As with all federal elections, Canada finds itself at a crossroads. Our choices are stark: we face compelling and contrasting visions of what we want our country to be.
On May 2nd, all eligible Canadians must make a vote informed by the contrasting visions presented by Canada’s competing federal parties. There are many visions to contrast: on the economy, the federal budget, healthcare, education, foreign policy, and the like.
No vision is more starkly different than on Canada’s military and Canadian public security. A tough Conservative plan is contrasted by a “weak at the knees” Liberal approach that reflects that party’s usual intellectual softness on defense policy.
I challenge any fair examiner to sift through the Liberal platform and find a solid procurement commitment for Canada’s military. What you will find instead is a series of high minded statements of moral superiority about how “indispensable” and “respected internationally” the Forces are. This is all true, but Mr. Ignatieff seems unable to make the connection that this continued respect is contingent on a modern and operating military: a somewhat difficult goal to realize when the Liberals are unable to commit to a single penny for new equipment.
So what is the Liberal platform on Canada’s military? A return to peacekeeping operations, a reaffirmation of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, support for the 2011-2014 Afghan training mission, a new Veteran’s Learning Benefit, and an immediate cancellation of the F-35 contract. Only an LPC security program would involve new missions for the military while simultaneously reducing procurement, not increasing it.
General Rick Hillier once referred to the 90’s under Liberal governments as “the decade of darkness.” As more and more deployments and demands were placed on the Canadian Forces, successive budget cuts reduced their operation to almost a skeleton. Disastrous procurement cancellations, such as the now infamous decision by Jean Chretien to cancel a $4.3 billion contract to replace Canada’s Sea King helicopters, left the Forces in tatters.
Michael Ignatieff seems quite intent on bringing Canada back to that same “decade of darkness” which has now become the shame of his party.
Contrast this with the Conservative platform. Inside you will find much more of benefit to the Forces than simply a reaffirmation of the F-35 contract.
The Conservatives have promised, for example, to empower the Coast Guard with a law enforcement mandate and to provide armed RCMP boarding teams to Coast Guard patrols. Their ability to defend Canada’s coastline will be supplemented with the procurement of 98 new vessels and the repair of 40 existing ships. This is surely one of the most significant investments in the capacity of our Coast Guard in recent memory.
The Conservative platform promises the continued implementation of the National Shipbuilding Strategy, an effort to revitalize Canada’s naval capacity in the face of new threats to our coastlines and our Arctic sovereignty.
The Conservative pledge to empower the air force goes beyond the acquisition of our new F-35s. The Conservatives have also promised to establish a new expeditionary air force wing at CFB Bagotville. By 2015, Mr. Harper intends to station 550 personnel in Bagotville as a part of this new air wing designed to respond to domestic and international crises as they arise. Our current conflict in Libya is an indicative example of where such a new expeditionary unit will find use.
These are all concrete pledges, backed up with budgeted financial support, to enhance Canada’s military capacity. They are mirrored in the opposition by a bag of empty Liberal promises: empty rhetoric about supporting the armed forces, without any dedication to putting the funds in place to match those high minded words.
Canadians expect the Liberals to walk the walk in defending our country, and not just talk a big game. The Conservatives have stepped up in their commitment to enhancing our forces. Will Mr. Ignatieff and his friends on the opposition benches do the same?
Cross-posted from the Prince Arthur Herald