On October 19, 2015, the Liberal party of Canada won the elections, assuming office and establishing majority control. The results of this federal election put young Justin Trudeau into the role of prime minister (the second youngest PM in Canadian history). Unlike the American system with checks and balances, the Canadian system went through some reform under PM Pierre Trudeau, Justin’s father, in the 1980s, resulting in consolidated power for the prime minister and his office. If the party in power has a majority government, the PM essentially wields all the power in Canadian government.
On October 19th, 2015, Justin Trudeau assumed this power, and on November 4th, Justin was sworn in and named his cabinet. The Cabinet of Ministers under the Trudeau government was to be equal in numbers of women and men, and ethnically diverse. He accomplished this, and gave several “rookie” members of parliament fairly high-ranking positions. One that comes to mind for our community is Minister of National Defence (MND) Harjit Singh Sajjan.
So who is Harjit Sajjan and how will this man affect the transformation of the Canadian Armed Forces? He is a Canadian immigrant who came to Canada at age five with his police officer father and their family. He has spent 11 years as a police officer in the Vancouver Police Department; his last position there was as a detective with the Drug and Gang unit. He is also a veteran of Bosnia, has endured three tours in Afghanistan as an intelligence officer, and has served as a Lt. Col. in the reserves—the first Sikh to command a regiment in Canada.
He may be a rookie MP, but he has also been tried and tested in his political abilities. For two of his tours in Afghanistan, he was tasked as the liaison officer between Asadullah Khalid and Ahmed Karzai, a tough task for the best of political power brokers, and he faired well in the position. He may not be a door-kicker, but his credentials in uniform are legit. It saves the break-in time needed for a minister straight off civi-street to learn how we operate, and it gives hope for the CAF that there will be a minister in office that actually does have their best interest in mind, having been there and dealt with the issues that we deal with daily.
Sajjan will be tasked with carrying out what Lt. Gen. Andrew Leslie outlined in the “Report on Transformation” of 2011.
According to the Liberal party:
“We will implement the recommendations made in the Canadian Forces’ Report on transformation. The Canadian Armed Forces’ ability to protect Canada’s borders and work with our allies overseas should never be compromised. Threats to its ability to meet future obligations must be addressed head on. The report on transformation made a series of recommendations on how to build a more modern, efficient, and effective military, including reducing the size of administration within government and the Canadian Armed Forces in order to strengthen front-line operations.”—Liberal.ca
This transformation could be promising, as outlined in the report. It looks to reduce the size of the bloated NDHQ and take people out of the office and put them back on the front lines. This includes greatly expanding (almost doubling) the size of the Canadian special operations forces, as SOF warfare is the way of the future. I think this is a great plan as long as the quality of operators isn’t reduced by a large influx of recruiting. The report on transformation also looks to reduce the cost of HQ and civilian agencies that take from the Defence budget and reinvest those funds into equipment procurement and training.
The only problem I can foresee in Sajjan’s future is having to follow the orders of Justin Trudeau. Although Trudeau’s campaign promises were to expand military spending and procurement while creating a more effective fighting force, it seems as though he truly just wants a military barely able to defend itself, holding minimal offensive capabilities other than SOF.
Trudeau has already announced that Canada will be withdrawing their CF-18 fighters from the coalition in Iraq and Syria, but to save face, he will be expanding the size of the SOF DDMA (defense, diplomacy, and military assistance) mission in the area. This could potentially be the start of the breakdown of Canada’s interoperability with NATO forces that has been developed during the 10-year-long Afghanistan mission.
Trudeau has also announced that he will removing Canada from the F-35 program and cancelling our purchase order in order to hold an open bid for the project, as Trudeau believes that the Canadian military doesn’t need a fighter with first-strike capabilities. For me personally, this is a concern. It is a slippery slope, cutting procurement projects right off the bat. There will be a replacement fighter regardless, but has this promise to withdraw from the F-35 extended the timeframe of procurement exponentially for minimal gain?
The real question now is, will Sajjan have the courage to stand up to Prime Minister Trudeau and fight for what our military needs to be a small, yet effective, fighting force, or will he simply be the new face of the same old Liberal disarmament agenda? I have hope for Sajjan as a fellow soldier who has felt the hardship of an underfunded military while in the field, but with the end of our Afghanistan mission and no ground combat missions ongoing, I fear the worst for the defence budget, the combat effectiveness of our equipment, and most importantly, the safety of our soldiers, sailors, and airmen.
(Featured image courtesy of REUTERS/Blair Gable)