July 5, 2006
Canada's Prime Minister Harper Adds Military MuscleBy Paul Jackson
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government is quickly fulfilling campaign promises to rebuild the nation's military by going on an unprecedented $15 billion peacetime spending spree on heavy transport planes, helicopters, ships and trucks.
That plan will surely get the 46—year—old prime minister a hearty handshake when he meets with President George W. Bush at the White House on Thursday, which is, incidentally, the president's 60th birthday. Harper will already have been accorded the rare honor of staying overnight Wednesday at Blair House, the official White House guest quarters.
The $15 billion (Cdn.) procurement package is basically equivalent to the current annual budget of the Canadian military, which hovers around $15 billion but which the Harper government also plans to increase substantially year—by—year.
To give dramatic effect to the planned purchases they were all announced in a single week by Defense Minister Gordon O'Connor. The procurement plans include:
For comparison of scale, it's worth noting Canada's population and economy are about the same size as that of California. The country's population is 33 million, and a Canadian dollar is worth about 90—cents U.S. For simplicity's sake, many observers simply multiply a Canadian statistic by 10 to get the U.S. equivalent.
Canada's fleet of 1960s' era Hercules transport aircraft demonstrate, as do its 40—year—old Sea King search and rescue helicopters, the deteriorated state of much of the nation's heavy military equipment. In any given day up to 20 of the 30 Hercules fleet are on the ground waiting to be repaired. The Sea Kings, now being replaced slowly by a fleet of 28 Cyclone helicopters, are notorious for crashing and spend far more time having maintenance work done to them than in the air operationally.
The procurement announcements came just as former Canadian Ambassador to Washington, Frank McKenna, was urging his Liberal party to back the U.S. ballistic missile defense shield. McKenna, a former premier of New Brunswick, had been thought to be the heir apparent to outgoing Liberal leader and former prime minister Paul Martin. But surprising almost everyone, McKenna suddenly decided not to join the Liberal leadership race.
While serving as Canada's prime minister, Martin infuriated Bush and his administration by giving the impression his government would join the missile defense shield program and then backing out at the last moment. To add insult to injury, Martin didn't even inform Bush himself of the decision, leaving it to one of his cabinet ministers.
Harper, as opposition leader, basically sat on the fence during the missile defense shield debate — much to the annoyance of many in his party — but it was suggested he did not want to get on the wrong side of an issue with the electorate that might cost him votes and an election win. It is now fairly obvious that if, as is likely, Harper wins a majority mandate in the next election, his government would quickly move to join the defense shield program.
With the new announcements, Harper declared his government was 'correcting 13 years of Liberal neglect' of the armed forces. In the mid—1990s, under Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Martin, as finance minister, cut the military's budget by 25% and its manpower level from 80,000 to 60,000 men and women in uniform.
O'Connor, a former brigadier—general, wants to get the military personnel back up to the pre—Martin cut levels, and likely higher. Even at just 60,000 personnel, Canada only has about 20,000 combat ready troops available at any given time. Incidentally, O'Connor is the first Canadian defense minister in recent times to have actually served in uniform.
The new defense spending plans are sure to further please the Bush administration, as are the Harper government's moves to take the nation from a Liberal—Left tilt in foreign affairs to a stance more in line with that of the U.S. Canada's new foreign affairs minister, Peter MacKay, has already forged a close friendship with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Harper and Bush chat frequently on the telephone, unlike Chretien and Martin who so upset Bush with their anti—American slurs they rarely got their telephone calls to the White House returned.
Just as Harper and O'Connor were making the procurement announcements, and McKenna his defense shield comments, Senator Colin Kenny, chairman of the Senate committee on national security and defense, released his committee's latest report entitled 'The Government's No. 1 Job: Securing the Military Options it Needs to Protect Canadians'. In the June 303—page report, Kenny calls for a doubling of the current $15 billion (Cnd.) military budget to $30 billion or $35 billion (Cnd.). He welcomed the new announcements, but contended military spending plans by the Harper government still fall short.
Paradoxically, Kenny was appointed to the Senate by the late Liberal—Left and anti—military prime minister, Pierre Trudeau. Kenny had been a longtime aide to Trudeau, but since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and taking over as chairman of the Senate committee on national security and defense he has seemingly turned into a 'Liberal hawk' as he criss—crosses the nation, probes the lack of security at Canadian airports and sea ports, and insists on sitting down with rank—and—file members of the armed forces as well as officers to get their views on what the military needs. Aside from a $30 billion to $35 billion budget, Kenny wants to see the military's strength increased to 90,000 personnel.
Incidentally, through the administrations of several Liberal prime ministers until Trudeau the country maintained a high military stance. From Second World War prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, to his 1950s successor, Louis St. Laurent and 1960s' prime minister Lester Pearson the nation's military force was fairly constant. That came to an end with Trudeau.
Although Canadians generally knew Trudeau's heroes included Communist dictators Fidel Castro and Mao Tse—tung, just weeks ago a new scholarly book shed sensational light on his philosophies long before entering federal politics. The book Young Trudeau: Son of Quebec, Father of Canada 1919—1944 by Max and Monique Nemni, paints Trudeau as being both a Fascist sympathizer and anti—Semitic in the 1930s and early 1940s.
Although it was well known Trudeau had avoided conscription during the Second World War, the Nemnis' (both admirers of Trudeau) also revealed he blamed Britain for starting the war, claimed Canada was ruled by a 'military clique', and denounced Mackenzie King's declaration of war against Nazi Germany in 1939. In his more youthful days he was also a Quebec separatist, declaring one day Quebec would be a sovereign independent state. Insightfully, the one issue even his harshest critics gave him credit for during his prime ministership was that Trudeau battled Quebec separatism all down the line.
On his travels across the nation, Kenny has often walked into supposedly secure areas of airports and sea ports without being challenged. His findings of lapses of security and the possibility airports and sea ports have been infiltrated by criminal elements have shaken 'thinking' Canadians.
Kenny has constantly tried to wake Canadians up against what he says is both complacency and a false sense of security. Chretien himself added to the attitude of many Canadians by insisting because Canada is a 'multicultural' nation it is safe from terrorist attacks. That's even though it is well known Canada is one of the targets on Osama bin Laden's hit list. Just a month ago police and security forces arrested 17 individuals alleged to be 'home grown Islamic terrorists' who planned to blow up several Canadian landmarks and even invade the House of Commons and capture and behead the prime minister.
Kenny — who must appall the basic Liberal—Left structure of his own party as much as Zell Miller appalls the Liberal—Lefters in the Democratic party, has tried to demolish three myths Trudeau, Chretien and Martin perpetuated:
Myth One: Canada is not a warlike nation. True, he says, but Canadians have a history of protecting themselves, and standing up for what is right when the crunch comes. He points to Canada's participation in the First World War, the Second World War and the Korean War. Coincidentally, in the Second World War one—in—ten Canadians were in uniform, a rate said to be higher than its allies. At the end of the Second World War, with a population of around 11 million, Canada is thought to have had the fourth largest military in the world.
Myth Two: There is no imminent threat to Canadians. Not so, he says. Canadians live in a shrunken world in which borders and even oceans offer limited buffers to disaster. He notes Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Guiliano Zaccardelli testified before Kenny's Senate committee in May that he expects a terrorist attack will occur on Canadian soil. Zaccardelli pointed out the U.S., Britain, Australia, Spain, Indonesia, Kenya, the Philippines and Saudi Arabia had already been attacked, as had Iraq. Commented Kenny, 'Canada has an unenviable place on al—Qaida's list of countries to be targeted.'
Myth Three: The Americans will take care of Canada. Kenny's assessments: The U.S. is a great friend of Canada. On a huge number of issues, the interests of both countries are complementary. But Americans look after their own interests first and foremost, and so should Canadians. The dependence of one nation depending on another nation for its survival is dangerous. In a nutshell, when it comes down to it, the U.S. will look after Canada in a crisis if it can, but it naturally will have to look after its own citizens first. That's why Canada must become self—sufficient of its own security and defense.
Kenny also notes, as have Conservative politicians, that Canada's expenditures on defense as a percentage of its Gross National product (GNP) are abysmal. In 2005, the U.S spent $1,712 per capita, and Britain spent $903. Australia $648, and even The Netherlands spent $658. Yet Canada spent only $343 for each man, woman and child to defend the nation. All figures are in Canadian dollars, so add 10% to translate to U.S. dollars.
Canada's defense spending has often been as low as 1% of its GNP — 1996—97 to 1999—2000, for instance. In 2000—01 and 2001—02 it fell to 0.9% In 2005—06 it was just 6.8% of total federal government spending.
Rounded out, Kenny says both Britain and France spend roughly 2% of their GNP for defense, and if Canada spent that much a $30 billion (Cnd. ) annual defense budget would be quite attainable and sustainable.
Still to come from Harper's government are details of Arctic military icebreaking vessels and other large military hardware. The U.S. disputes Canada's sovereignty claims over the Northwest Passage, which could one day become a major all—weather sea international lane, but Washington has hinted it may accept the claim of Canadian sovereignty if Ottawa can guarantee security of the region. By having military icebreakers patrol the Arctic, Canada would not only be demonstrating military muscle, but it would ease Liberal—Left criticism the Harper government is in Washington's pocket.
Kenny's all party committee, by the way, wants to see between $58 billion and $81 billion spent on big ticket military hardware over the next 20 years.
Kenny has also criticized the idea that defense procurements should always have economic benefits for Canadian industry. He believes they should be based on getting the best equipment possible, at the best possible price, and in the shortest period of time. Rather than tying purchases to some form of 'regional economic development' programs for depressed areas, he wants to see the government have an 'off the shelf' purchasing policy and obtain equipment compatible with that used by the Canada's allies.
Some analysts actually contend the Liberal senator's reports and recommendations could simply be used by the Conservatives as their own blueprint for rebuilding the nation's military and ensuring the security of its coasts and airspace. That's not the view of Liberal MPs who this past week condemned Harper's and O'Connor's military spending plans.
In response to Liberal attacks in the House of Commons, Harper said,
No one doubts the youthful prime minister's resolve any more.
Paul Jackson is a veteran and award—winning Canadian journalist who has spent four decades writing on politics, foreign affairs and defence for many of Canada's major metropolitan daily newspapers. He is now Editor Emeritus of the Calgary Sun.