cold War machinery anymore. And it wasn’t just Canada that thought this. The plotline of a number of thrillers written during this period, — including Spy Game, a short-lived spiritual descendant of The Avengers — suggested that the day-to-day activities of the West’s remaining counter-intelligence operatives would be taken up dealing with former CIA/FBI/ATF/MI5/MI6 agents who had been let go due to budget cuts and were now offering their services to various nefarious individuals as bitter mercenaries. In addition to this, we thought we didn’t need massive military hardware, that we were not a warlike nation, and that our military efforts were best concentrated on peacekeeping.

Well, we aren’t a warlike nation, and I believe that our military efforts are best concentrated on peacekeeping, but even peacekeepers need helicopters that stay up in the air. It’s a shame that it took number of embarrassing crashes and fatalities to drive this fact home.

We value the work of our soldiers, as evidenced these past few weeks during the outpouring of grief over the death of two Canadian armed forces personnel in Afghanistan. And it’s time to show our appreciation by diverting a number of our tax dollars into equipment that will enable our soldiers to do their job.

We should also have a debate on what our military should be and where it should go in the coming years. Are we a nation of peacekeepers, or do we lend our support to more aggressive peacemaking operations across the world? Do we augment our disaster relief teams, which have already performed exceptional service in earthquake-ravaged Pakistan or hurricane-ravaged New Orleans? Or should we divert our resources towards icebreakers and Arctic rescue teams to reaffirm our sovereignty over our northern waters as the Northwest Passage finally becomes navigable?

But even if you believe that Canadian forces should be deployed to assist in the relief of national disasters and nothing else, you still need to pay these soldiers and ensure they are properly equiped, and we’ve not done that. When we sent a DART Team to Sri Lanka to assist that nation in its recovery from the Boxing Day tsunami, we sent a number of soldiers and equipment capable of purifying hundreds of thousands of gallons of water to the relief of thousands of beleaguered residents. We also had to hitch a ride with the Russians in order to get there. Let us say that Vancouver and Victoria are devastated by a similar earthquake and tsunami (It could happen); how much of a national embarrassment would it be if we had to call on the Russians or the Americans to ferry troops from Edmonton to the Pacific Coast?

As a starting point, we have a military with considerable strengths in search and rescue and disaster relief, but with equipment that desperately needs replacing. Let us at least spend enough money so that the soldiers we have can do the jobs they’re assigned to do. At the very least, let us replace the aging Sea Kings that we’re struggling so hard to keep in the air. Then let us consider what we need in the future, and be prepared to pay for it.

And to Canadians’ credit, there are plenty of us on all sides of the political spectrum, who feel this way.

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