Thursday, December 29, 2005

Reaching to find substance

Babble on.

A couple of days ago, Harper and the Conservatives released the latest portion of their ambitious plan for retooling national defence in Canada. Disappointingly, it lacks the substance of earlier proposals tabled in Trenton and Winnipeg.

“Canada’s military capacity in this region has been allowed to atrophy. The capacity of the Pacific naval fleet, based at CFB Esquimalt, and our Pacific air force presence at CFB Comox, has been allowed to deteriorate. British Columbia, which is in an earthquake zone, is now the only region of the country without a regular land forces presence,” said Mr. Harper.

A number of measures were announced to secure Canada’s sovereignty on Canada’s West Coast under the “Canada First” defence strategy, including:

  • Increasing Pacific navy personnel levels by about 500 regular force personnel to meet Pacific Fleet requirements and to bring CFB Esquimalt up to full strength;

  • Improving the Pacific fleet by purchasing a new replenishment ship and a new transport ship, upgrading existing frigates and submarines, and initiating a longer term frigate/destroyer replacement program;

  • Restoring a regular army presence in British Columbia with a new rapid reaction army battalion of 650 regular force personnel, which will be air deployable, to be stationed at CFB Comox;

  • Establishing new air force surveillance capability with a new long-range unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) squadron with about 100 personnel to be stationed at CFB Comox, in addition to upgrading Aurora surveillance aircraft;

  • Improving air force squadrons at CFB Comox and throughout the West by deploying new fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft at CFB Comox and CFB Winnipeg, and upgrading fighter aircraft at CFB Cold Lake, and;

  • Providing new territorial batallions with 100 regular and at least 400 reserve force personnel each, to be prepared to respond to emergencies in Canada’s major urban areas, with battalions in the West to be stationed in the areas of Vancouver, Calgary, Regina, and Winnipeg.

Looking at this announcement point by point leaves me underwhelmed.

Increasing personnel levels to fill existing manning requirements in the Pacific Fleet is an excellent idea. But the shortage isn't of raw Ordinary Seamen and Naval Cadets, it's of seasoned PO2's and Lieutenant Commanders. You can't hire folks like that straight off civvy-street, so I'm left wondering what this announcement amounts to in the short term.

Bolstering the Pacific Fleet itself also seems positive on the surface, but without further explanation, I'm not about to get too enthusiastic. New replenishment ships are already in the works, as is a new "transport ship" (the Conservatives are understandably shy about calling it an amphibious assault ship or a hybrid carrier given the Liberal scaremongering from the last election). Upgrading our frigates and subs sounds good, but how are they to be upgraded? Are the Victoria-class diesel-electrics getting quality air-independent propulsion (AIP) refits that would allow for under-ice operations in our Arctic waters? Is FELEX going to receive some much-needed political attention and priority? Or are we just talking about a new coat of paint? And as far as a long-term replacement for our air-defence destroyers and frigates, there's no shortage of options. Shouldn't we figure out if air-defence is a role we want our Navy to play before we devote a pile of resources to a long-term destroyer replacement? Especially given the amount of coastline we have to protect ourselves, and the limited nature of our defence budget? CADRE might be a needed program, but the policy discussion needs to take place first.

A regular-force army presence in British Columbia is a must, and the Conservatives are to be lauded for recognizing that fact. But is CFB Comox the ideal location? Sure, there's already a military airfield there to facilitate deployment in the event of an emergency, but as the esteemed Mr. Donovan has said in this comment to a Katrina post:

I hope Wonderdog isn't suggesting that the response should be pre-positioned in the area... if that happens, they simply become part of the disaster, not assistance to it.
The response teams can't just come in and jump on local infrastructure, either - that's what's broken... so there has to be places for them to eat, sleep, and poop. Don't have that - and the responders become casualties.

Having your response teams become casualties in a crisis isn't the best of ideas. This also applies to the mixed regular- and reserve-force battalions conceived of for urban locales such as Vancouver. Depending upon the disaster, their utility may be less than we'd hope.

Upgrading the Auroras and standing up UAV squadrons is a good idea. But Harper already announced the UAV idea as part of his Arctic sovereignty announcement, and keeping the Auroras in the air isn't exactly revolutionary (what else could you do other than buy new maritime patrol aircraft?).

SAR aircraft upgrades are already progressing - albeit not at the pace anyone would like - but putting more assets in Winnipeg isn't exactly new either, considering it was Winnipeg. Upgrades to the CF-18 fleet would be most welcome, considering they currently can't patrol our own airspace sufficiently, nor can they take part in coalition operations abroad. But again, keeping our current equipment useful isn't really much of a thunderbolt, is it?

The last point in the announcement - for mixed regular- and reserve-force "regional battalions" to be stationed in major urban centres - leaves me conflicted. On the one hand, I've felt for years that part of the reason the CF gets next to no real support from the Canadian electorate is that they're largely invisible to most of the population. Basing front-line operational units very visibly in cities across the country would raise awareness of military matters in your average Canadian, and that's a good thing (contrary to the spectacularly moronic opinion of this intellectual midget). So is having a greater focus on disaster relief and emergency response. On the other hand, do we really need a new army unit in Calgary when we have 1- and 3PPCLI, the Strathconas, and 1CER - among others - already in the province? Looking strictly at military capabilities, this is window dressing.

I understand the need to dribble out policy announcements bit by bit in order to manage the news cycle and keep the Grits on the defensive. Really, I do - and I applaud the CPC staff for sticking to it. But that doesn't mean I don't find the piecemeal approach terribly frustrating.

Where's the overarching defence policy that gives these announcements context? I can see the specific proposals, but what is the plan?

Babble off.

Another look at arctic defence

Babble on.

I am in rather vehement disagreement with Chris Taylor - a man for whom I have a great deal of respect - over the efficacy of the proposed Conservative arctic sovereignty plan.

For an interesting perspective on many of the salient points, Simon Fraser University's CASR is worth a visit.

Their concerns about building new armed icebreakers in Canada ring true, and they echo Chris' points regarding our lack of under-ice enforcement of our own territorial claims. But they also support my assertion that the ability to pinpoint subsurface transgressions is a huge step forward. Quite frankly, their worries about cabling for the underwater sensor system show a lack of imagination: who says cabling has to emerge at a shoreline? Run it into the rock below the ice level and bring it to the surface inland and the problem of shifting sea ice is solved.

It’s almost like they’re looking for something to nitpick, which never fails to annoy me.

In that same vein, I am somewhat surprised at the authors' simplistic reasoning concerning UAV patrols, and their subsequent dismissal of those patrols as virtually useless. First off, they assume that the UAV's will be unarmed, and thus unable to engage in any enforcement of Canadian sovereignty. It's a reasonable assumption, but an assumption nevertheless, and they do their readers a disservice by not admitting as much. Even if we grant them this point, though, their conclusions are flawed. Before we can enforce our sovereignty, we have to detect intrusions. It is far more economical to patrol our vast northern territory (bigger than India) with unmanned high-endurance drones than with CF-18's, C-130's, CP-140's or CC-144's. Should a UAV spot a problem, a fighter or manned patrol aircraft could be deployed quickly to follow up with muscle. Survey using remotes, and respond using manned aircraft if you must - this is common sense, is it not?

CASR's thoughts on the Cambridge Bay training centre seem like purposeless sniping to me: you have infrastructure and a training mandate, and if it makes political sense as well, then all the power to the CPC for killing two birds with one stone. Moving the training around all over the arctic with no centralized hub is nonsensical, and assuming the training will occur exclusively at the centre is equally obtuse.

When it comes to support for the Rangers, I agree with the authors wholeheartedly. I'm especially intrigued by the idea of a small number of Ranger regulars as opposed to an entirely Reserve force.

While those with an interest in Canadian sovereignty and our military may debate the merits of this specific proposal versus that one, it's refreshing that there are new political ideas on defence emerging during an election for us to discuss at all. And we have the Conservatives to thank for that.

Babble off.

Belated holiday wishes

Babble on.

I have broken the online embargo placed upon me during the Christmas break by my better, smarter, and more fragrant half. Without that restriction, I would have wished all of you a Merry Christmas before the day had come and gone.

Ah, well. At least I can beat the rush by hoping yours is a Happy New Year.

Even vomiting progeny have been unable to dampen my holiday spirit, probably because of my wife's insistence I stay away from politics and focus on more important matters - like roasting domesticated fowl and losing badly at cards.

I hope you have been likewise blessed.

Babble off.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Le grand poulet orange

Babble on.

It's not often you see a political leader in Canada with true courage. Here's Jack Layton talking about health care in Quebec yesterday:

Speaking in Montreal, Layton singled out Quebec Premier Jean Charest.

"I came here to deliver a message, one that he needs to hear. Back off," Layton said.

"You are not going to destroy public health care. New Democrats won't let you. Make no mistake about it."

Oh, wait.

Jack wasn't in Quebec, he was in Alberta. And he was addressing his remarks to Ralph Klein, not Jean Charest. Ooops. My bad.

Well, at least he was picking on the province and premier who have done the most to let private health care into their system.

Oh, wait.

Ooops, my bad again.

Well, at least he's being fair by blasting both Alberta and Quebec with the same strong language, as evidenced by his last speech in Quebec.

Oh, wait.

Well, Jack! is an honourable guy, so there has to be a good reason for this.

I mean, it couldn't be he's avoiding the fight in Quebec because he knows his fundamentalist view of healthcare isn't popular with the people of Quebec. Y'know, the ones who vote, the real bosses in a democracy.

It couldn't be that yet another eastern elitist, no-fat-latte-sipping, limousine socialist politician is just scoring cheap political points at the expense of his Chardonnay-tasting-club's favourite punching bag, Ralph Klein and the rednecks that voted him in.

It couldn't be that Jack! refuses to walk the walk by standing up for what he believes is right even where it's unpopular.

It couldn't be he's chicken.

Could it?

Babble off.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Calling the Liberal bluff

Babble on.

Today, in a letter to Defence Minister Graham, retired Brigadier General and Conservative Defence Critic Gordon O'Connor called the Liberal bluff on arctic sovereignty:

In a press conference on Monday, I called on your government to answer several questions concerning this potential violation of our sovereignty. I have yet to receive a response from you or any government official. So today I am writing to put these questions directly to you:

  • Was the Government of Canada aware of this particular voyage into Canadian territorial waters?

  • If your government was aware of this voyage, did it grant permission for it to occur?

  • If your government did not grant such permission, what specific actions have you or your government taken to protest this apparent violation of Canadian sovereignty?

  • Is the government aware of other unauthorized foreign naval voyages that may have occurred in Canadian territorial waters without the permission or knowledge of the Canadian government?

  • What concrete measures are in your government’s plan to prevent such unauthorized incursions into Canadian territorial waters in the future?

Sovereignty must be enforced to be credible with respect to international law. It is not good enough to say we are sovereign, we must demonstrate our sovereignty. I and all Canadians would like to know the specifics of your plan to defend our northern sovereignty.

Well done, sir. Better for the Conservatives to call the Liberal bluff on Canadian arctic sovereignty than to continue to have the Americans, Russians, Chinese, British and French do it (the five countries widely presumed to operate submarines in our arctic waters as they please).

I especially like Mr. O'Connor's last sentence. He knows full well that the Liberals have no specific plan to defend our arctic sovereignty.

But the Conservatives do:

“The single most important duty of the federal government is to protect and defend our national sovereignty,” said Mr. Harper. “You need forces on the ground, ships in the sea, and proper surveillance.”

The announcement is part of the “Canada First” defence strategy and the plan to significantly enhance our military presence in the Artic includes:

  • Stationing three new armed naval heavy ice breakers in the area of Iqaluit which will include 500 regular force personnel for crews and support;

  • Building a new military/civilian deep-water docking facility in the Iqaluit area;

  • Establishing a new Arctic National Sensor System for northern waters which will include underwater surveillance technologies;

  • Building a new Arctic army training centre in the area of Cambridge Bay on the Northwest Passage staffed by an estimated 100 regular force personnel;

  • Stationing new fixed-wing search-and-rescue aircraft in Yellowknife;

  • Providing eastern and western Arctic air surveillance through stationing new long range uninhabited aerial vehicle (UAV) squadrons at CFB Goose Bay and CFB Comox;

  • Revitalizing the Canadian Rangers by recruiting up to 500 additional Rangers increasing their level of training, activity, and equipment; and

  • Providing an army emergency response capability through the new airborne battalion and airlift capacity stationed at CFB Trenton to provide a rapid emergency response capability throughout the entire Arctic region.

Every single one of those steps makes sense. Every one.

The only thing they didn't do was station a significant regular army unit in the north, but by giving the coverage mandate to the new Airborne, beefing up the Rangers, and establishing an army training centre for arctic ops, at least they're trying to cover that need off.

It's long past time that Canada had a coherent strategy to deal with the sovereignty issues posed by a land mass the size of Europe but with one of the most inhospitable climates this side of the moon. If it's to remain the Canadian North, then Canadians need to control what goes on up there.

The Liberals posture. The Conservatives have a workable plan. The choice couldn't be clearer.

Babble off.

Bring in the hamsters

Babble on.

There is no justice in the world. Anatole Kaletsky has a writing gig with The New York London Times (corrected with the help of The Tiger in comments), and yet clever hamsters continue to spin unemployed in their cages. The sad truth is that every single one of those hamsters could have come up with a more cogent analysis of American might than the simpleton mentioned above.

His conclusions on Yankee dominance?

America owes its global hegemony to the “soft power” that European politicians boast about but are unable to harness, mainly because of Europe’s incompetent economic management. Meanwhile, the “hard” military power beloved of braggart neoconservatives turns out to be largely an illusion — and one that America cannot sustain on its own.

American military might undoubtedly relies heavily upon American economic might. But if we're tracing causes back to their roots, it's just as valid to posit that American force is grounded in American ideals, since those first principles are what drive their government and economy in the first place.

If The Times would like, I'd be more than happy to accept payment for a similarly insightful opinion piece on how blue the sky is on a sunny day.

And while on the subject of the shockingly obvious, let's talk about the "myth" of American military power since that's what caused my chin to hit my chest in the first place. Our witless columnist makes a great effort to tear down the current U.S. military by comparing the first four years after Pearl Harbour with the first four years after 9/11.

And compare what has happened in the four years since 9/11 with the period that followed America’s previous declaration of war. In the four years after 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Western Europe and Asia were liberated, Hitler died in his bunker, the two most brutally efficient armies the world had ever seen were utterly defeated and the atom bomb was invented from scratch and dropped on Japan. In comparison with our parents’ generation, we surely live in a remarkably stable and safe world, in which politics, society and even technology move at an almost glacial pace.

Does The Times no longer employ editors? Is there no-one left at this ailing journalistic behemoth who can apply basic critical thought to a piece before publishing it?

It is obvious to all but the most willfully blind that the American military is the most powerful system of human violence ever to exist on this planet. The 'atom bomb' invented in the course of fighting WWII still exists. In fact, nuclear weapons are more powerful, more precise, and more numerous than in WWII. Even without nukes, plenty of other knockout punches lie in American arsenals: chemical weapons, biological agents, even massive stockpiles of conventional weapons that could make the bombings of Tokyo, Kobe, Osaka, Berlin, Dresden and others look like a Girl Scout's marshmallow roast. And does any thinking observer believe America lacks the industrial capacity to sustain such a deluge of ordnance should it see fit to open the floodgates?

The key difference between the two eras - of World War, and of Terror - is not military might, it is the will to use it.

Never before in the history of human conflict has such a dominant national power been so reluctant to impose its will by use of force on other nations. The Soviets, the Nazis, the British, the French, the Spanish, the Caliphate, the Romans - all have been far more brutal than the Americans. This is not an imperial United States - not in any historical sense of the word.

Restraint is what governs the Americans, far more than might. If might governed them, the oil-rich Middle East would be a graveyard right now. A concerted biological weapons assault combined with a complete embargo (kill anything moving near a border) would eliminate most of the population. A series of chemical attacks to kill off any stragglers, and Arab society would be extinct. By not using nuclear weapons, they could even keep the land relatively safe for corporate workers to come in and work the barren oilfields.

It's a horrific, psychotic scenario, but it falls well within the realm of possibility. The civilized restraint of the United States is all that keeps it from happening. Anyone who believes nations historically comparable to the United States in power would have hesitated to implement such a plan need to read how the Romans dealt with Carthage. So much for a lack of social progress.

As far as technological progress is concerned, I would say that with restraint as their guiding principle, American technology has simply moved in less obvious directions than the development of a new super-destructive weapon. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines from WWII would stand in slack-jawed awe of their current brothers-in-arms' ability to put firepower on target with pinpoint accuracy. Today's focus is on precision, not simply power. That focus has also pushed the development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV's) and sattelite surveillance. It has spawned the growth of organizations like the NSA, a unique and unprecedented intelligence organ devoted to making sure the Americans have the ability to pinpoint problems rather than wiping whole populations from the globe.

For Kaletsky to suggest that turn-of-the-millenium America isn't the most militarily powerful nation in history is ludicrous. For him to pass this intellectually bankrupt idea off in the pages of The Times is a travesty. His publishers should hire a hamster and end the charade.

Babble off.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Thanks for the effort, but...

Babble on.

An editorial (outside the firewall here) from today's National Post calls for more Canadian defence spending and applauds the Conservatives for moving in that direction. It quite properly castigates the Liberals on the defence file as well. Hear, hear, says I.

Unfortunately, at this point my applause dies off.

The critical element in the Conservatives' military platform, released last Tuesday near CFB Trenton, Ont., is not the extra $5.3-billion in defence spending it pledges over the next five years -- it is the clear vision it contains for Canada's Armed Forces and their role in the world. The extra money is essential, but defining a realistic set of missions for our Forces is more important still.

I'd agree with the last sentence, as would knowledgeable observers of all political stripes. But to conflate the Conservative spending announcements with a "clear vision" for our military is ridiculous. These are spending announcements, pure and simple. They're welcome spending announcements, and hopefully they form part of an integrated Defence Plan by the CPC, but as they currently stand, they certainly don't define "a realistic set of missions for our Forces."

What is best about the Conservative plan, though, is its pledge to re-establish an airborne unit and to redesign our military for the current range of threats around the world. Our last major defence re-think was begun when the Soviet Union -- not terrorism -- was seen as the biggest danger to world security.

Their first point is debatable. Personally, I think adopting heavy airlift will improve Canadian military capabilities at least as much as reforming a consolidated Airborne unit, but at least one notable acquaintance of mine has pointedly disagreed with that assessment in e-mail correspondence.

The second point is patently untrue. The Post's editorial board is welcome to disagree with the conclusions it contains, but they cannot pretend the Defence Policy Statement released earlier this year does not exist. This document lays out a direction for our military in support of both Canadian sovereignty and international operations that is flawed but moderately ambitious. It specifically cites 'failed states' as a prime Canadian concern, not the Warsaw Pact. Of course, my greatest concern with the DPS doesn't appear in the policy at all: it's that the Liberals can't be trusted to do what they promise, and until then the policy is just words on paper. That The Post is apparently ignorant of its existence should be an embarrassment to them.

One of the first of these roles would be fulfilling our duty, along with our allies, in maintaining global security. But next should be beefing up our frontier defences to ensure no one -- not even those same allies -- can transverse our territory without our knowledge or permission.

Actually, those roles should be reversed: Canadian sovereignty and defence should be our primary priority, and support of international missions should come second to that. Indeed, the DPS lays this out quite clearly. This is not an either-or proposition - we can and should do both. But if push were to come to shove, I think most Canadians would prefer we be able to secure our own space rather than project power outside our borders.

We need a rapid response unit that has better training than our regular army units, but that is not a full special-ops regiment, such as Joint Task Force 2. It must be fully self-sufficient, so it can be "wheels up" in 48 to 72 hours. Together, the Conservatives' promises of new equipment and manpower would make such a unit viable.

Let's move beyond the unsupportable assertion that "new equipment and manpower" would make an Airborne unit viable since a) there was no new manpower in that announcement, b) the only new equipment announced was strat-lift, and c) while strat-lift is useful to such a unit, it isn't a prerequisite by any means.

While I see what they're trying to get at, and agree with the sentiment, I'm uncomfortable with the assertion that an Airborne Battalion would have "better" training than our current infantry units. As mentioned in a previous post, 3PPCLI is rated as Ranger-equivalent by the U.S. Army, and for a unit of that size, standards don't get much higher. Besides, an Airborne unit wouldn't spring up out of thin air, it would draw from jump-qualified personnel across the rest of the Canadian Army. The new Airborne would be deployable by 'chute, but the need for such a capability is a little sketchy. And even if you manage to establish the need, it is most definitely not at the top of our military's list of priorities. They might be able to deploy more quickly than other units, but that has nothing to do with being Airborne - it has to do with their proposed location (Trenton), and a readiness mandate. You could conceivably give any other infantry unit the same mandate, and as long as you situated them near an airbase they could fill the role. Jump-wings don't deploy you faster on their own.

I've read the Conservative announcement a number of times now, and nowhere does it stipulate that the jump unit would be "better" than the Princess Pats, the RCR, or the Van Doos.

All this goes to show that, unless they're willing to take some advice from people who know better, journalists should refrain from expounding upon topics outside their expertise. They do their cause no favours by putting up such easily-refuted bunk.

Babble off.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Arctic sovereignty, a Canadian oxymoron

Babble on.

The only reason we don't hear about this sort of thing more often is that most of the time the subs don't bother to advertise their presence up north. Sorta defeats the whole 'silent service' theme they got goin' on.

A U.S. nuclear submarine cruised through the Arctic Ocean last month -- probably passing through Canadian territorial waters -- but the federal government is refusing to say whether it gave permission for the voyage.

However, experts say it is highly unlikely Canada was even notified of the USS Charlotte's northern tour, which included a Nov. 10 stop at the North Pole, because it has no way of tracking what goes on beneath the Arctic ice.

And that could threaten Canada's claim to hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of the North, including the Northwest Passage route across the Arctic, said Michael Byers, who holds the Canada research chair in global politics and international law at the University of British Columbia.

"This is very important -- it's crucial," he said. "Any unauthorized passage could have a serious effect on our claim."

Prof. Byers said potentially lucrative oil and gas resources off the Queen Elizabeth Islands could slip out of Canadian control if foreign navies are operating in the Arctic without our permission. "The fact of the matter is that we've spent nothing on Arctic sovereignty over the past 20 years." (Babbler's bold)

Shame on the Chretienites, many of whom remain part of the Martin thugocracy. Shame on Mulroney's Tories, most of which, mercifully, have been expunged from the Canadian political scene. Shame on Trudeau and his crowd who pushed the Canadian military off the cliff in the first place.

There is no glory for any politician who has touched the defence file in the past two decades. Some have been better than others, but none have done the job.

Oh, and shame on all of us who let them do it. Let's not overlook our own culpability in all this. If we don't care enough to make our government take care of our territory, we deserve the natural consequences of our apathy and complacency.

How bad is the situation? Are those of us concerned over Arctic sovereignty exaggerating the problem? Listen to a man who commanded our troops up north only a few short years ago:

Pierre Leblanc, a retired colonel and former commander of the Canadian Forces' northern command, said foreign submarines have been travelling through the Canadian Arctic for decades, but the federal government usually finds out about it only by accident.
Col. Leblanc said Canada is not even spending the bare minimum on northern sovereignty. While he was military commander in the North, he said even the handful of flights over the vast Arctic territory claimed by Canada were cut sharply.

"The number of planned observation flights in 2000 was zero. In '99, there were two," he said. "And this is for an area the size of Europe."

"We don't have any idea what's going on up there."
(Babbler's bold once again)

We're all hat, no cattle when it comes to the Arctic, folks. Accept it. Deal with it.

Or take some responsibility and demand your elected representatives change it.

Babble off.

The first year of a CPC-NDP informal alliance

Babble on.

James Bow, one of the most reasonable pundits in the entire Canadian blogosphere, has outlined how cats and dogs might lie together to make this next parliament work - at least for the first year.

It is definitely worth reading in its entirety.

The one area where I'd disagree with James is on Democratic Reform. I think many of the decision-makers in the CPC hope one day to form a majority government in Canada, and I can't see them getting past that to support a PR reform package. They'll tolerate minority parliaments, but I'm guessing they won't endorse perpetual minority parliaments.

I think a more probable area of cooperation is the empowerment of parliamentary committees. To be honest, this is long overdue anyhow. I'd argue that the single biggest threat to the legitimacy of Canadian federal politics isn't our first-past-the-post electoral system, it's the unholy amount of power currently wielded by the PMO. If the Dippers can see that, we might get the democratic renewal process well on its way in 2006.

Babble off.

Saturday, December 17, 2005


Babble on.

Anyone who's ever run competitive distance races knows how I'm feeling right now.

You start off strong, then you hit a wall, then you get your second wind. And you run and you run and you run. And then at some point if you run hard enough and long enough, your chest starts to burn. Your arms start to stray from their crisp patterns of motion by your side and wobble around a bit. Your stride stops being worthy of the name and disintigrates into a continuous cycle of headlong stumbles and last minute recoveries. And if you keep pushing it, eventually your legs just seem to lose their skeletal mass, and you collapse.

You know you should keep going, you want to keep going, but you simply can't.

From today's National Post comes word that civil servants in the Department of National Defence have been researching opposition (read Tory and prior to that Alliance) election defence proposals for their Liberal political masters in contravention of their own strict ethical guidelines. They used public servants to do their election research for them on the taxpayer's dime.

The evidence from Department of National Defence documents and internal correspondence illustrates a pattern of Liberal partisan support during the election campaigns of 2000 and 2004. National Defence deputy ministers and other officials tracked, evaluated and analyzed opposition platforms and passed the results of their findings in weekly policy reports to the Liberal Cabinet.

I know I should be outraged over this. I used to get incensed over this type of thing. Intellectually, I still abhor it. But I can't seem to summon the emotion right now.

I mean, how long can anyone sustain that level of indignation and disgust? With ethics and trust, not policy, mind you! Mine started with the cynical cancellation of the Sea King replacements in 1993 - a purely political gesture with no thought whatsoever to the human or operational consequences. It continued through the Red Book promise-breaking spree; through the Grand Mere fiasco; through the HRDC scandal; through the reprehensible actions of key Liberals appointed to the BDC, to Via Rail, to Canada Post, to the Ambassadorship of Denmark, and to the Royal Canadian Mint. It continued through the needless death of a sailor that can be traced back to an entirely partisan political calculation regarding the purchase of submarines. It continued through the contemptuous way in which parliamentary tradition was abused until a naive Conservative MP could be bribed into subverting our system of government to the benefit of the Liberal Party of Canada. As all this continued, oh, my blood boiled. And my outrage, my passion, my sense of fair play and honesty and justice ran and ran and ran.

But by the time we got to the latest revelations about Adscam, my lungs were already burning, and my stride was going wobbly.

I wasn't the only one - the entire Canadian electorate seemed to suffer this malaise, and much earlier than me. Andrew Coyne wrote passionately and eloquently about this problem back in April of 2001, and his words still ring true:

Democracy in Canada can survive the ethical failings of one man, or even one government. It cannot long survive -- not as something meaningful -- the sort of slow institutional suffocation to which it has been subjected of late. What went on in Shawinigan, what was allowed to go on throughout the department of Human Resources Development, is far more than a matter of poor judgment, or even partisan excess. It is the product -- I should say the inevitable product -- of a systematic breakdown in our democratic institutions, the point at which a number of well-known failings intersect: the decline of Parliament, as the watchdog on public spending; the consequent accretion of powers in the Prime Minister's Office; and of these, especially, his near universal powers of appointment. The scandal may have begun with the affairs I mentioned. But it continues, and deepens, with each day that these go unaddressed.
If, in the end, we decide that "it doesn't matter" -- not the conflict of interest, not the misuse of public funds, not the lies and the half-truths and the frank contempt for Parliament displayed every day in question period -- then we also conclude that none of the rest of it matters, either. It doesn't matter that so many public officials, high and low, are personally answerable to the Prime Minister, with neither their appointment nor their dismissal subject to public scrutiny. It doesn't matter that supposedly arm's-length Crown corporations have become the Prime Minister's political chequing account. It doesn't matter that Parliament is neutered, that the conflict of interest guidelines are a sham. And it doesn't matter that it doesn't matter: that we have come to expect so little from those in public life, even in the way of personal integrity.

But we should know we are also saying that democracy doesn't matter; that we are content to be ruled, rather than governed. Which being the case, we deserve everything we get.

Using civil servants at DND to do partisan research on behalf of the Liberal bosses doesn't surprise me after all this. But the truth is that I'm tired of being outraged. I'm so very tired. I'm exhausted, in fact.

My head tells my legs to keep running, but I know this feeling all too well. I just hope I can make it to the finish line.

Because if people like me who care deeply about the political process lose faith entirely, if even we can no longer hold up evidence of right and wrong in government and call the masses to stand up on their hind legs...well, there's not much left after that, is there?

Babble off.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Ed Broadbent Party of Canada

Babble on.

Did Jack Layton actually mention Ed Broadbent every single time he opened his mouth, or did it just sound like he did?

Babble off.

More sauce for the goose, this time for Paul

Babble on.

OK, twice in one debate?

Did Paul Martin actually just say this with a straight face?

"We believe that putting dollars into your hands and letting you decide how to spend it is the way to go."

What he forgot to add:

"I want to be very, very clear: I'm only talking about income tax here. Fundamentally, I think the exact opposite when it comes to child care. You have no idea how to spend your own child care money. Hell, you'd probably blow it all on popcorn and beer."

Babble off.

Sauce for the goose, Gilles

Babble on.

Did anyone else just hear what Gilles Duceppe said?

"We shouldn't have a free vote every six months on a question that's already been decided."

Here's what he forgot to add:

"Oh, I'm talking about same-sex marriage. If it's about Quebec sovereignty, we'll hold a vote every twelve seconds if we have to until we get the result we want."

Babble off.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

When it comes to defence, Liberals need to shut the hell up

Babble on.

In an effort to educate a woefully underinformed colleague of mine this morning, I ventured onto the Liberal campaign site. I was browsing through Liberal press releases for some information on the supposed handgun ban. I say supposed because all they have promised to do is "invite provincial and territorial government participation to make the ban national." You figure Alberta's going to sign up? How 'bout the Yukon or NWT or Nunavut? Yeah, me neither.

But that's not what I wanted to talk about today. I told you that so I could tell you this: in my search, I stumbled across Paul Martin's response to the Conservative defence announcement the other day.

The best word I can find to describe it is pathetic. Where to begin?

First, Mr. Harper said the Conservatives would double funding to the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART).

But his party has historically dismissed DART as unnecessary expense, even opposing sending DART to provide humanitarian aid after the recent earthquake in Pakistan. His critic, Helena Guergis dismissed DART as a “photo-op” that costs 10 times more than relief provided through non-government organizations.

So Harper was supposedly against it before he was for it. Paul Martin knows the feeling: a newfound enthusiasm for DART doesn't hold a candle to Martin's 180-degree reversals on major policy items like the GST or free trade.

But let's look past the optics for a moment: do the Liberals have any objection to the substance of the announcement? Do they think doubling funding to DART is a waste of money?


Yeah, didn't think so.

Mr. Harper also announced his new plan would also include increasing heavy air lift capacity by buying larger aircraft.

Heavy airlift capacity has one purpose: the deployment of a quick response – for military or humanitarian reasons.

[insert gratuitous link between Stephen Harper and Iraq here]

Mr. Harper’s should come clean and explain why he believes Canada needs this kind of airlift capacity: is it for military or humanitarian purposes?

My God they're ignorant.

Heavy airlift is no more for a "quick response" than any other means of transportation. The truth is that airlift is ideal for situations where sea or land transportation won't work. For example, if Canada needed to move men and materiel to a landlocked country, one to which we had no land connection such as - oh, let's pick one out of thin air - Afghanistan, then heavy airlift would be useful. In fact, that's why the Liberals rent Antonovs for our missions abroad.

I'm not even going to dignify the false choice between military and humanitarian purposes for the proposed aircraft with a response, since even an underprivileged and developmentally backward child (one raised by his or her parents, according to the Liberals) can see our military would use heavy airlift for both.

Funny thing is, it's not just the Conservatives who think we need strategic airlift. It seems the Canadian Senate needs to "come clean" too:

Canada’s geography is such that the Canadian Forces will more often than not find themselves responding to a crisis – either domestically or overseas – from a great distance. This requires the capability to move personnel and materiel in as few trips as possible. If we are going to have responsive Armed Forces, we need to be able to get them where they need to go in a timely manner.

There are two facets to the capability of strategic lift – airlift and sealift – and Canada is sorely lacking in both.

I could quote more sources that (unlike the Liberals) actually know what they're talking about, but (again unlike the Liberals) my readers don't have their heads planted inextricably in their rectums, so no more convincing is required. And thus we move on.

In contrast, the Liberal government is focused on supporting Canadian troops. Budget 2005 provided $12.8 billion in new money for defence – the largest increase in the last 20 years.

I believe I pulled the curtain aside on that particular Wizard of Oz claim here and here. I have yet to hear or read a credible challenge to that debunking, but you're welcome to try.

The Budget 2005 commitment also includes $7 billion in new equipment for the Canadian Forces including new Joint Support Ships, new Search and Rescue Aircraft, the Mobile Gun System and new Maritime Helicopters.

Wait a minute! The only one of those capital equipment projects with a solely humanitarian purpose is the new SAR aircraft. The JSS and the Maritime Helicopter are at least nominally dual-use, but the Mobile Gun System is a weapons system, pure and simple. "Come clean!", indeed.

These actions are proof of the Liberal government’s commitment to making sure the Canadian Forces have the money and tools they need to do the job we ask of them.

Yeah, about that, here's the thing: the Conservatives would do every single positive thing the Liberals already announced...and then some.

You see, what the Liberals are doing simply isn't enough:

Both navy and air force say they cannot meet all assigned tasks in 2005-06, with “deficiencies and shortfalls in all areas.”

“The result is a decaying infrastructure, a depreciating asset base, increasing personnel issues, and a fleet that faces considerable sustainment issues,” writes the head of the navy, Vice-Adm. Bruce MacLean.

“I will not be able to deliver the full mandated level of maritime defence readiness and capability delineated in the Defence Plan.”

The air force alone has accumulated a $1-billion infrastructure deficit, its long-term capital shortfall is even greater, and it was going into the current fiscal year $608-million underfunded.

“The air force we have today is not sustainable tomorrow,” writes the air force chief, Lt.-Gen. Ken Pennie.
The service chiefs — including the new chief of defence staff and former commander of the army, Gen. Rick Hillier — sound desperate.

“The cumulative costs of not funding (programs) are not only significant and growing, but oftentimes are hidden insofar as they contribute to skill fade, career stagnation, and asset deterioration beyond economical repair,” wrote Gen. Hillier, who went from army boss to military chief in February.

“The sustainment base has not been provided the necessary resources.” (Babbler's disgusted emphasis)

Read the whole thing, but take a Gravol first. Those familiar with the military bureaucracy will tell you that for even one general officer to use such blunt language means the situation is truly dire. For all three service heads to use such language in a single year is not only a sign of the coming Apocalypse, it means they can hear the galloping hoofs of the Four Horsemen close behind them.

The Liberals have no credibility on National Defence. They never did. And with asinine pronouncements like this one, they never will.

Babble off.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Spectacularly wrong and unwittingly insulting

Babble on.

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that while I appreciate his contributions to the political discussion in Canada through fine blogging, I disagree strongly on policy matters with Bart Ramson, aka Calgary Grit.

Unfortunately, with his latest post on childcare in Canada, Bart has simply reinforced my conviction that the core supporters of the Liberal Party of Canada pay only lip service to childcare choices that stray from the institutionalized daycare model they favour.

There's nothing about a National Child care plan that forces you to enroll kids in a daycare program. Parents still have a choice in how they want to raise their children. The idea of a child care program is simply to give parents the option of placing their kids in a child care program, by creating affordable spaces across the country.

It's the same principle as any government program. When the government spends money on post-secondary education, they're not forcing anyone to go to University. When the government spends money on job training, they're not forcing anyone to get job training. (Babbler's bold)

I give you the full quote only for context; the problem lies in the bolded text.

It is almost universally accepted that having a university education, having job training, is far better than not having it.

It is most emphatically NOT universally accepted that regulated institutional childcare is better for children than care from parents, grandparents, or even a kind and responsible neighbour.

To suggest that funding higher education is analogous to funding a national daycare program is to suggest that stay-at-home parenting is a less desirable option. And make no mistake, the Liberals as a party wouldn't be funding institutional daycare to the exclusion of all other forms of care if they didn't believe that.

I'm sure Bart isn't trying to be offensive here. I doubt Scott Reid and John Duffy were actively working to piss Canadian parents off with their 'beer and popcorn' comments. The problem isn't the gaffe, it's the underlying belief that bleeds through even the most conciliatory and accomodating spin.

Because the fact of the matter is this: if the Liberals thought stay-at-home parenting was the equal of institutionalized daycare, they wouldn't be funding the latter and not the former.

They just don't get it. And to make matters worse, they don't even get how they've made people like me so upset. My wife and I are not second class citizens, and we're damned tired of being treated that way.

Babble off.

Why Airborne?

Babble on.

Not surprisingly, most pundits seem to be zeroing in on the idea of a reconstituted Airborne in yesterday's Conservative defence announcement. Objections range from "we don't need it" to "look what happened last time."

As I commented over at Andrew's place:

I think many folks, commenters here included, may be getting the wrong idea about an Airborne Battalion (650 men). The recent Defence Policy Statement already called for a standing rapid deployment force from our existing units. A reconstituted Airborne would provide a focus for those efforts.

The question is one of readiness and capability. At the highest level, we have JTF2, members of which can take on the most difficult missions in the least amount of time. At the next level, we have an Airborne Battalion which can get there a little less quickly, but which packs a bigger punch. It's also a great feeder system for JTF2 (much like the Rangers are for Special Forces - Green Berets - in the U.S.). At the lowest level are our regular units - still trained to a high standard, but slower to deploy and less specialized.

Even in the current policy context, this makes sense, folks.

As far as the idea that the serious discipline problems that led to the disbanding of our Airborne Regiment could resurface: technically, anything can happen, but in this case it's not likely to. Why? Leadership.

General Hillier has set the tone, and it's a strong one. He has willing subordinates injecting pride and professionalism back into the Canadian military. The officers and men who form the backbone of our military today (the senior Captains and Majors, and the Sergeants and Warrant Officers) were raw recruits when the Airborne went off the rails, and it was a shock and embarrassment to them. Let me tell you with certainty that those people were disgusted with the lack of discipline that was evidenced in Somalia, and would leap at the chance to expunge that stain on the Canadian military by rebuilding a strong and honourable Airborne that upholds the traditions forgotten in the early nineties.

An Airborne Battalion would fit seamlessly into our current Defence Policy, and this time I'd lay good money it would be done right.

Babble off.

Update: From military commenter JMH via e-mail:

The CAR (Babbler: That's Canadian Airborne Regiment for the uninitiated) was never to be a super-elite unit, but "the best Infantry Battalion" in the Canadian Army, which happened to specialize in jumping out of presumably safe aircraft. What started the decline to the final debacle was the presumption that the CAR was something special on its own. I forget the name of the final CO, but his job was to persuade the unit members that they were special as the "best infantrymen in the world", not just because they jumped out of airplanes.

The re-establishment of the CAR would be as the 10th Infantry Battalion (Parachute) of the Canadian Army. This would give us 10 Infantry battalions, of which four are "Light Infantry", of which one is "Parachute-delivered". Note that at least one battalion (3PPCLI) has already been rated as Ranger-equivalent by the US Army. Further details on deployability will have to wait for Commander CEFCOM to get himself sorted out, but he should have 1st Battalion (Airborne) under his command. And the heavy lift choppers, and the heavy lift Transport Sqn.

Did I mention "Airborne" is just another delivery means for the experienced infantryman?

I had no idea 3PPCLI was rated Ranger-equivalent by the US Army, although after Op Anaconda, I'm not surprised. You see, I'm just pretending to be a milblogger until a truly qualified Canadian comes along, at which point I will gladly cede the floor.

Updater: Ahh. I was a little distracted when I posted JMH's comment above, and I now realize he wasn't saying what I thought he was. His opinion seems to be that the new Airborne Battalion would be just one of ten infantry battalions. One that coincidentally happens to be capable of dropping from the sky hanging under a sheet.

That's not actually the intent here - from the Conservative announcement:

  • Creation of a new airborne battalion (650 regular force personnel), to be stationed at CFB Trenton and to be available for rapid deployment; (Babbler's italics)

The idea is to make this unit more than just another infantry battalion with jump wings on their chest.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

"To be truly sovereign..."

Babble on.

Must. Not. Get. Hopes. Up.

Too late.

Canada’s military has been significantly underfunded over the past 12 years, leading to a decline in our sovereign capacity to respond to emergencies whether at home or abroad. A Conservative government will increase defence spending significantly over the current baseline, with spending reaching $1.8 billion over currently projected levels by 2010-11.

“Our Forces stand on guard for us, both at home and around the world. So we must stand up for them,” said Mr. Harper. “The men and women who put on the uniform of Canada must have the tools they need to protect themselves and do their job.”

The Conservative “Canada First” defence plan is designed to improve the effectiveness and rapid deployability of Canadian Forces, using CFB Trenton as a hub for aerial deployment. Measures will include:

  • Acquisition of a fleet of at least three strategic lift aircraft to be based at CFB Trenton;

  • Continued replacement of Canada’s tactical airlift fleet of C-130 Hercules aircraft and fixed wing search-and-rescue aircraft;

  • Creation of a new airborne battalion (650 regular force personnel), to be stationed at CFB Trenton and to be available for rapid deployment;

  • Doubling the size and capacity of the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to enable enhanced international disaster relief capability.

Don has already asked what I think of a new Airborne Regiment. I think we were going to get the equivalent anyhow in the form of the "Standing Contingency Task Force" - a rapid deployment capability outlined in this year's Defence Policy Statement. Reforming the Airborne would focus that effort and create some much needed esprit de corps, but it's not really news beyond that (although I must agree with Stephen Harper when he says "The government of the day disbanded the Airborne Regiment to avoid getting to the bottom of a particular incident").

No, for me the real news is - say it with me - Strategic Airlift. Rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? As I might have mentioned before, once or twice, renting Antonovs doesn't cut it. And believe it or not, even three C-17's would allow us to 1) do a better job of moving people and equipment around Canada in the event of a natural or man-made disaster and 2) become much more able to both deploy unilaterally where required (DART missions, Darfur if we wanted to and nobody else did, etc.) and chip in in multilateral efforts (good rough-field and STOL capable strat-lift is a much sought-after asset and would give us a much stronger voice in international operations).

Canadians are justifiably proud of DART's work, and doubling the size of the team can't hurt. With strat-lift, and hopefully a heavy-lift helo capability, it also more than doubles its effectiveness too.

Now don't get me wrong: this makes no mention of naval assets, and we still need a replacement for our ageing replenishment ships (hybrid carriers are what's needed), a better plan for our beleaguered submariners, and at some point a replacement for our Tribal-class destroyers; it makes no mention of an air-defence strategy going forward (as it stands, our CF-18's can't protect our airspace properly, nor can they deploy outside our borders); it makes no mention of the personnel crunch our overworked army is facing, for which there are no easy answers.

More importantly, it's not a strategic document. It lays out no vision of how the Canadian military should be used to further both foreign and domestic policy. Harper's announcement is a scattershot of useful and needed purchases, but there's no thread that ties them all together. To be fair, though:

Harper said more Conservative announcements regarding the military -- including increases to military personnel and other equipment -- will be revealed in the coming days.

Even if he didn't say another damned thing, though, at this point I'll take what I can get. As it stands, it's a far sight better than what the Liberals are offering, and I doubt the NDP or the Greens will propose anything to trump this.

So how will this play with the electorate? I'm not sure. Recent polls have said that the Canadian populace wants more money spent on our military - more out of embarrassment than anything, I think. Are they willing to put their money and vote where their mouth is?

The one thing I'm sure of is that the press will be like a fat kid on a smartie with the prospect of painting Stephen Harper as a scary, right-wing, militaristic Bushitler neo-con. In fact, they've already started.

The CBC raises the spectre of Somalia, and casts the resurrection of the Airborne as a flesh-eating zombie digging its way out of the grave:

Asked about his plan to create a new airborne battalion of 650 troops stationed in Trenton, Harper said he doesn't believe there's a stigma attached to the idea of airborne troops.

ARCHIVES: The Somalia Affair

The Airborne Regiment, which was based in Petawawa, was disbanded in 1995 following a 1993 deployment as peacekeepers to Somalia, during which Canadian soldiers beat a Somali teenager to death.

Subtext? Stephen Harper is recklessly hooking jumper cables up to Frankenstein, and we'll end up with more dead black teenagers before he's done. Don't you understand that parachute training and a maroon beret transform our noble peacekeepers into rabid racists with guns? C'mon Canada, throw a protest, a love-in, anything anti-military and we'll cover it!

CTV actually steps it up a notch from the state broadcaster by trying to tie Stephen Harper to the - GASP! - Bushitler Americans:

Asked by reporters if a Conservative government would send soldiers to the country, Harper replied: "Our government would not be sending troops to Iraq. We want to encourage American success there. We want to see democracy, but our role is in Afghanistan, it's not in Iraq."

The questions follow a commentary in the right-wing Washington Times newspaper which recently came to light, calling Harper the "poster boy" for U.S. President George Bush's ideal foreign leader.

"The article in the Washington Times was the reflected opinion of one individual," said Harper. "And we need to express our policy in that area."

Here's the article in question. And here's what you won't see reported widely in Canada, even when the reporter cites the original article - Stephen Harper's response:

On Iraq, while I support the removal of Saddam Hussein and applaud the efforts to establish democracy and freedom in Iraq, I would not commit Canadian troops to that country. I must admit great disappointment at the failure to substantiate pre-war intelligence information regarding Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction.

The letter spends even more time on softwood lumber, climate change, and same-sex marriage, and I'd encourage you to read the whole thing. Stephen Harper is not going to jump in bed with the Bush administration, contrary to what the scare-mongers on the left will have you believe.

The fact of the matter is that a stronger military allows us to be more independent of the United States, not less. We can take on humanitarian missions that the Americans wouldn't touch (Darfur, Darfur, Darfur anyone? What the hell does 'never again' actually mean if it doesn't mean this?). Right now our fine words ring hollow and hypocritical: we hector the rest of the world to do something when we're not willing to do a damned thing ourselves. A stronger armed forces also gives us a bigger say in how joint operations with our allies are run. It only makes sense: when you don't bring much to the table in a multilateral operation, you don't get much input in how that operation works. The more we bring, the stronger our influence in the decisions that affect us.

Heck, forget about international missions. If an earthquake hits Vancouver tomorrow - The Big One - our military can't properly respond. The Liberals - and yes, the Mulroney government before them although not nearly as much - have neglected our armed forces to such a degree that it will take years - maybe decades - of concerted, unwavering commitment to repair them. This isn't scaremongering, it's the truth.

Stephen Harper and the Conservatives understand this. The other parties simply don't. Today, I'm proud to be a Conservative.

Babble off.

Update: The Dog is relentlessly on point these days. He's sometimes very wrong, but he's on point - here, (less so) here, and here. I agree one hundred percent with this statement:

What's missing in the national discussion of defence is any serious discussion of why we have armed forces in the first place. The role of conventional armed forces in national defence is pretty limited these days, thanks to geography and friendly neighbours (who we couldn't fight even if we wanted to -- we'll always be friendly perforce). So we expect our forces to perform other roles, such as peacekeeping -- but without any serious discussion of what, precisely, those roles should be and what our forces should be prepared to do.

Will we act only with Security Council sanction, or with broad international agreement, or will we support a war launched by isolated allies? Is our army a war-fighting force, or a ceasefire monitoring organization, or something in between? Do we expect to be able to respond to another Rwanda with rifles and bayonets on the ground? If so, how quickly, and with how many troops? If the Security Council authorizes military intervention in Fantasia, what does Canada expect to contribute?

It's only after we've had this discussion that we can seriously address whether we need submarines, and unmanned aerial vehicles, and tanks, and helicopters, and fighter jets. These are the questions that need to be addressed in an election campaign. Not how many dollars we'll spend, but why we're spending them.

My only rejoinder would be that even if we embrace the status quo - and I'm not in favour of that at all - the military still needs more resources. That's why spending announcements, even spending announcements unaccompanied by a much-needed policy discussion, are most welcome.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The possible over the perfect

Babble on.

The latest news from Afghanistan is that three Canadian soldiers suffered only minor injuries when their armoured G-wagen was destroyed by a landmine earlier today. And while no armour is sufficient to repel every attack - IED's and RPG's are all-too-common and can be extremely destructive - this isn't the first time the vehicle has proved it can do the job.

Legitimate questions have been raised about the procurement process - the G-wagen won the bid by default when every other manufacturer pulled out of the labyrinthine competition. But at least this time around, regardless of value for money concerns, regardless of politicized buying decisions, the vehicles work.

For anyone who doesn't appreciate the incremental improvement, I have one word: Polecat.

Babble off.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Jack! needs a fact-checker and quite possibly a smack upside the head

Babble on.

Jack! Layton has a doctorate degree. In fact, before he entered politics, he was a university professor.

But for a smart guy, he sure says some idiotic things. To wit, his latest proclamation on the Canadian mission in Afghanistan:

"We appear to be drifting from our original mission there – which was to provide security in the capital region – and into a combat role side-by-side with American troops," Layton said in a statement.

Jack! is - how can I put this politely? - talking out of his Paul Martin on this one.

Operations Anaconda and Harpoon, undertaken in the early spring of 2002 were most definitely not about providing security in Kabul. This isn't 'drifting', as Layton muses, it's consistent with our operations from the earliest days in Afghanistan.

First land combat operations since Korea? Snipers making unbelievable shots and having U.S. medals held up with political shuffling? Canadian soldiers dying when a U.S. pilot disregarded orders and regulations and dropped a bomb on them?

Does Jack! remember none of this? Where exactly was he in the spring of 2002 that he doesn't know about this stuff?

Yes, it's important for Canadian politicians to discuss this mission publicly - especially our national interests in Afghanistan, our objectives there, and the costs that will be associated with accomplishing our mission - both human and financial. I've advocated that before.

But this yapping about 'Bush's war' is just a transparent appeal to the anti-American left by dredging up the most counterproductive sound-bite arguments in that debate. It's beneath a prospective national leader.

Play it straight, Layton. And for God's sake, get your facts in order before you open your hole again.

Babble off.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

It writes itself, as they say...

Babble on.

I was going to pour myself a coffee, get comfortable in front of my keyboard, crack my knuckles, and patiently wade through each asinine portion of the Liberals's plan to 'ban' handguns. In fact, I was going to point out how adding one Liberal inanity to another actually uses synergy to produce a sum of stupidity that is greater than its parts.

But as usual, Tarantino beats me to it. You have to get up pretty early in the morning to get a jump on Bob, and to tell you the truth, I'm just not that dedicated. Go, keener, go.

For my money, here's his best line:

Mr. Martin will argue in Toronto that the only way to stop the recent rash of slayings and gang-related violence is to ban handguns and choke off the supply.

Right. Because if I was smuggling guns into Canada (which is, again, already illegal), I would now stop because it's become even more illegal.

That's it in a nutshell, you see.

And if it's handled properly, this is a hanging curveball out over the middle of the plate for the Conservatives. The press release writes itself:

"If the Liberals think that criminals will stop committing violent crimes that are already illegal with smuggled weapons that are already illegal just because the Liberals make it more illegal, they're deluding themselves.

This is a serious issue for Canadians, especially those in urban centres. It deserves a more serious response than an empty campaign gesture that will have absolutely no effect on violent crime.

Instead of wasting time and effort on an ineffectual pseudo-ban, a Conservative government will devote [fill in significant dollar figure] to tighten our border security, improve the technology used to detect and apprehend illegal weapons and the criminals who use them, increase the law enforcement presence in urban areas, and toughen penalties for those who use illegal weapons to commit a crime.

The Conservatives have a plan. The Liberals have a soundbite. The choice for Canadian voters concerned with violent crime couldn't be clearer."

Feel free to poach this one, Stephen. It's on me. Gratis.

Just win the damned election, and get the criminals off the streets.

Babble off.

Update: I took Skippy off the blogroll awhile back because I thought he was being an insulting ass, and gratuitously too. As someone who strongly believes in compassionate conservatism, I still take objection to the crude sentiment he ascribed as the underlying theme to my political philosophy.

But despite all that, he's back on the roll. Why? Posts like this one:

Some will argue, and indeed, some already are arguing, that the fact that a few people enjoy target shooting or like to collect guns can't justify gun ownership. If one life can be saved, they argue, that outweighs what other people want.

Those people are wrong.

Unless, that is, they would agree with a proposal to build a separate highway system for commercial vehicles, and then to limit the speed limit for private automobiles everywhere in Canada to 50 km/h. After all, folks, speed kills, and if we can save even one life by making everyone drive really slowly on the highway, well, that outweighs your desire to get to your destination quickly. Why are you so fucking selfish?

Besides, when he's not completely bitter and twisted - that is to say, when he's only somewhat bitter and twisted - Skippy's funny. I have a soft spot for funny.

Upperdate: Funny, and eloquent when the spirit moves him. I'm not even going to excerpt the post, because I truly want you to read the whole thing.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A floating .50 calibre STOP sign

Babble on.

Nothing forces the average waterborne terrorist to reconsider his itinerary for the day like tearing the front off his attack vessel with a well-placed stream of .50 calibre bullets.

Since the Canadian Navy is all about winning over terrorist hearts and minds - or, failing that, turning said hearts and minds into lobster-food under a withering barrage of fire - they're purchasing some new port-security vessels:

The navy is buying a dozen 9.3-metre-long aluminum boats to conduct 24-hour port security patrols around warships anchored or docked in Halifax and Esquimalt, B.C.

"The vessel must be capable of intercepting surface craft and reacting with a response appropriate to the threat level, including the ability to engage a target vessel with two mounted automatic weapons," say navy documents.

Considering the incident that damaged the USS Cole, killing 17 sailors and wounding 37 others, occurred over five years ago, I'd say this purchase is long overdue. Better late than never, though.

Incidentally, my favourite part of the Chronicle-Herald article cited above is the following quote from John Thompson, director of the Mackenzie Institute:

Terrorists aren’t the only reason the navy needs the boats, Mr. Thompson said.

"You might have some other zodiac with a bunch of Greenpeace nuts convinced that some warship hasn’t got a right to stop or make a port visit to a Canadian fleet anchorage and you want an armed vessel to basically say, ‘Clear off or else,’ " he said.

Now the Navy would never characterize Greenpeace activists as 'nuts'. But if you were to put the article in front of a sailor and watch his reaction as he read it, you might just see a slight nod of the head accompanied by a drawing upwards of the corners of that sailor's mouth.

Babble off.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

One easy choice among many difficult ones

Babble on.

As I was reminded the last time I posted about it, childcare is a delicate topic.

The choice to forego a second income in order to have one parent stay home is gut wrenching. Alternatively if both parents choose to work outside the home, deciding how to take care of your children when you're not there to do it yourself is no less tortuous. Since the issue is so emotionally charged, it becomes tricky discerning what's best for the child: how do you balance the care and focus only a parent's love can bring against the ability to live in a good neighbourhood and afford books and swimming lessons and trips to the museum that expand your child's horizons? These are apples and oranges we're comparing here, and once you throw in the fact that each individual child's needs are different, it's clear there's no universally right or wrong choice.

Oh, and if you're thinking solely in terms of the choices available to two parent families, you're missing out on a significant and increasing portion (chart p.19) of the Canadian population. The options available to single parents are even more limited and the choices more excruciating than for the rest of us.

The most we can hope for is that each parent make their choice with the best interests of the child in mind.

I think boiled down to its essence, that's why I prefer the Conservative approach to the Liberal one when it comes to childcare policy. Each family is different, and one size doesn't fit all.

You see, the Liberals believe only in regulated care, and so have geared their policy exclusively toward that option:

Today in Canada, 84 per cent of parents with children are both in the workforce and 70 per cent of women with children under the age of six are employed. Furthermore, the great majority of children under the age of six are receiving child care in some form, yet only one in five is in regulated care. More accessible, regulated child care spaces are a necessity.

The Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that the federal government has no business favouring one family over another based upon a choice between equally legitimate childcare options:

The plan will help parents to choose the decision that best suits their families – whether it means formal child care, informal care through neighbours or relatives, or a parent staying at home.

Now, don't get me wrong: just because I favour the Conservative approach doesn't mean I'm blind to its shortcomings. One hundred dollars per month is a drop in the bucket when it comes to childcare expenses. It certainly won't replace an outside-the-home income. The $250 million per year Community Childcare Investment Program is a good start to dealing with the infrastructure gap that exists across the country, but it's not a fix-all.

The one clear advantage it has over the Liberal plan is that it doesn't tell families who have relatives looking after the kids, families where the parents work shifts, families where one parent stays home, families that feel better having a neighbour or a friend care for their kids that their choices aren't worth supporting. It doesn't force families who choose something other than the state-favoured and state-sponsored regulated care to subsidize those who do.

Childcare is a difficult enough issue as it stands, without the Liberals driving a wedge between those who choose a sponsored facility for their kids and those who don't.

From that standpoint, the choice between the two plans couldn't be clearer. If you favour regulated care, if you feel the government should support regulated care over every other childcare option, and if you feel families who don't choose regulated care should subsidize those who do with their tax dollars, then the Liberal plan's for you.

If you prefer that the federal government simply give all families a little more financial help to facilitate whatever choice they've made (including regulated care), if you think a national childcare policy should be truly inclusive of all families, and if you don't think the government has any business pushing one childcare choice over another, then the Conservative plan wins out.

When it comes to childcare, that's probably the simplest choice parents will ever face.

Babble off.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Common ground

Babble on.

Some folks on both the left and right sides of the political spectrum have expressed skepticism that the NDP and Conservatives share common political ground, that they could cooperate on a legislative agenda in a minority parliament. And some folks just plain have their heads hopelessly buried in their own rectal passages. As an example of the latter, I present Buzz Hargrove, idiot-du-jour - hell, du-siècle (ht:Political Staples):

"An NDP vote is going to mean support for a minority Liberal government. I don't think the NDP, well I would certainly hope not - they won't have my support, will join in any way to support a minority Conservative government."

Buzz is quite obviously talking out of his ass. He's used to calling the shots with the Dipper leadership because for years he wrote all the cheques that kept their party running. Unfortunately for him, these days he's just a guy who can't even get his organization to vote the way he tells them to. Which raises the obvious question: who in their right mind gives a rat's rear bumper what the hell this ego-with-a-mouth thinks about anything? And how many times do we have to flush before he swirls away?

As proof positive that the NDP and CPC do indeed have some common political ground, I offer you this compelling evidence: in a Yahoo! search for "Paul Martin stupidity" I am the number one result, and Greg of Sinister Thoughts is number two. Yet another sign of the coming Apocalypse.

On a more serious note, I'd encourage Dippers inclined to agree with Hargrove's assessment to take a long look across the pond. Britain used to have a thriving Liberal party. It held power with luminary prime ministers like Gladstone, Asquith, and George. And then Labour squeezed it into oblivion, becoming the accepted alternative to the Conservatives.

Don't miss the opportunity to do likewise over here. Propping up corrupt and ineffective Liberals isn't how it's done.

Babble off.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Good policy, poor communications

Babble on.

No, I'm not talking about the CPC, thank heavens.

I'm talking about our Canadian Armed Forces:

Army Equipment for Operation ARCHER
The Department of National Defence is purchasing $234 million of equipment required to carry out Canada's mission in the complex and demanding landscapes of Afghanistan.

I haven't got a problem with any of the stuff we're buying: armoured patrol vehicles, multi-mission radios with satellite on-the-move capability, lightweight towed howitzers with precision munitions and digitized fire control systems, tactical uninhabited aerial vehicles, miniature uninhabited aerial vehicles, Iridium hand-held satellite telephone systems, colour camera system for the Coyote reconnaissance vehicle, diesel all-terrain vehicles, and a multi-purpose container system.

My problem with the announcement is that it makes it sound like we're buying the stuff just for Afghanistan, like none of it has any use beyond that one operation, like it's $234 million of disposable kit.

That couldn't be further from the truth.

Call this what it is: equipment our army needs to deploy to hotspots anywhere in the world. Today's mission happens to be in Afghanistan, but not a single one of these purchases will sit on a shelf once the mission is done.

Babble off.