Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Chrétien's legacy: beyond Adscam

Babble on.

When Lt(N) Chris Saunders was killed by a fire at sea last October, I admonished Liberals - and one in particular - to stow their very public grief. I felt then that the Chrétien government bore a great and tragic responsibility for the decline of Canadian military capabilities, including the decisions surrounding the Upholder purchase, that contributed to this sailor's premature death. I found it grotesquely hypocritical for those who actively worked within the Chrétien government to stand front and centre with the mourners. I feel that way still.

The Commons Defence Committee has just released its report on the submarine purchase:

Armed with the information gathered during the January 1995 visit of the Upholders, the Minister of National Defence of the day, David Collenette, was presumably convinced that the condition of the British vessels was good enough to meet Canada’s requirement and that the price asked by the British was within the limitations identified by the 1994 Defence White Paper. Thus, he argued the case for proceeding with the acquisition at a meeting of the Cabinet in April 1995. As Mr. Collenette told the Committee, the Cabinet more or less gave its approval to the project, but Prime Minister Jean Chrétien had second thoughts. Many sectors of Canadian society including social and health programs as well as defence were starting to feel the effects of the cuts in federal government spending which the Liberal Cabinet believed necessary in order to reduce the national deficit. The Prime Minister was apparently concerned about the way the Canadian public would perceive the purchase of submarines at a time when many social and health programs were being cancelled or reduced. Further action on the acquisition project was delayed pending a better political climate for the announcement of yet another military equipment project on top of the purchase of new armoured personnel carriers and the replacement of search and rescue helicopters announced in the White Paper. Mr. Collenette’s testimony confirmed the speculation among journalists and academics that Prime Minister Chrétien had been directly involved in the decision to delay the acquisition.
However, the fact remains that by April 1995, most of the Upholders had been tied to a wharf for many months and, except for the electrical power fed from shore to demonstrate the electronic systems to prospective customers, the vessels were just soaking up the sun and the salt water. Both the Prime Minister and the Navy should have been concerned at this time about the effects of long periods of inactivity on the machinery aboard complex vessels like submarines. (Babbler's bold)

Decisions such as the one highlighted above do not exist solely in a world of political gamesmanship where polls and spin are all that matter; they have real-world consequences. And while the Committee's report has correctly pointed a finger at NDHQ both for underestimating the difficulties entailed in bringing the new subs up to operational standard, and for failing to cooperate completely with the Committee, let us not forget that neither task would have been nearly as onerous without Chrétien's decision to put selfish political image concerns before the national defence needs of his country, and before the safety of those serving in uniform.

Even the Globe and Mail cannot gloss over the Committee's unanimous conclusions (ht:Tarantino):

The Commons defence committee yesterday laid years of serious problems in Canada's submarine program squarely at Jean Chrétien's doorstep, saying the former prime minister's decision to postpone the purchase of four British subs in the 1990s effectively rendered them unseaworthy.

For. Shame.

Babble off.


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