By Michael Nickerson
When Rick “Big Cod” Hillier talked about a “decade of darkness,” it was supposed to be a lament, not a prophecy. A military stretched beyond its means, morale in the gutter, an armed forces ignored, the then chief of the defence staff placed the sorry state of Canada’s military squarely at the feet of the federal Liberals, their cost cutting, and their indifference to the troops. But that was back in 2007, and with heads full of sugar plums and fairy tales, everyone thought it would get better. Rebuilt and reenergized. Go team!
Well, that was a silly notion, wasn’t it? Instead of rebuilding, the forces have regressed amid false promises, inept procurement, and budget cuts. Instead of reenergized morale, it’s about as robust as a sodden mechanical bunny running on dead batteries. Any coherent foreign policy for the armed forces to operate under has been subordinated to the whim of politics and polling numbers. Decade of Darkness –The Sequel: Bigger, Longer, and Lied To. Not exactly what you expected to see on the marque did you?
Well, gee whiz soldier, we can fix that! It’s an election year after all, and democracy will undoubtedly work its special magic. The will of the people will prevail, and all will be milk, honey, and some new kit for the forces. There might even be a fresh uniform or two for those cadets out there rationing their skivvies and timesharing their pants. Or that’s the idea, anyway, much as it was back when Hillier was winding up his military career and dreaming of fame and fortune on the lecture circuit.
A popular definition of insanity is when someone does the same thing over and over again yet, somehow, expects a different result. It's certainly a sign of stubbornness, perhaps even stupidity. So with that in mind, who might step up and fix this mess?
Stephen Harper? Wrong answer. See above. If you’re finding yourself swayed by a sudden round of promises to veterans to up compensation, hire new case workers (i.e. replace some of the ones they fired), treat reservists as something approximating the same species as regular force members, all while talking tough and bombing extremists, please take head in hand and shake vigorously. Harper has spent so much time cutting expenses and doling out tax breaks he’ll be lucky to have a roll of quarters left to cover a Band-Aid and pack of fire crackers. Not that his promises have ever had much substance to begin with. So do scratch that one off the list if a semblance of sanity is the goal.
Alright, who then? Glad you asked! Hmmm, yes sir, good question. And that’s where things become a bit of a sticky wicket, as they say. The alternatives aren’t so much limited, as nonexistent. For if the past eight years of political opposition can be summed up in one word, it would be cowardice; a fear of taking risks, openly speaking to power, or offering tangible alternatives instead of banal bromides fashioned more to avoid controversy than achieve change. So far it’s a game of chicken one and all outside the Harper Government™ has been losing badly.
Many thought that would change once Andrew Leslie decided to take up federal politics as his second career. Bright, confident, candid, experienced, and not a little intimidating; the former chief of transformation seemed the quintessential White Knight for what ails the Canadian military and foreign service alike. Yet, it would be safe to say the retired general’s tenure so far has been characterized by little more than bad press and unnecessary controversy. A waste of insight and expertise, though the promise seems to be that he’ll be sprung on an eager electorate once an election is called.
The problem, unfortunately, is that while everyone keeps their powder dry waiting for that call, serious issues have been and are unfolding with little useful comment, resistance, or policy alternatives. Canada’s current military campaign against ISIS/ISIL (choose your acronym) creeps ever forward and now troops have been deployed into Ukraine to provoke the Russians, the repercussions of which will last far beyond the next election, perhaps even past the next generation. The plight of veterans has changed not a whit, and tens of billions of dollars are needed just to keep the military at status quo, much less rebuild.
So if someone has a White Knight out there, for the sake of all that's decent and holy, let the crazy sod get on his horse and ride. Too many decisions are being made in a cowardly vacuum. It's criminal to wait.