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Lest we forget our military


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From the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

By Lee Harding

An ocean of distance separates Flanders Fields from Ottawa. By now, we are separated just as much from the sentiments of the poem with the same name. In Flanders fields

An ocean of distance separates Flanders Fields from Ottawa. By now, we are separated just as much from the sentiments of the poem with the same name.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

………..If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

The author, John McCrae, was one of 61,000 Canadian soldiers killed in the Great War. Forty thousand Canadians followed them In the Second World War. Their sacrifice, competence, and accomplishments did much at home and abroad to make the world notice the once-colonial Canada had come of age.

Alas, the armed forces began to erode a generation later. In early 1968 we saw the integration of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) partially as an exercise to reduce military spending and its numbers from over 105,000 to 70,000. The military expanded to 88,000 in the 1989 under Brian Mulroney’s leadership, but eroded thereafter.

The military in recent years has been increasingly short changed especially during the most recent years  a time when the federal government has massively ramped up spending most everywhere else. Whereas Pierre Trudeau wanted to pull Canada out of NATO decades ago, his son Justin simply balks at the organization’s target of two per cent of GDP-spending. Instead, the sparsely-populated, second-largest country in the world dedicates just 1.29% of its economy to defence with an effective force of only 38,000 troops. Our $36.7 billion annual expenditure is about $20 billion short.

Back to Trudeau Sr. who had some unconventional sympathies. In 1952, he joined five Canadian Communists at a Soviet-sponsored conference in Russia. In 1960, he sojourned through China for six weeks at the invitation of the Maoist state, the same year he naively attempted to canoe from Florida to Revolutionary Cuba. As prime minister, Trudeau Sr. cherished Soviet ambassador to Canada, Alexander Yakovlev as a dear friend. Visits to Chairman Mao in China in 1973 and Fidel Castro in Cuba in 1976 brought mutual praise from both.

It’s hard to rally the troops against your foes when you consider them friends, so it was perhaps for both father and son. At the beginning of his new mandate in 2015 the new PM stated his admiration for China the most of all countries for its ability to get things done quickly because of it “basic dictatorship.” Coincidentally it turned out that the Canadian military was hosting Chinese troops  on Canadian soil to train them in winter warfare.

Military readiness was subverted to politics when showcasing diversity and recruiting sexual minorities became the CAF’s overwhelming obsession. Unfortunately, this was not the only political overlay to distract, if not undermine, the forces.

Lawyer Catherine Christensen, who represents 300 veterans, told the National Citizen’s Inquiry on COVID-19 that the vaccine mandate devastated the military–and for this she holds the PM primarily responsible. Divisions killed morale, objectors retired early or were dishonourably discharged, while some were vaccine-injured. She warned the already bare-bones military has been reduced to a disturbingly vulnerable state.

Recently, military chaplains were informed they could no longer pray at public ceremonies, especially to a God conceived as a “He.” One military chaplain lamented to the press that Canada had “violated” its “covenant with the dead” who fought “for God and country.”

Lest we forget? Too late, we already have. In September, all 338 MPs stood and applauded an alleged Nazi who fought against our Russian allies in WWII. If McCrae is right, Canada’s war dead are all astir while its living are fast asleep.


Lee Harding is a Research Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

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Federal government “not serious about defence,” warn Canadian military leaders

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From the Macdonald Laurier Institute

J.L. Granatstein for Inside Policy

“The current prime minister of Canada is not serious about defence. Full stop. A large number of his Cabinet members are not serious about defence. Full stop.”

The Communist regime in China ramps up its aggression against Taiwan, while actively interfering in the political processes of Western democracies – including Canada. In Europe, Russia wages a brutal full-scale war against Ukraine, while sabre-rattling about nuclear strikes on our NATO allies. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Arctic ambitions threaten our sovereignty in the North.

With danger all around, one would think Canada’s federal government, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, would be sounding the klaxon – rallying the country and steeling its citizens for looming conflicts with authoritarian regimes while bolstering our military for 21st-century warfare.

Alas, that seems to be far from the case, according to a pair of senior Canadian military leaders who warned recently about the federal government’s lack of commitment to and support of the military.

Over the course of four media reports that were published between May 12 and June 30, 2024, we heard the opinions of Lieutenant General (Ret’d) Andrew Leslie, and General Wayne Eyre, the Chief of Defence Staff who is retiring later this summer. Leslie, a former Liberal MP, was featured in the National Post on May 12 and again on June 30. As for Eyre, he appeared in an Ottawa Citizen article on June 20, and then in an end-of-term interview with the National Post on June 30 – just two days after the federal government announced the beginning of construction planning for the Royal Canadian Navy’s proposed fleet of fifteen destroyers.

Of these four articles, Leslie’s were by far the most important. The former Chief of Land Staff had retired from the Canadian Armed Forces to run for the federal Liberals in 2015. Elected to Parliament, he served four years – but then decided not to run for re-election. If Leslie was disillusioned, and he was, he kept silent in public until his National Post interviews. His remarks were extraordinarily blunt, but they seemingly failed to attract the public notice they deserved. Here in point form are some of his comments from his first interview:

  • “The current prime minister of Canada is not serious about defence. Full stop. A large number of his Cabinet members are not serious about defence. Full stop.”
  • “Our NATO allies are despairing. Our American friends are frustrated.”
  • “[T]he Liberal government has no intention of meeting [the NATO standard of] two per cent (by 2030) and no intention of meeting 1.76 per cent [of GDP] (as promised in the April 2024 budget) because they rest confident in the smug knowledge that the Americans will always defend us.”
  • “Since 2015, the Trudeau government has not spent, re-profiled, re-allocated, deferred, or lapsed $20 billion that was promised for defence. The impact of that is that ship fleets have not been replaced, aircraft are extraordinarily old, as are helicopters; the army is in a state of despair.”

These remarks from a former senior officer are, to my mind, devastating – much more so than those from Opposition politicians or academic experts. So too were the remarks Leslie offered on June 30:

  • “According to the numbers I have 72% of the army’s vehicles and trailers are offline…. I think the big issue is, right now, the men and women in uniform don’t see any demonstrable proof that the federal government is actually seized of the issue of trying to get them the capabilities they need to better defend Canadians.”
  • “The Liberal government sees defence spending as discretionary… They believe there’s a whole host of societal funding requirements, ranging from increases in healthcare, to day care, to children getting breakfast at school – and a bewildering array of boutique allocations of funds to cater to voter-sensitive initiatives. And defence comes after all of that.”

One area of special concern, Leslie maintained, was artillery shells, one of the many military items Ukraine needs in huge quantities. Canada, he stated, was falling down in producing them: “Canada has a tiny stockpile of 155-mm ammo…. One to two years prior to Russia’s latest invasion of Ukraine in 2022, a bunch of idiots decided to cancel the standing offer [with the two Canadian manufacturers of 155-mm artillery shells] because there was no business case for Canada to continue investing in the production of ammunition.”

Leslie ended the second interview by talking of those leaders he admired: “I had the privilege and honour to be in close proximity to three consecutive prime ministers who made the system work such that we bought tanks, artillery ammunition, small arms ammunition, helicopters, guns, armour-protective vehicles, new weapons systems, the list goes on. And those were Prime Minister [Jean] Chrétien, Prime Minister [Paul] Martin, and Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper.”

The general had been a member of the Trudeau government and had worked in drafting the Liberals’ defence platform in the 2015 election. But nothing had been done to implement it in a timely fashion. In Leslie’s list of prime ministers who took defence and national security seriously, Trudeau was notably absent.

The Ottawa Citizen article, by veteran defence reporter David Pugliese, was not a direct interview with General Eyre, but rather, a report on comments Eyre made behind closed doors in a speech to senior officers. Pugliese did not have a copy of Eyre’s speech but learned of it from an audience member.

According to Pugliese, Eyre, who only had a few weeks left as Chief of the Defence Staff, sounded almost optimistic about the Liberals’ 2024 budget that pledged $8 billion in new defence spending by 2030 and $73 billion more over twenty years.

Eyre reportedly told the officers, “Yeah, this policy was not as fast as we wanted it to be. And it did not give us everything we needed. But I will tell you it’s more than I expected, much more than I expected…. The prime minister told me that defence spending is only going in one direction and that is up.”

The general also reportedly spoke of creating a small team to work out an implementation plan for the new defence policy initiatives, and that he wanted some “quick hits… I see ammunition production as one of those quick hits that we absolutely have to get on with.”

In his interview with the National Post on June 20, Eyre was at times both pessimistic and positive in his assessment of the Canadian military: “[The world has entered a] pre-wartime security environment… If you’re in uniform, you learn to be pessimistic about the security situation because you’re trained for the worst case… Given the indicators and the trends that we see, I am pessimistic about the security situation…. Is this a 1938 moment? Is this a 1912 moment? The world has seen this before, with ebbs and flows, and we’re back in a multi-polar dangerous moment where the structures that have kept us generally at peace are fraying.”

If Eyre is right, Canada should be preparing for a war that is certain to affect Canada and its allies. But the Canadian procurement system for munitions and equipment is broken – a fact that Eyre freely acknowledges: “We are applying peacetime processes and peacetime mentalities to what could be considered a wartime or immediate pre-wartime security environment. So, what did we do in 1939? What did we do in 1914? We certainly didn’t take 10 or 15 or 20 years to get capabilities in place, because the war would be over by that point…. We have to deliver, and we have to deliver fast.”

The Chief of Defence Staff then spoke optimistically about Canada’s role in Latvia, where the Canadian Armed Forces leads the NATO brigade stationed there, and where the commitment is supposed to be increased in the next few years.

“We are very well respected in that part of the world,” Eyre said. “Do they want more of us? Yeah, absolutely, but for me it drives home that we produce a pretty good product…. [Canada] has and can do so much on the world stage. Compared to the majority of countries out there, we have got so much going for us.”

On June 28, 2024, Minister of National Defence Bill Blair and Angus Topshee, the Chief of the Naval Staff, announced the government’s plans to replace Canada’s Halifax-class frigates. Fifteen new destroyers would be constructed at the government’s estimate of $56 billion to $60 billion, Blair said. The Parliamentary Budget Officer earlier had estimated the construction cost at $84 billion with a “life-cycle” cost to operate and maintain the vessels at $306 billion. In reality, Blair’s announcement was not for the beginning of construction of the ships but only for a “test module.”

Some background is needed here. The Harper Conservative government in 2010 approved the National Shipbuilding Program, but it was not until 2018 that the Trudeau government, in power for three years, selected the as yet (and still) unproven British Type 26 ship as its choice. The vessels were to be constructed in Halifax at the Irving shipyards that first had to build the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships, only completed this year (late and over-budget). Now in 2024, work at last can begin on the new destroyers.

The plan is that the first of the ships will be completed and ready for sea trials in 2033, 9 years from now and 23 years after the Harper government announced the shipbuilding program; presumably the first destroyer will not be deemed fully ready for service until at least 2034. (HMCS Halifax, the first of the frigates, went to sea in 1992, and by the time the first replacement is ready, Halifax will be 42 years old.)

But the planned completion of construction of all fifteen vessels will be glacial. Defence Minister Blair told Global TV  on June 28 that the first nine ships would not be completed until 2040 and the remaining six not until 2050. In other words, it will take a quarter century for Irving to build fifteen ships – if it is able to maintain even that production schedule. The one certainty is that the ships will cost more to build – the rate of inflation for military construction is at least 6 percent higher than national inflation. The costs will be so high for these ships that it is all but certain that fewer than fifteen will ever be launched. Will any of the destroyers still be combat effective by 2050? That seems highly unlikely.

Remember what Eyre told the National Post: “We are applying peacetime processes and peacetime mentalities to what could be considered a wartime or immediate pre-wartime security environment…. We have to deliver, and we have to deliver fast.” And don’t forget Leslie’s damning comment: “The current prime minister of Canada is not serious about defence. Full stop. A large number of his cabinet members are not serious about defence. Full stop.”

At the July NATO summit in Washington, American leaders increased the heat on Trudeau to reach the 2-percent-of-GDP benchmark for military spending. “Welcomed @CanadianPM Trudeau to the U.S. Capitol today,” U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell wrote on X on July 9. “Shared values and close economic ties have always been the strength of the U.S.-Canada relationship. But it’s time for our northern ally to invest seriously in the hard power required to help preserve prosperity and security across NATO.”

The Trudeau government will be long gone by the time the first of the new destroyers puts to sea, and it will be completely forgotten by the time the last one sets sail. We must hope that no war intervenes in the next quarter-century because Canada certainly will not be ready – and not only with its navy. “Not serious about defence”– let’s hope we will not pay a high price for the neglect of this country’s most vital national interest.

J.L. Granatstein taught Canadian history, was Director and CEO of the Canadian War Museum, and writes on military and political history. A member of MLI’s Research Advisory Board, Granatstein’s most recent book is Canada’s Army: Waging War and Keeping the Peace. (3rd edition).

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Canada unlikely to meet NATO commitments without significant debt accumulation

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From the Fraser Institute

By Grady Munro and Jake Fuss

At this year’s NATO summit, held in Washington, D.C., Canada will undoubtedly face renewed pressure by our allies to increase defence spending to reach the alliance’s spending target of two per cent of gross domestic product (GDP)—a target that is increasingly viewed as the bare minimum. Despite recent increases to defence spending, the Trudeau government has yet to chart a course that gets Canada to two per cent, and it will be hard-pressed to do so without accumulating significantly more debt than what is already planned.

The days are long gone where Canada was simply one of many NATO members that failed to meet the alliance’s defence spending target, and we are now one of only eight countries that spends less than two per cent of GDP on defence. Indeed, NATO estimates we will spend 1.37 per cent of GDP on defence in 2024. Worse still, Canada is the only country that has not articulated a plan to reach that target by the end of the decade.

It is because of this that Canada has faced mounting pressure from our allies to release a plan that gets us to two per cent of GDP—with a recent example being a bipartisan letter sent to Prime Minister Trudeau from 23 U.S. senators, urging him to make good on our commitment.

In the face of this pressure, the Trudeau government recently released an updated defence policy, which commits an additional $8.1 billion over the next five years and $73.0 billion over the next 20 years, towards national defence. As a result of these new commitments it’s expected that Canada will spend 1.76 per cent of GDP on defence by 2029/30, which gets us closer to the NATO target but still ultimately falls short.

The problem facing the federal government is that, due to its own failures to responsibly manage the nation’s finances, Canada is currently in a weak fiscal position from which to increase defence spending.

During its time in office, the Trudeau government has demonstrated a complete lack of discipline regarding federal spending and debt accumulation. From 2015/16 to 2024/25, annual federal program spending (total spending minus debt charges) is expected to have increased nominally by $210 billion (76.7 per cent), which has resulted in ten consecutive budgetary deficits. These deficits have contributed to a $986.9 billion (89.4 per cent) increase in federal gross debt during the Trudeau government’s tenure.

It’s worth noting that the large majority of federal spending increases have gone towards programs and services other than national defence. Of the $210 billion in new annual spending since 2015, just 8.1 per cent ($17.1 billion) went to the defence budget.

Based on the latest federal budget, Canadians can expect much of the same fiscal mismanagement in the years to come. Indeed, over the next four years the Trudeau government plans to run deficits averaging $29.1 billion and accumulate an additional $400.1 billion in gross debt.

Due to the poor state of federal finances, the Trudeau government has little to no fiscal room with which to increase defence spending—unless of course, it chooses to fund new spending entirely using debt or cut spending in other areas. The government has already chosen the former to pay for its recent defence spending increases, given cumulative deficits from 2024/25 to 2027/28 are $44.7 billion higher in Budget 2024 than in Budget 2023, but continued debt accumulation comes at a cost to Canadians—largely in the form of high and increasing debt interest costs.

Despite recent increases, the Trudeau government still has yet to chart a course to spend two per cent of GDP on defence. But due to the government’s poor fiscal discipline, it will be hard-pressed to reach the target without significant debt accumulation.

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