defence platforms > Ndp

NDP proposes a new vision for Defence

By Jack Harris, NDP Defence Critic

 Leader of the Opposition Tom Mulcair (NDP Party)

Leader of the Opposition Tom Mulcair (NDP Party)

After almost a decade at the helm of government, the Conservatives have failed to effectively manage the Department of National Defence, and have left the Canadian Armed Forces with a legacy of outdated equipment, bungled procurements, and a shameful disregard for CAF members when they need help. A new vision is necessary to ensure that our military can defend Canada, protect Canadians, and contribute to international peace and security with an agile, well-equipped, world-class force.

While the Prime Minister’s tough talk leaves the impression that our military is awash in resources, the reality is starkly different. As a result of Conservative cuts, already long overdue new equipment purchases are being put off for years. This is on top of the departmental spending freeze and other reductions that will see DND’s budget shrink by $2.7 billion this year compared to 2011.

While quietly making these cuts, the Conservatives have also allowed military procurement to devolve into an unprecedented mess. The attempt to sole-source the F-35 fighter jet while hiding the full costs was just one of several major procurement failures on the Conservatives’ watch. From the troubled maritime helicopter project, to the cancellation of the close combat vehicles, and the long-delayed fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft, the Conservatives have been unable to take control of the procurement process. And now, thanks to delays in the Joint Support Ship program, Canada has no supply ships at sea.

But the most shameful failure for the Conservatives during their time in office is the treatment of members of the Canadian Armed Forces and veterans.

CAF members who have to sell their homes at a loss when they are transferred have been unfairly compensated. The grievance process simply isn’t working to resolve members’ issues. The Universality of Service policy has led to the unnecessary discharge of men and women; many of whom were coping with mental or physical injury and could have been accommodated.  Moreover, many have been released without adequate support to transition to a new life outside of the military. Additionally, the failure to acknowledge and address the problem of sexual harassment and assault in the military has been well documented.

Given these challenges, it’s clear that Canada’s defence policy requires review.

It’s time for a made-in-Canada defence strategy that reflects modern global realities. Canada hasn’t issued a white paper on defence since 1994. As a first step, New Democrats would launch a comprehensive review to ensure that our defence policy matches our domestic needs and our foreign policy priorities.

We already know that certain problems need to be fixed.

Our Forces need the right equipment to do their jobs, and taxpayers need value for money. The Conservatives have demonstrated time and again that they aren’t capable of delivering either.

An NDP government would get military procurement back on track. We would implement an open and transparent bidding process to replace our aging CF-18 fleet, and we would ensure that Canada’s shipbuilding strategy serves the needs of our military.

We have already committed to enhancing our search and rescue capabilities to meet international standards in response times, and our capabilities in the North need to be enhanced.

We would be there to support members of the Canadian Armed Forces and their families, in particular when they are ill or injured.

Mental health challenges, particularly PTSD, continue to be a critical situation, with some of the most severe cases resulting in death. Despite receiving an abundance of concrete recommendations from experts in the field, and a comprehensive study undertaken by the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence, the current government has failed to implement many of the recommendations, leaving ill CAF members struggling to find care. This would receive top priority under an NDP government.

We would also review the Universality of Service rule, which the Canadian Forces Ombudsman has called “arbitrary and unfair,” and seek to ensure that fear of discharge would not prevent CAF members from coming forward to obtain treatment for mental health issues.

Finally, there must be a top-to-bottom commitment to eradicate sexual harassment and assault from our military. We would ensure full implementation of the recommendations of the Deschamps report, and consider required changes to our military justice system.

Canadians deserve a new vision for defence strategy in the 21st century — one where our military is well-equipped, world class, and supports its personnel. With an NDP government, they’ll get it.