By Scott Taylor
There is currently a debate raging throughout the British Columbia military community as to whether or not retired members of the RCMP should be entitled to special veteran vehicle licence plates.
The Royal Canadian Legion grants provincial governments the authority to use their trademark poppy symbol on licence plates to signify the driver is a veteran. By the Legion’s definition of what constitutes a ‘veteran’ that status includes those who were members of the RCMP.
Former Mounties in Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia qualify for the poppy adorned licence plates and British Colombia is currently running a public consultation on the issue. Somewhat surprisingly, the move to include the RCMP has blown up into a storm of anger amongst some military veterans groups who are vehemently opposed to the idea.
Some angry vets have threatened to turn in their own veteran licence plates rather than share the honor with the RCMP, while others have taken to social media urging a countrywide boycott of the Legion.
There is no tangible benefit to these plates other than the fact that a few communities allow free parking for the drivers on Remembrance Day. However it is a token symbol of respect for those who have served to protect Canada and Canadians.
The fact is that all military service is not created equal. For instance a part-time reservist might have completed a couple of tours in Afghanistan and been engaged in several combat firefights, whereas a 38 year regular force veteran, depending on their trade qualifications might have never deployed outside of Canada. Who decides which of the two provided a greater service to our country?
Over the past three decades, RCMP officers have been deployed on numerous UN peacekeeping missions, facing the same dangers as our troops. In the field there is always a mutual respect between soldiers and their RCMP counterparts, which is why I find it strange that some military veterans are so enraged by the licence plate issue.
Both the military and the RCMP protect the interests of Canada at home and abroad, so why not honour them both equally?
In more practical terms, we should use this opportunity to placate U.S. President Donald Trump by restructuring our national security resources. The Donald has chastised NATO in general and Canada in particular for not spending 2% of the GDP on defence. Canada currently spends approximately 1.2% of our GDP, with plans to grow that budget slowly over the next decade.
At present, we only include the money spent on the Canadian Armed Forces in our annual defence budget. With a little more creativity and imagination we should rebrand the RCMP as a national gendarmerie. The origin and traditions of the force are that of a paramilitary unit, and their current role has them in the frontline in the domestic war on terrorism.
Moving the RCMP’s $2.3 billion budget and 22,500 personnel into the ‘defence’ category would give us a substantial boost.
While we are at it, why not throw in the Canada Border Services Agency as well? They too are a vital part of Canada’s protective umbrella with a $1.2 billion budget and over 10,200 personnel in uniform.
Then there is of course the Canadian Coast Guard. This is traditionally a civilian organization in Canada, but in the U.S. it is considered to be the fourth service branch after the Navy, Army and Air force. With an operating fleet of 119 vessels, 22 helicopters and over 5,000 personnel, the Coast Guard would be another sizable boost in our ‘defence’ contribution.
Technically, the Coast Guard’s annual budget is only around $285 million, but that does not include equipment acquisitions, because unlike the defence department they do not have a separate procurement budget.
At present Seaspan shipyards in Vancouver has an order list of up to 15 new vessels for the Coast Guard ranging from offshore patrol vessels to a Polar Class Icebreaker.
Throw these shipbuilding costs into the defence budget, tally up municipal expenditures on specialized police tactical squads, and for good measure add long term health care costs for our injured veterans, and lo and behold, we are well above the Donald’s 2% goal. Without spending an additional nickel.
As for the licence plate debate, let’s rename it the ‘Protector’s of Canada plate’ and include all retired military, police, firefighters and paramedics to own one. They all deserve our respect.