Government default: in 1996, Canada's then-top military leader, General Jean Boyle, said the country's army was unfit to fight in a serious war and the rank-and-file had justifiable doubts about the quality of the high command.
Two years earlier, a group of senior officers reported that outdated radios, bomb shortages, training cutbacks, and government neglect of equipment needs threatened Canada's participation in NATO's air war against Yugoslavia in 1999.
Auditor General Sheila Fraser's 2001 report pointed out that mechanics had to borrow batteries from the Spanish air force to keep Canada's CF-18 jets flying in missions over the former Yugoslavia. And, she said Defence Department claims of improved combat readiness should be "taken with a grain of salt." This was in light of "the declining readiness of the major aircraft fleets, the impairment of the CF-140 Aurora's ability for maritime patrol, and the growing backlog of naval maintenance work."
The report listed several serious concerns including vastly reduced maintenance for navy frigates, a five-year delay in repairing the Auroras flight instrumentation, and a shortage of operable army vehicles. Ms. Fraser also said that, although the forces had about 15,000 maintenance workers at the time, there was a shortage of such personnel. In addition, about 15 percent of the maintenance people didn't have the qualifications their ranks require&
Reports surfaced of soldiers turning up at Canadian food banks because they couldn't afford to feed their families on the wages they were being paid. In return for risking their lives on dangerous peacekeeping missions overseas they sometimes needed part-time jobs at home, moonlighting as security guards or delivering pizzas to make ends meet. This prompted the government in 2001 to inject $600 million into the Canadian Forces for pay and benefits for the troops and to help purchase new equipment.
But, within a year of this announcement, another report criticized the government for its poor treatment of soldiers returning from foreign missions with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to the report, medical services were in adequate and the system needed about a third more staff to help the soldiers.
(By 2005, however, there were more than 5,000 ex-soldiers receiving disability pensions for the disorder, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs, half of which had been awarded in the previous three years.)
The government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney started slashing military spending in the late 1980s. Since then, Canada's military has been starved of resources by penny-pinching politicians who see the defence department as an easy target for saving money.
In November 2003, The Economist pointed out that Canada's defence budget was cut by about 30 percent during the 1990s. The article then quoted Brian Macdonald of the Royal Canadian Military Institute, a defence think-tank in Toronto. Mr. Macdonald said that unless the government invests billions of dollars in new equipment, the armed forces could face "extinction" as a capable fighting force within 15 years. It went on to explain that the country's defence spending had dropped to just 1.1% of Gross Domestic Product, the lowest since before the Second World War. Mr. Macdonald said the defence budget only allowed enough capital spending to equip just one of the three services properly (army, navy, or air force), and that while the navy has some modern ships, it is short of spare parts.
At the time, the air force had only 350 aircraft, compared with 725 in 1991. Symbolic of the terrible state of our military equipment is the fleet of Sea King helicopters. They are known as flying coffins and they need 30 hours of maintenance for every hour of flight.
A month later, in December 2003, a report out of Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario had similar findings. The Canadian Forces won't be able to perform crucial functions in the future, at home or abroad, because of the cutbacks of the 1990s, said the report.
A 2004 Senate report also said that inadequate defence budgets, vulnerable airports, insufficient intelligence, and an ineffective coast guard left Canadians relying on a weak national security and defence system that's full of defects.
The fatal fire aboard HMCS Chicoutimi, one of Canada's four submarines bought secondhand from the Royal Navy, took the life of Lieutenant Chris Saunders in October 2004. It was reported at the time that there were alarming signs that the three other subs had similar problems, despite years of work to refit the vessels. The subs, which were bought in 1998, were plagued by continual delays, cost overruns, and mechanical problems.
In 2005, the Conference of Defence Associations (which also worked on the Queen's re port) said there was little chance of transforming the Canadian Forces before 2020.
It's been estimated that it takes an average of 15 years from the time an equipment need is identified until the equipment gets through the government buying process. In 2005, DND officials said they were hoping to reduce that time lag to nine years.
When Paul Martin was minister of finance in 1995, he cut funds to the Department of National Defence by about $2 billion a year. So, the department started operating on a pay-as-you-go basis rather than building for future strength.
In 2003, DND had an extra billion dollars pumped into its annual budget, which took it back to its 1993 level of $13 billion a year. But, according to the Queen's report--Canada Without Armed Forces?--military personnel and assets will continue to deteriorate before the impact of the new money is felt some years in the future.
While then-Defence Minister John McCallum acknowledged that the military had its limitations, as a result of various operations after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, he dismissed the argument that the Canadian Forces were on the edge of collapse.
Others maintain that the lack of funds for major equipment purchases (such as helicopters and armoured vehicles), has left the forces to cope with inferior equipment while it waits for new purchases.
Generally, Canadians would prefer to see their tax dollars go to health and education rather than the armed forces. And, cutting defence spending was a large part of the federal government's plan to wipe out the deficit. But, while the federal budget surpluses grew, Canada's military has become worn out. As Christie Blatchford reported in The Globe and Mail in January 2004, there are about 15,000 part-time (reserve) soldiers. Many of these may serve overseas "to augment the chronically overburdened and depleted regular forces, (and they) are training for war and its oft-dangerous cousin, modern peacekeeping, without the ability to practice regularly in battle conditions" because of a limited supply of live ammunition.
Canada's new top general went public with the issue of under-funding. When he was named Chief of Defence Staff in February 2005, General Rick Hillier said flatly that the military needs more cash. A few days later, the Liberal head of the Senate, Colin Kenny, said Canada's air force is stressed beyond its limits, with equipment and personnel depleted by years of neglect. "If the government isn't prepared to fund the military so that it's properly equipped the government's [foreign-policy] goals and options are going to be badly limited in the future," he warned at the Senate committee on national security and defence.
The resulting Senate report, released seven months later, in September 2005, called for more than doubling the Canadian Forces' annual budget of $14 billion. It also called for increasing the number of troops to 90,000 from 60,000.
Canada's new Conservative government, under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, plans to revamp the military. Mr. Harper says the military has been neglected for years and his government intends to change that. But, he says it will take time to build up the country's forces. At the moment, Canada can only sustain one mission the size of the current operation in Kandahar, Afghanistan. However, Mr. Harper has promised to increase both the size and range of military equipment and boost both regular and reserve forces.
1. According to one report, only about one in six who express an interest in joining the military actually make the grade. Do a report on what is involved in joining the Armed Forces.
2. The foreign minister of Denmark once remarked that his country's defence budget could be reduced to 25 cents. This would cover the cost of a recorded telephone message to be played to any invader saying, "We Surrender." The foreign minister said the small nation could not possibly hope to defend itself against any of its more populous neighbours, so they might as well stop trying and spend the money saved on social programs. Is Canada in a similar situation? Discuss.
The Forces need 5,000 new recruits every year just to cover normal retirements and attrition.
In 1990, the Canadian Forces had about 85,000 members, but by 2001 there were only about 58,000.
In 2005, if was reported that Canadian soldiers testing their fighting skills in an urban exercise in the Halifax area were forced to use rented commercial paintball weapons because they couldn't get proper army gear: an army spokesman said the necessary gear was on order.
Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute--http://www.cdfai.org/news releases/sept282005 granatsteinbelzile.htm
Centre for Military and Strategic Studies--http://cmss. ucalgary.ca
About Canada Publication Series (Mount Allison University)--http://www.mta. ca/faculty/arts/canadian_ studies/english/archived/ theaboutcanadapublication. html
Conference of Defence Associations--http://www. cda-cdai.ca
RELATED ARTICLE: North of 60.
Critics have argued for years that Canadian sovereignty is threatened by cuts to Arctic and coastal air patrols. But, there's another reason why our protection of the North is threatened.
The Rangers were formed during the Cold War in the 1950s. The Canadian government felt it needed a stronger presence in the North against what it saw as a Soviet threat. The Rangers who were signed up to patrol the area are losing their traditional Native skills. Most of the Rangers are Aboriginal People whose survival skills and knowledge of the area have provided invaluable experience with local terrain, safe travel routes, search-and-rescue, and weather patterns. But, the Rangers program is being challenged by the fact that the younger generation hasn't maintained the same strong link with the land their ancestors had. And, that could be a problem with growing international interest in the Northwest Passage because Ranger surveillance is considered one of Canada's strongest claims to control over the area.
The regular armed forces depend on the Rangers to teach survival skills in the frigid Arctic climate with temperature that can plunge to -50 degrees.
In 2004, the army started a Junior Rangers program with 2,700 young people aged 12 to 18. The scheme includes elders in its training sessions to help pass on the skills that were once part of regular Arctic family life. But, like the rest of the military, more funding is needed.
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|Publication:||Canada and the World Backgrounder|
|Date:||May 1, 2006|
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