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Decade of duplicity.

DECADE OF DARKNESS: A PHRASE first coined by then chief of defence staff and part-time politician Rick Hillier. It still has legs long after the good general retired to write books and look for speaking engagements. Of course, it refers to the lean years under Jean Chretien's Liberals, the days of deep cuts in spending and even deeper wounds to morale in the armed forces. Cancelled contracts, meagre pay, and the common belief amongst those in uniform that their country had turned a blind eye and left them behind.

The Harper Government[TM] has used this sense of betrayal to great effect since it came stampeding out of party unification to take the reins of power in 2006. Slayer of the Red Book bogeyman, champion of all things martial, the promises and rhetoric remain the same to this day: we'll clean up the mess, restore the armed forces, speed up procurement, get the best equipment into the hands of our soldiers, and always be there for the men and women in uniform. In short, we've got your back, soldier; now give us your vote.

This tried-and-true plan of attack has helped to secure not one but three mandates, not the least of which a majority government in the last election. So perhaps it's understandable in the face of mounting criticism that Peter MacKay has resorted to old habits; namely, blame the old regime, praise the new one and ignore all that hot air singeing his nose hairs.

Conjuring the ghost of partisans past, the defence minister recently penned a little missive about the Conservative's "decade of delivery," a glowing tribute to the current government's record and a reminder of Liberal atrocities. Under Conservative stewardship, the annual defence budget has gone up, purchasing equipment, taking care of the injured and righting old wrongs.

Not to be outdone, Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose embraced the dictum that if you say it, it must be true when she told parliament that the military procurement cycle has dropped to an astounding 48 months from inception to delivery. The previous guys were doing it five times slower, don't cha know. Promise made, promise kept ... so there.

It's a shame it all amounts to a pile of what Colonel Sherman T. Potter of M*A*S*H fame referred to as "horse hockey." As reported by Esprit de Corps' own David Pugliese in the Ottawa Citizen, the Defence Department has some very different and sobering numbers on the matter. While procurement times ran as high as 190 months (almost 15-3/4 years) in the latter part of the 1990s, the Liberals eventually got that number down to 89 months (almost 7-1/2 years). And while that isn't exactly anything to write home about, it sure beats the 16-plus years (199 months) it currently is today. Promise kept indeed.

Of course, this sort of duplicity on the part of Ambrose pales in comparison to the feel-good fiction being spun by Pistol Pete. If am' problems still remain with regards to the military, blame those red-tainted fellows of vote. We have nary a new joint support ship or Sea King replacement thanks to previous dithering and contract cancellations. And health care expenditures on military personnel have grown 40 per cent under the Conservative's watch. We're doing all we can, soldier.

Well, not quite. Left unsaid is that the reason there is no joint support ship (JSS) doing any supporting or Sea King replacement flying has as much to do with MacKay's party and his own leadership on the matter as anything else. Contrary to the mad spending image MacKay is putting forward, the JSS procurement was scuttled in 2008, being deemed too expensive, and was started over from scratch. According to outgoing Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, if they'd stuck with the previous government's plan they'd have more capable ships now at less cost than the options they're instead facing.

Our aging Sea Kings lack a replacement because senior brass got option happy and ordered a helicopter literally too heavy to get off the ground while the Conservatives looked the other way. And while health care expenditures have increased (tends to happen after fighting a war), MacKay and his rub-thumping cohorts have busied themselves following through on a very veteran un--friendly New Veterans Charter while dragging veterans through the courts to claw back their long-term disability.

Add to that the ongoing delays with both military truck and search-and-rescue aircraft procurement (to say nothing of the F-35 debacle), along with expected budget cuts that have some looking up the word draconian, and it's hard not to conclude that the last decade has been more about duplicity than delivery.

Michael Nickerson is a freelance writer and satirist based in Toronto. His website is www.NickersonOnline.com
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Title Annotation:COMMENTARY; military spending
Author:Nickerson, Michael
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Apr 1, 2013
Words:796
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