By Scott Taylor
Last Wednesday’s release of Canada’s new Defence Policy reminded me of the old Peanuts cartoon. In a long running gag, Lucy promises to hold the football in place for Charlie Brown to kick it. Charlie brown is always suspicious and reminds Lucy that on every previous occasion she has snatched away the football at the last moment, leaving him kicking at air and landing flat on his back. Somehow, Lucy is always able to convince simple Charlie that this time it will be different. Once he is convinced, Charlie sets himself up with a long run, throughout which he tells himself “This time I’m going to kick this ball clear to the moon.”
That is where all of the self-proclaimed military boosters are right now. They have convinced themselves that this time, Lucy, aka the government of the day is really going to come through on her promise for a whopping 70% increase in the defence budget over the next decade, including the acquisition of all kinds of new equipment. The policy review also calls for an increase in personnel up to 71,000 from the current level of 68,000 – which in reality is fewer than 66,000.
For those of us long enough in the tooth to remember such things, thirty years ago the Progressive Conservative government promised a similarly robust investment in Canada’s military. The 1987 White Paper on Defence advocated the acquisition of twelve nuclear submarines and 400 main battle tanks. The Royal Canadian Navy presently operates four used diesel-electric submarines, and there are but 40 operational tanks in our Army.
That same blueprint called for the purchase of 820 Northern Terrain Vehicles- an articulated, tracked, multi-purpose utility vehicles which would have equipped Army reserve units across Canada. That project got as far as the factory being built in Calgary to assemble the NTVs, before the whole thing was scrapped.
The original plan for our current Patrol Frigates was to build twelve with an option for an additional six. When six additional frigates were cancelled, it was announced that the Navy would get six ocean going Corvettes instead. That scheme simply disappeared from the books.
In 2005 the Army announced they were going to invest nearly one billion dollars into something called the Multi-Mission Effects Vehicle. These 30 MMEV’s were essentially a reconfiguration of the 1980’s Air Defence, Anti-Tank (ADAT) system mounted on a wheeled chassis. Like the ADATs, the MMEV never actually entered Canadian service and in 2007 the project was quietly scrubbed.
In the summer of 2009 the Army announced with much fanfare that it was going to spend over $2 billion to purchase 108 Close Combat Vehicles. After conducting not one, but two sets of trials, the decision was taken in December 2013to not by any CCV’s for the Army.
In 2004 Canada announced the Joint Support Ship project which should have had the first of three supply ships built and in operational service by 2012. That procurement was cancelled in 2009, and now the RCN cannot expect delivery of a new supply ship before the year 2021.
The Air Force first announced it was seeking to replace its aging Sea King helicopters in 1983. Thirty-four years later the same old Sea Kings are conducting operations in the Mediterranean.
So forgive me if I don’t join in the current discussion as to how high we are going to kick the football this time. I will believe it when I see it.
The huge projected budget hike did resonate well south of the border it would seem. Trump’s spokesman Michael Short tweeted out a triumphant message that Canada’s 70% increase in defence spending was a case of the Donald “getting results”. Yeah, and Charlie Brown thought he could kick a football to the moon.