Either we fund defence properly or let the U.S. do the job for us

Peter C. Newman August 26 2002


Either we fund defence properly or let the U.S. do the job for us

Peter C. Newman August 26 2002


Either we fund defence properly or let the U.S. do the job for us



WHEN JOHN MCCALLUM officially welcomed the Afghanistan expeditionary force of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry back to their home base in Edmonton earlier this month, it was anything but a routine occasion. One of the largest military homecomings since the Second World War, it was at one level an emotional outpouring of thanksgiving that all but four of the soldiers had returned. Our feisty new minister of national defence made the most of the occasion with his unsentimental yet sensitive expressions of gratitude and blessing.

At another level, the event signalled an important watershed in Canadian history: exhaustion of the pretense that Canada’s current state of military preparedness counts for anything in the post-9/11 world.

The facts are easy to come by. We couldn’t maintain this tiny contingent of 800 troops in the field for more than six months, nor did we have warm bodies to replace them. We had to rent U.S. transport planes to get them there and once they arrived, chose not to buy them proper camouflage equipment and could not provide artillery support or helicopter gunships.

The Afghan expedition performed with fortitude beyond the call of duty. But it also proved that the Chrétien government’s neglect of defence issues has amounted to a perhaps unintended policy of unilateral disarmament. Over the past decade, our military contribution to the defence of freedom abroad and security at home has become marginal at best, useless at worst.

Militarily, Canada is at a crossroads. International terrorism recognizes no exemptions or boundaries. We’re on their list. We have only two choices—and very little time to decide which option to follow.

The path of least resistance would be to formally turn over the defence of Canada to the United States. In other words,

admit that in the currently fluid and bellicose climate we can not preserve any meaningful military autonomy and that we simply become an American dependency. A Hawaii with polar bears.

Jack Granatstein, a military historian and co-chairman of the Council for Canadian Security in the 21st Century, points out in a recent C.D. Howe Institute study that “although terrorism poses a real threat, it is not the most serious crisis. The danger lies in wearing blinkers about the United States at a time it is in a vengeful, anxious mood.” Granatstein also predicts that “if Canada does not fully comply with U.S. continental security plans, the Americans could seal our border and deploy their armed forces in our territory.”

In his first print interview as defence minister, McCallum makes crystal clear that he has no intention of joining the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” club. The new minister intends to fulfill his mandate. He believes that co-operation with the Americans is essential; co-option would be suicidal. For his part, Chief of the Defence Staff Raymond Henault in his annual report asserts that while “the status quo is not sustainable,” with the proper budget and leadership Canada can contribute meaningfully to its own defence.

The challenges are daunting. Our submarines leak. Our jet fighters are ready for war museums. It recently took a Sea King helicopter 17 days to fly from Vancouver

Defence Minister John McCallum’s credo: ‘While I’m a proud Canadian and don’t kowtow to Americans, I’m a realist and we’re negotiating to have more joint planning.’

to Halifax (because of three emergency repair landings), longer than Steve Fossett spent piloting his hot air balloon around the world. Like it or not, valuing our institutions enough to be willing to defend them and only spending real money on defence will allow us to preserve the country that, despite our many problems, most outsiders believe is blessed with the mandate of heaven.

It comes down to a simple patriotic appeal: protecting Canada, damn it! And it may even work. Even the Liberals’ own pollster, Michael Marzolini, in May reported that 48 per cent of Canadians (compared to only 26 per cent a year earlier) are solidly behind increased defence spending. (Granatstein argues that what’s needed is a minimum increase of 20,000 permanent force personnel from 60,000, plus a doubling of reservists to 50,000 and providing them with all the modern equipment they’ll need.)

Much will turn on the McCallum factor. The rookie MP from just outside Toronto who only 21 months ago was the Royal Bank’s chief economist is not just another pretty face. (We’ve had 16 defence ministers over the past 25 years, and except for Barney Danson none of them made much difference.)

McCallum knows little about the military, but cares a great deal about his country and can learn a new role quicker than Tom Hanks. He was nurtured in the rigid discipline of two private schools (Selwyn House School in Montreal and Trinity College in Port Hope, Ont.) and turned down scholarships at Harvard and Yale to study economics at Cambridge and the University of Paris and, later, McGill. He is so comfortable in French that he taught for five years at the Université du Québéc in Montreal. Politically, as a young man, he was an adviser to Manitoba NDP premier Ed Schreyer and helped in several NDP campaigns.

By age 42 he was dean of arts at McGill University, with 200 professors reporting to him, each of them burdened with a far more complex ego than any general or admiral.

McCallum, now 52, can even boast of deep roots within the Liberal Party. Joan Patteson, his great-grandmother, occupied a summer cottage beside Mackenzie King in the Gatineau Hills outside Ottawa. The two were rumoured to be in love (if not lovers), and King historian C.P. Stacey speculates that she was so important to the veteran prime minister and the Liberal Party that Stacey refers to her as “one of the founders of its fortunes.”

John McCallum’s credentials are impeccable, and he knows the future of his country is at stake. Bonne chance.


What’s your main priority?

If there’s one thing I have decided, it’s that we really have to treat our troops more decently, because they’ve too often been stretched beyond the breaking point. Either we have to give them more resources or require them to do less.

That will mean spending considerably more money.

I haven’t publicly named a dollar amount, but the military is talking about something like an extra billion dollars a year to $13 billion. That’s merely to do what we currently do but on a sustainable, humane basis. $ome part of the additional resources should be internally generated. $o I’m asking the question, what are we doing now that is low priority or that we don’t really need to do?

Let’s talk about that terrible word, interoperability. Does it mean a joint command for Canadian and American forces? Or does it mean more than that?

The central question for Canada is our place in North America. While I’m a proud Canadian and don’t kowtow to Americans, I’m a realist, and what we’re doing now is negotiating with the Americans to have more joint planning for the military defence of the con-

tinent. There’s nothing more important for a government than to protect the lives of its citizens. So we have to enter into this kind of contingency planning. Also, can you imagine how the Americans would react if we said no to their offer to plan together, and then there was a major terrorist attack on the U.S. emanating from Canada?

They’d go ballistic.

They wouldn’t care-they’d just march in. So what I’m saying is, to save Canadian lives, to save American lives, and to provide us cover, if you like, were there to be a terrorist attack on the U.S. through Canada, forward planning is a good thing to do. But it doesn’t mean any loss of sovereignty because it does not give command of any of our military to the United States. What it does do, is set up conditions and protocols under which in the event of a disaster we could invite them to help us. It does not yield any sovereignty; it’s a common sense thing to plan in the post-Sept. 11 world.

The next event in world history, according to the Bush administration, will be the invasion of Iraq. Where would Canada stand?

From what we know today, I would be very skeptical about us having any participation. Even within the U.S. government there isn’t really a consensus. At the same time, we can’t

be entirely saying no right now because it depends on incontrovertible evidence the Americans provide that Saddam Hussein is poised to attack the Western world with smallpox or some terrible weapon. It’s not inconceivable that under those circumstances, the whole thing could happen under UN auspices.

What about the anti-ballistic missile defence network that George Bush has been pushing against the “axis of evil”?

They haven’t asked us yet, but from what I know the Americans are going to build it anyway. Canada would to some extent be protected as well, just because of our geography. $o the advantage of us participating is that we might have some say in how this might happen.

As an economist, surely your most costeffective gesture would be to make greater use of reservists, who are on call in emergencies but don’t eat up permanent budgets.

There’s a long history of mistrust between the regulars and the idea on the reserve side that they just get the dregs, the leftovers from the budget. We have a plan to address that issue, but it’s not yet funded. Certainly from a cost-effectiveness point of view, the fact that you only pay people when they’re on duty represents a huge saving.