Thursday, January 19, 2006

Why I support the Conservatives on Defence

Babble on.

I don't like rabid dogs of any political stripe commenting on my site. Some I delete. Others I simply denigrate. But the converse is also true: I welcome dissenting opinions, as long as those opinions are reasonably expressed.

So I was pleased that a fellow like Mike felt comfortable stepping up in comments to defend the NDP's stance on national defence. I was pleased partly because it made me realize I haven't done a comprehensive review of each of the major national parties' defence policies yet on this blog, and that's something I really should do. Thanks Mike.

First up, the NDP (head to page 44 of the pdf). Actually, the policy is brief enough that I can excerpt it in its entirety below:

Jack Layton and the NDP would establish two clear priorities for Canada’s defence policies: the assertion and protection of Canadian sovereignty, including the protection of Canada’s offshore resources; and the promotion and protection of international peace and security through participation in peacekeeping, peacemaking and humanitarian and environmental support operations. Our foreign and defence policies must reflect Canadian values, rather than becoming an interchangeable part with the U.S. military.

Jack Layton and the NDP will:
  • Insist Parliament review important defence agreements such as the 2006 NORAD renewal agreement and Canadian Forces’ integration with the United States military.

  • Reorient Canada’s defence procurement to support the priorities of peacekeeping,
    peacemaking, humanitarian and environmental support operations. Total defence spending would not be reduced. Good pay, family support, and good basic equipment are priorities.

  • Commit Canadian troops to overseas operations only under the auspices of international peace and security organizations.

  • Speed up the identification, location and cleanup of all DND chemical dumpsites (both on land and at sea).

  • Speed up the investigation and compensation of military and civilian personnel exposed to Agent Orange/Agent Purple.

First of all, on a macro level, this isn't a governing platform, this is a platform for a party that believes it will be in opposition. Insisting Parliament review defence agreements such as NATO is a worthy plank, but it raises the question: what is the NDP position on the usefulness of NATO? Talking about environmental cleanup and compensation for Agent Orange for 40% of the platform shows just how serious a party they are on defence issues. In fact, making environmental support one of four core missions for your military is an even better indication they don't have the slightest idea what purpose a military should serve in both foreign and domestic policy.

This comes through yet again with the NDP commitment to "commit Canadian troops to overseas operations only under the auspices of international peace and security organizations." Canadians don't elect a government to abdicate decisions on international affairs to supranational committees. They elect a government to pursue Canada's interests in the international sphere. Much of the time, that requires cooperation with other nations. But we should have the courage to do what we need to regardless of what the international community thinks. How many Rwandas, how many Darfurs do the NDP have to witness before they realize the consensus of the international community isn't infallible?

For me, the predictable use of the U.S. military as a negative point of reference is the last straw, reinforcing an already low opinion of the NDP position. I struggle to find anything positive to say.

Next up, the Liberals (go to page 74 of the pdf). I'm not going to list each point here because, as usual, the Liberals go on and on without saying too much.

Luckily for me, I've already written my say on their policy, since it hasn't changed from the Defence Policy Statement put out earlier this year.

To summarize, it was a deeply flawed baby-step in the right direction. My original post on the subject identifies five main gaps in the Liberal policy: arctic operations, armour, airlift, sealift, and trust. With the exception of one, those concerns remain.

Interestingly, my concerns with the Conservative platform (page 23 of the pdf, but 45 of the policy book) are exactly the opposite to those I harbour about the Liberal plan. While the Liberals have communicated a vision with mediocre details and follow-through, the Conservatives have laid out significant detail without an overarching policy. Perhaps the Tories assume the policy status quo holds unless contradicted, but I would have liked to have seen that affirmed in their platform. Because, as I've said before, without a cohesive policy thread to hold it all together, their platform is just a series of spending announcements. Welcome and needed spending announcements, mind you, but hardly a defence policy.

Having said that, the Conservatives address many of the issues facing our country that require military action as part of the solution with focus and detail.

For decades, successive Liberal governments have undermined and under funded Canada’s armed forces. We need to strengthen Canada’s independent capacity to defend our national sovereignty and security. In an increasingly dangerous world this “Canada First” vision is required to defend our vast territory and three ocean areas. Greater strength at home will also lead to greater confidence abroad within Canada’s longstanding global role. Achieving this vision willrequire large-scale investments in every region of the country to strengthen Canada’s multi-role, combat-capable defence force.

The plan - A Conservative government will:
  • Complete the transformation of military operations and defence administration.

  • Recruit 13,000 additional regular forces and 10,000 additional reserve forces personnel.

  • Increase spending on the Canadian Forces by $5.3 billion over the next five years, beyond the currently projected levels of defence spending.

  • Expand recruiting and training, reduce rank structure overhead, review civilian and military HQ functions, and increase front-line personnel.

  • Increase investment in base infrastructure and housing for our forces.

  • Acquire equipment needed to support a multi-role, combat-capable maritime, land, and air force. Fundamental capability requirements are national surveillance and control, counter-terrorism, air and sea deployability, and logistics supportability.

  • Increase the Canadian Forces’ capacity to protect Canada’s Arctic sovereignty and security.

  • Restore the regular army presence in British Columbia.

  • Treat Canada’s veterans with the respect and honour that they deserve, and ensure better responsiveness to veterans with a Veterans’ Bill of Rights and a Veterans’ Ombudsman.

This alone is more substantive than anything on offer from the other parties, but it's actually just a summary of what has been announced. I've covered those announcements here, here, here, here, and here. Instead of rehashing those posts, it might be best to simply point out what the Conservatives would do that the Liberals would not.

First, the Conservatives would add 13,000 troops to our manned strength as opposed to the Liberals' 8,000. The Tories have even broken down much of their manning increase - so many for the Pacific Fleet, so many for territorial battalions, etc. - whereas the Liberals have just called them "peacekeepers." Don't even get me started on that - peacekeeping is a task, soldiering is a vocation, and Paul Martin is a self-important twit...let's cut the digression off right there.

The Liberals have a big, fat hole in their program called the Arctic. The Conservative plan doesn't go as far in plugging that hole as some observers would like (under-ice capabilities for our subs, please), but between underwater listening equipment, UAV patrols, armed icebreakers, more Rangers, a permanent Arctic training facility, and a mandate for a full air-deployable battalion to respond rapidly to emergencies in the area, it goes a long way.

Neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives have proposed to replace our heavy armour, but from what I'm reading about the Stryker platform, my concerns might be overblown. We shall see.

The Liberals have approved replacement of our ancient and overworked tactical airlift fleet. The Conservatives see that replacement, and raise them a strat-lift capability. Useful for getting our heavier stuff to places without land or sea access from Canada - like Afghanistan. No more sitting around on our duffs if we can't rent an Antonov when we need one.

The Liberals have pushed the Joint Supply Ship project forward, but the Conservatives have split off replenishment from transport in their proposal, which is a better way to approach each capability. They're also going to upgrade our subs and frigates, and start a for-real process of replacing our destroyers - a key piece of our Navy's contribution to international operations with our allies.

There are other details that favour the Conservatives: putting a regular Army presence back in BC, upgrading the CF-18's so they're deployable once again, putting territorial battalions in or near major urban centres, etc.

But the single biggest advantage the Conservatives have over the Liberals on the defence portfolio is trust. Gordon O'Connor and the Tory defence thinkers care about the military and show a grasp of how it should be equipped and employed to Canada's best advantage. The Liberals have had years and years in power to prove to Canadians they also understand how to cultivate and utilize a military, and they have failed miserably.

The politicians in blue might yet disappoint me as the politicians in red have over the years. But I doubt it. So as you might have already guessed, I believe defence policy is one of the best reasons to vote Conservative on Monday. Stand up for Canada, and give our men and women in uniform the mission and resources to stand up for us.

Babble off.


At 9:43 p.m., Blogger Paulineee said...

Candace sent me over here. I must thank her ;)


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