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Sailor shortage causing headaches for Royal Canadian Navy

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OTTAWA — A shortage of sailors is making it hard for the Royal Canadian Navy to operate its ships and work on replacing them at the same time, according to a senior naval officer.

The revelation by Commodore Steve Waddell, head of naval strategic readiness, follow similar concerns from the Royal Canadian Air Force about the difficult choices it is facing thanks to a shortage of experienced pilots.

Taken together, they underscore the severe personnel challenges facing some parts of the Canadian Forces, which tend to be overshadowed by the numerous problems facing the military procurement system.

In fact, Waddell indicated during a presentation to a defence conference this week that the navy’s personnel shortages could threaten the Trudeau government’s “ambitious” defence policy.

That policy — entitled Strong, Secure, Engaged — says the military must be able to conduct several missions at the same time. It also sets aside billions of dollars for upgrades to the navy, including new warships and modernized submarines.

Some of those projects have already been delayed, such as the construction of new support ships, though the blame for many of those delays rests outside of the navy and with private shipyards or other federal departments.

The navy nonetheless has its work cut out for it, including imminent talks with U.S. defence giant Lockheed Martin and Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax to decide the final design for its new $60-billion fleet of warships.

“In terms of delivering on Strong, Secure, Engaged, what I think is going to really fundamentally be a constraint in the next little while is the reality of the workforce,” Waddell said.

While the navy is at least 10 per cent short of trained sailors, he said it is facing a shortfall of up to 40 per cent in some places when sailors it does have are unavailable because of training, medical problems or other reasons.

“So when you’re trying to deploy and have a forward presence … while at the same time trying to account for the institutional needs of delivering on Strong, Secure, and Engaged, you can imagine the bit of a dance that’s in front of us.”

The navy’s problem is different from the air force’s: the navy is struggling to simply recruit people while the air force is losing experienced pilots to civilian jobs.

Yet there are also parallels, as Waddell said the navy, like much of the rest of the military, is fighting industry for employees at a time when unemployment is low, demographics are changing and there are other opportunities for people.

Not that the navy is completely without a plan. Waddell and others have talked about using technology, particularly in its new ships, to ease the navy’s personnel requirements as well as attract a new generation of recruits.

In a recent interview with The Canadian Press, navy commander Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd talked about using artificial intelligence to ease workload and the addition of wireless networks to ships as areas where change is coming.

“What does it mean to be a digital navy is what we’re focused on,” he said. “I think that’s going to be key to our ability to attract (people) and then recruit them and then hopefully retain them.”

— Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

National

Ethics commissioner ready to testify to committee today: NDP critic

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Mario Dion

OTTAWA — The NDP’s Charlie Angus says he expects ethics commissioner Mario Dion to be in a position to testify today before a parliamentary committee about his findings on the prime minister’s breach of the Conflict of Interest Act.

But whether the House of Commons ethics committee moves ahead with the study of Dion’s report rests in the hands of the Liberal MPs who hold the majority of seats.

Dion released a scathing report last week that concluded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau breached a section of the ethics code by improperly pressuring former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to end criminal proceedings on corruption charges against a Montreal engineering giant, SNC-Lavalin.

Trudeau has said he disagrees with, but accepts, the report’s findings and was just acting to protect Canadian jobs.

Dion also disclosed that he couldn’t properly get to the all the information he required, as potential witnesses and Trudeau’s office claimed cabinet confidence stopped from them from sharing everything they knew.

Angus, who serves as his party’s ethics critic, said Dion should be allowed to testify because that’s part of his job, adding it would be “extraordinary” for the Liberals to refuse to hear from him.

“This is a very important report, it is a very damning report and it also raises questions about the fundamental powers of the ethics commissioner in terms of the interference and obstruction that was laid in his path by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council,” he said.

Trudeau has shown a complete disregard for the rule of law, Angus added, noting that’s what got him into trouble.

“His disregard for the findings of guilt are equally troublesome,” he said. “I think he needs to really grow up and assume the role of prime minister here and not just a public figure who thinks he’s impervious to accountability.”

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer reiterated his call for the Liberals to put partisan interests ahead of their own and let the study proceed.

“We will learn today whether or not scandal and corruption is limited to just the Liberal party’s leader in the form of Justin Trudeau, or whether or not this rot has infected the entire Liberal caucus and the entire Liberal party,” Scheer said at an event in Richmond Hill, Ont.

Scheer said that if the study fails to go ahead, he hopes to be able to convince voters to hold Trudeau accountable on voting day this October.

“We cannot have a lawmaker who is a lawbreaker.”

Trudeau has suggested voters want to move on.

A new poll suggests Dion’s report hasn’t so far hurt the Liberals’ chances of re-election this fall, nor has it helped the Conservatives.

Indeed, the Leger poll suggests the two parties were locked in a dead heat, with the support of 33 per cent of voters, as they jockey for position at the starting gate for the Oct. 21 vote.

Liberal support was unchanged from last month, despite Dion’s report, and Conservative support was down three percentage points from last month, despite the party’s best efforts to re-ignite public outrage over the affair.

The online survey of 1,535 eligible voters was conducted Aug. 16-19 for The Canadian Press and weighted to reflect the makeup of Canada’s population; it cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.

Angus said he thinks it is unhelpful to apply the frame of a political horse race to a question of the rule of law.

“I’m less concerned about whether Mr. Trudeau is up one point or down one point,” he said. “My concern is if he interfered with a prosecution and we have to have some manner of accountability, whether it is him or for future prime ministers. Otherwise, we don’t have the rule of law in this country.”

The Canadian Press

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Country music star George Canyon to run for Tories in Nova Scotia

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George Canyon

OTTAWA — One of Nova Scotia’s best-known country music stars is walking on to the political stage.

George Canyon has announced he’s running as a Conservative candidate in the riding of Central Nova in the upcoming federal election.

His name was added to the Tory roster after existing candidate Roger MacKay dropped out this week, for what he said were “personal reasons.”

Canyon has won several Juno and Canadian Country Music Association awards for his work, and currently sings the national anthem at Calgary Flames games.

While his star is sure to add to the Conservative shine for this election, the riding is well acquainted with being a home for political stars.

Brian Mulroney ran from there to get a seat in the House of Commons after becoming leader of the Progressive Conservatives in the 1980s, and for over a decade it was home to Peter MacKay, who served as a cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

Green party Leader Elizabeth May also attempted a run for the seat in 2008, but lost to MacKay.

He held the riding until stepping down ahead of the 2015 election, and the seat fell into the hands of Liberals as part of a red sweep of the Atlantic provinces.

But the Tories count Central Nova among the seats they intend to recapture this fall, thanks in part to what they say are candidates with strong ties to the area, including three local members of the Nova Scotia legislature.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has made multiple stops in the Atlantic provinces already this summer, and for his part, Canyon said he’s eager to get going.

“Over the next nine weeks, I’m going to wear the soles out of my boots as I work hard to show people here the type of representative and advocate I will be for them.”

The federal election takes place on Oct. 21.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

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