With the Canadian federal election scheduled to take place October 19th of this year, a major shift may follow in regards to the role of the Canadian Armed Forces. For the first time in Canadian history, the polls are showing a very tight race among the three major parties. Who comes out on top is anyone’s guess. I begin to worry when looking at the major parties’ ideas about Canadian defensive strategy and what they foresee as the role of the Canadian military on the international stage.
The Liberal Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party, and the Conservative Party of Canada are neck and neck. With the Conservatives being in power since 2006, many Canadians are looking for a change. What will this change look like for the Canadian military? To understand that, we have to look at the party platforms and general policies that they are running on.
The Liberal Party of Canada
The Liberal Party is a mixed bag. Some members are fairly right, and some are fairly left, making it hard to discern what direction they would take the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) if they should come to power. Justin Trudeau, the current Liberal leader, is all but impossible to read on his ideas of the Canadian Forces. If he follows in the footsteps of his father, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, we could be in trouble. Pierre Trudeau gained a reputation among the CAF community for being an “enemy of the military,”[i] failing to procure equipment and funding required to maintain an effective operational force.
Under the previous Liberal government that served from 1993–2006, the CAF also went through some devastating times. In the Canadian military, we call them the dark ’90s. In 1993, we saw the disbandment of the Airborne Regiment (for disciplinary reasons, not financial), as well as huge budget cuts. These cuts were so devastating that Regular Force units failed to maintain their readiness qualifications due to an inability to purchase ammunition, and the Primary Reserve units often did not have the funding to pay their soldiers for their time.
At the same time, under the Liberal government, the CAF created their first stand-alone SF unit, Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2). They also massively increased funding after the 9/11 attacks and deployed soldiers into a combat role to Afghanistan as part of the ISAF coalition. This put Canadian soldiers in a direct combat role for the first time since Korea.
More recently, during the question period of an interview, Justin Trudeau was quoted saying that he and the Liberal Party would stop the CAF combat mission against ISIS, but maintain a military force in the region to train local troops in opposition to the Islamist movement. Based on the party’s past record and recent comments about ongoing military operations, it is hard to determine what their plans are for the Canadian military.
New Democratic Party
The New Democratic Party (NDP) is a pretty open-and-shut case of minimal military intervention. In many recent interviews and debates on the campaign trail, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has stated that if the NDP comes to power, all troops will be withdrawn from the mission against ISIS—both the combat troops and the teams in place to support training local forces.
“George Petrolekas, a retired colonel, sees withdrawal as a possible credibility issue for Canada among international partners,” [ii] but Mulcair and the NDP don’t seem to be worried about potentially severing bonds and interoperability that have been built up over the last 14 years of combating terrorism with our allies. With no real further information on the NDP’s plans for the Canadian military, and all of the NDP’s massive spending plans, it’s safe to say that we would probably be overlooked by all accounts.
Conservative Party of Canada
The Conservative Party of Canada, under Stephen Harper, is an open book on military policy. It was Harper and the Conservatives that placed the CAF in a command role in RC-South, and in a direct combat role in Kandahar. They have increased our SF units’ activity within the coalition SOF task forces, and put our military in the fight against ISIS. It was under the same Conservative government that our forces received LAVIII to LAV-6 upgrades; the creation of CANSOFCOM, CSOR, CJIRU, 427SOAS, and MTOG; and many other essential equipment procurements.
The Conservative government, although very supportive of the Canadian forces, has also fallen short in some aspects. For instance, the new F-35 fighters have not been procured as of yet. Arctic naval vessels are still not in operation. The replacement for the aging Sea King helicopters has not been procured. Orders for the new armored fighting vehicle, the M-ATV, have been delayed, and Veterans’ Affairs has received budget cut after budget cut.
Unfortunately, there is no clear party that is the champion of the military, but some are more pro-military than others. The real question is whether or not the people of Canada are concerned about the Canadian Armed Forces as much as our members are, and what the results of this election will mean for the men and women in uniform and our veterans.
[i] Robert Smol, Who Supported the Canadian Armed Forces More: Pierre Trudeau or Stephen Harper? Esprit de Corps Magazine, Web: http://espritdecorps.ca/commentary/2014/5/26/who-supported-the-canadian-armed-forces-more-pierre-elliot-trudeau-or-stephen-harper
[ii] Sylvia Thomas, ISIS mission: Comparing leaders’ positions on military involvement, CBC News, Web: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-election-2015-iraq-syria-canada-military-mission-mulcair-harper-trudeau-1.3223568