MACLEAN’S REPORTS

THE NAVAL BROADSIDE THAT MISSED THE BOAT

BLAIR FRASER August 20 1966
MACLEAN’S REPORTS

THE NAVAL BROADSIDE THAT MISSED THE BOAT

BLAIR FRASER August 20 1966

THE NAVAL BROADSIDE THAT MISSED THE BOAT

MACLEAN’S REPORTS

Backstage at Ottawa

IF THE MUTINEER admirals had no more sense of strategy afloat than they have displayed ashore, perhaps it’s just as well that someone else is now in charge of Canada’s maritime battle arrangements. Their combat with Defense Minister Paul Hellyer over service unification would have been very like a bullfight, if bullfights were planned by the bull.

Their first strategic error was fundamental: nobody, ever, has made an intelligible case against the unification of the armed services. The subject has been debated for 20 years, but the argument has always been between reform on the one hand and inertia on the other. Nobody has ever risen to explain, in terms a civilian could understand, why the services should not be unified. (Vague talk about the traditions of the service doesn’t count. The Black Watch and the Princess Patricias have their own proud traditions too, but that doesn’t prevent them from being part of the Canadian Army.)

This general error became particular last spring. The Commons committee on national defense, under the chairmanship of retired naval Captain David Groos, held 16 meetings be-

tween March 1 and June 29. At its third meeting. May 12, Hellyer said: “We have now reached the stage for final steps toward a single unified force, as forecast in the White Paper (1964). Naturally these considerations raise delicate problems of a single walking-out uniform, rank designation, the name of the force, and so on. Because of the myriad of details that must be carefully studied, no final decision has been taken as yet.”

Reaction to these remarks was zero. Neither opposition questioners nor service witnesses referred to them at all. The only questions ever put on the subject of unification were rather vague queries about service morale, which boiled down to a ’tis-’tain’t argument, Hellyer saying morale was high and opposition MPs saying they didn’t believe it but neither producing any evidence either way.

No service witness offered any criticism of the unification program. General Frank Fleury, then comptroller general, gave an enthusiastic account of the extent to which full and complete integration had been “achieved,” reporting with pride that Canada had “gone further and faster

than any other country” toward “the final goal of unification.” Nobody challenged these statements.

Admiral William Landymore, whose public attack on unification in July set off the “admirals’ revolt” and led to his own retirement from Maritime command, was the only witness at the defense committee’s morning session on June 23. At his own request, Landymore’s testimony was given in camera. It included highly classified material. But according to several men who were present it did not include any criticism of, or even any direct reference to, the unification program.

This was Landymore’s big chance to make his point in public. He could have said anything he wanted to say. with perfect safety and propriety—he was answering questions before a committee of parliament, and no one could have faulted him for speaking his mind in candor. He did not seize this opportunity. His only reference to unification came in answer to a leading question: Was it true, as rumored, that he was not in favor of unification? Yes, the admiral answered, that rumor was correct. He did not elaborate.

Had he done so, there was at least an outside chance of raising a storm in the House about unification. The Liberal chairman of the committee is a navy man. the two Halifax MPs are both Conservatives; the MP for the west coast naval base, Esquimalt, is a navy man and a Conservative. For a minority government this might have added up to a formidable challenge.

But thanks to Admiral Landymore’s timing, parliament had risen for the summer just the day before the admirals’ revolt. The government was no longer threatened with defeat by a combined opposition majority. Moreover, a public attack by a military against civilian authority left all politicians with no choice — however grudgingly, they must come down on the civilian side.

Indeed, the admirals had not even taken the precaution of enlisting united support from the military. There must be officers in the army

and the air force who dislike the policy or at least the pace of unification, but they have not been heard from. Only the navy has spoken out, and only in its senior ranks.

This raises the final question — national security. Does it place Cannada in danger to have so many senior officers openly disaffected?

Well, Canada has 30 ships in operation, counting the destroyer that comes back into service this month after conversion to helicopter capability. Six more are “in reserve” for lack of skilled manpower, but they’re all overage and have no combat function in modern warfare; the only point in keeping them at sea would be to train the skilled manpower they haven't got.

In charge of this fleet we have eight admirals, including the surgeongeneral. It is at least open to doubt that a reduction in our admiral strength would place the nation in any immediate peril.

This doesn’t mean that the problems of unification are simple, or that they’re solved. It’s virtually certain that the Canadian armed forces will have a single uniform (the pressure

from the services is in favor of this move, not against it) but what uniform? And what name? And when the disparities and anomalies in pay and other matters are all straightened out, which of the three systems will be adopted, if any?

These questions will have to be resolved before the final bill, creating the unified Canadian force, is presented to parliament. But by that time, the chances arc that the admirals and their revolt will be forgotten.

BLAIR FRASER