The Prime Minister’s Office provides a relatively short list of “non-answers” to pertinent questions from reporters, Canadians, or the opposition. Along with “he’s in over his head,” frequent phrases also include “we stand with Israel” and “our veterans get the service they need.” Over the past year, the Tories seem to be using scripted phrases with increasing frequency. Another one-liner has popped up repeatedly: “our military has the right equipment to do the best job.” The pomp and circumstance surrounding the grand unveiling of the 2015 Federal Budget provided the Tories with some facts to back up their slogans, and our Defence Minister seems very pleased.
Jason Kenney trumpeted the $12 billion (actually only $11.8 billion, but what’s $200 million between friends?) as a “huge improvement” over the decade of darkness under the previous Liberal administrations.
The Decade of Darkness was not some B-Movie starring Robert Pattinson wanabees, but the 13 years of “Liberal” governments making heavy cuts to National Defence in order to balance the budget by 1997 and keep it balanced until 2006. Aside from money, why would those dastardly Liberals have done something so heinous? Apparently, it was some nonsense about the Cold War ending in 1990 and the West no longer needing to maintain massive amounts of troops and equipment abroad. Since our equipment had previously been updated in the 1980s and was only a decade old, there wasn’t really a need for heavy investment in procurement until the early 2000s.
If it’s not broke or breaking, don’t fix it. Then again, perhaps this speaks to our capitalist mentality, a mass consumerism that says BUY, BUY, BUY. The Tories, however, aren’t buying, and Canadians are no longer buying Tory messages.
Fortunately, our benevolent leader took control in 2006 and quickly promised to build new ships, buy new planes and helicopters, and establish a deep-water port in the Arctic. True, his Liberal predecessor Paul Martin had already started obtaining the contracts for planes, ships, and helicopters, but Harper had to cancel those since they were tainted with Liberal red. He then promptly sat on his thumbs while his government made much ado about their allotments to defence, and dismissed the fact that not all of that money is even being used. As defence spending “rose” under Harper, so too did the percentage of unspent funds which lapsed back into the treasury. There wasn’t defence spending so much as there was a financial shell game with the armed forces, exactly what Kenney recently accused the Liberals of doing.
What’s worse, we actually need new equipment now. Last December, it became apparent that Australia (one of our allies in the fight against ISIS and in standing up to Russia) is spending more on updates to its navy than Canada plans to spend on our entire armed forces. That’s okay. After all, Australia is an island—they need a special focus on their navy. But their helicopters, planes, and subs are also set to be replaced; the contracts are all signed, sealed, and delivered. Harper can’t even decide when (let alone how many) replacements we’re getting in any one area.
Minister Kenney defended his government’s chequered record by complaining that skeptics “gloss over procurement successes,” and admitted that of course the military wasn’t going to get what they needed immediately. Or any time soon. The “nearly” $12 billion won’t kick in until 2017—two election years from now—and, even then, they’ll only be getting about $1.2 billion per year over the course of a decade. Maybe the PMO should warn their MPs to stop using that whole “our military has what they need” slogan until the military actually has what they need.
But, as any sexually active adult will tell you, the size of what you put in there doesn’t matter, it’s how use it that makes it count. According to Minister Kenney, he heard straight from the Secretary General of NATO that Canada is “punching above its weight” in terms of our NATO commitments.
What is more odd: that a conservative politician praises a Secretary General who used to be the Labour Prime Minister of Norway, or that the popular former Prime Minister said that a bunch of conservative cheapskates were punching above their weight, when our kids are going into battle with hand-me-downs? Our troops might be great but our practical commitment to defence and to NATO leaves an awful lot to be desired. We’re one of the worst offenders in terms of the percentage of our GDP we spend on defence. In all fairness, few countries do achieve the 2% GDP commitment to defence spending asked by NATO, but, when countries like Belgium, Slovenia, and Romania spend more than we do, something funny may be going on.
Maybe Kenney misheard the Secretary General, or “accidentally” dropped a “not” from before the word “punching.” Adjusted for inflation, Harper is spending no more on defence than Prime Minister Paul Martin had spent.
It seems that the decade of darkness is more like a score of darkness, one unlikely to let up anytime soon. Stephen Harper’s granddaughter can deal with that.