By Scott Taylor
There was a recent National Post exclusive story that revealed how the military brass had been reined in by a cost conscious senior bureaucrat. Internal DND documents forwarded to reporter David Pugliese show that the original budget for a Change of Command ceremony for the head of the RCAF was pegged at $107,000.
Deputy Minister of National Defence Jody Thomas balked at the steep price tag and told the Air Force planners to sharpen their pencils. A second proposal was submitted with a revised cost of $80,000 and once again Thomas refused to authorize such an extravagant expense.
In the end, outgoing Commander Lieutenant-General Micheal Hood passed the torch to his successor, Lieutenant-General Al Meinzinger at a more modest event which set back the public purse roughly $24,000.
Many critics still thought this to be a lot of taxpayer dollars to watch two men switch position; the fact is that commanding a branch of the Armed Forces is not the same as simply occupying a similar level executive position within the public service. Pomp and ceremony are longstanding military traditions, and they don’t come cheap. That said, I offer kudos to Deputy Minister Thomas for cutting the cost by nearly 80%.
In his news story, Pugliese also referenced a 1996 incident wherein similar sage advice about public perception of costs for parades was ignored with dire results. On that occasion it was Major-General Archibald MacInnes who was retiring and handing over command of the Land Forces Atlantic Area to Major-General Ray Crabbe.
MacInnes wanted a lavish affair complete with a mock UN observation tower and a vehicle roll past of armoured vehicles.
At that juncture the military was hard pressed financially, training funds were stretched to the point that blank ammunition was almost non-existent, and cash strapped soldiers with frozen salaries were going to food banks and taking second jobs delivering pizza.
When MacInnes’ public affairs officer Major Brett Boudreau saw that the proposed parade budget was in excess of $100,000, he warned his commander that the taxpaying public and his own soldiers would be infuriated if they learned of such extravagance.
The response from MacInnes’ Chief of Staff to Boudreau regarding his concern for the public was a crude “F*ck them!” That email exchange was subsequently forwarded via brown envelope to the office of Esprit de Corps Magazine and the following day “F*ck them” was the headline in newspapers all across Canada.
Times have therefore changed to the point where bureaucrats can now curb the brass.
However, we need only go back to 2011 to revisit an increasingly embarrassing public expenditure on a public display of martial prowess. I refer to the November 24, 2011 Victory Parade held on Parliament Hill to commemorate Canada’s leading role in the allied victory over Libya.
Canadian Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard had been commander of the allied forces, Canadian fighter jets were among the first to bomb Libya, and we were proud to boast that as a nation Canada had “punched above her weight”.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper wanted to mark this occasion with a suitable military spectacle, which included a fly-past of numerous aircraft, a detachment from the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) and the ship’s company of HMCS Charlottetown. Essentially everyone who took part in the Libya conflict got to participate in the Victory Parade. The cost of the fly-past alone is estimated to have been $850,000. Harper’s statement that day proclaimed: “History show us this; that freedom seldom flowers in undisturbed ground. Our job in Libya has been done, and done well’”.
Unfortunately for Harper, it turns out that by deposing and murdering Libyan President Moammar Gadhaffi, we brought anarchy and violence to Libya rather than freedom. Since we declared ‘victory’ in Libya that nation has devolved into a failed state rife with violent anarchy.
In 2012 the ‘victory’ in Libya spilled over into neighbouring Mali in the form of Tuareg separatists and al-Qaeda extremists armed from the unsecured arsenals in the wake of Gadhaffi’s death.
Canadian troops are now deployed to Mali to deal with that ongoing crisis, while no one even talks about a second intervention into Libya to restore law and order. Freedom is not flowering there, unless one considers anarchy freedom.