Canada's Poor Military Record A Function Of An Overall Mind Set Above Partisan Politics

Much is being made about Canada's military decline and the overall general treatment of veterans during the Harper years. The topic serves as an interesting symbol for how Canadians deal with the military - as well as the economy - as it points to our national sovereignty.

Observing our sudden interest in the military strikes me as bizarre given Canadians never really were into its military to begin with. Who are we kidding? It's less to do with the military per se and more to do with piling on Harper; who to be fair does deserve criticism for his military legacy.

Soon after WWII Canada had one of the largest fleets in the world (remarkable given its population at the time) - albeit briefly - but it has since witnessed a slow, sad descent into nothingness. Military personnel, depending on the source, on average has gone from about 100 000 to around 62 000 today.

Liberal or Conservative this is not acceptable particularly when it comes to Canada wanting to exert its independence. Ironically, Harper made Arctic sovereignty - historically oft an overlooked part of Canadian policy - a key focus despite the dwindling number of military personnel. Apparently, a handful of Arctic Rangers made up mostly of Inuit/Dene staff is enough to fight off the Russians, Americans, Danes, Norwegians and Chinese all circling to claim various parts of the Arctic we consider ours. Only in Canada does this sort of immature and idealistic approach finds life. A serious government, people, and country would have constant military presence in the region.

The once proud Canadian military has but its heritage to look fondly on given there's not much to say about its present day state. Note, this is not to argue our military personnel are incompetent or incapable. On the contrary, by all accounts, we continue to produce well respected soldiers in spite of the system they operate in with all the budgetary constraints. It's not all that different with our medical practitioners. Few have any criticisms with our doctors and nurses. Rather, what we spiritedly discuss is the efficiency - or lack thereof - of the public health system.

But was the record under Harper as bad as claimed? In terms of keeping our armies equipped, the answer is no. In fact, it never was better according to Esprit de Corps - Canada's military magazine:

"Canada’s military that both the left and right can agree on, it would be that our military is bigger, better equipped and more operationally active under Harper. Whether it’s to dote on or denigrate our current prime minister, we all seem to accept Harper’s exuberant public affairs love-in with everything military as proof that our military has indeed grown stronger under our current Conservative government..."

"...It may come as a total surprise to many, but while the alleged peace-loving Trudeau was in power a total of 328 Canadian military personnel were killed in the line of duty. That is 135 more than the total number of casualties under Harper’s Conservatives."

Still, Harper has little to brag about given how poorly our veterans were treated. In any event, misguided perceptions abound when it comes to who treats our military better. In my view, it's less about a political party who happens to be in power and more to do with our over-arching prevailing view of the military as Canadians. It's not as bad or as good as each side claims is my point and the Esprit article above explains this well in detail.

The article - comparing Harper and Pierre Trudeau's military records - closes:

"So why is it important that we continue to make comparisons like this today? The reason is that politics is about perception — and the perception that Harper’s Conservatives have so successfully managed to create is that they are the only true and understanding “friend” of the military. This mistaken perception has been tacitly enabled by this country’s centre and left, who often refuse to realize that a viable defence posture can and should be part of their political platform.

If we blindly accept the mistaken belief that, under the Conservatives, we have supported and developed a stronger military, Canadians on all sides of the political spectrum will be far more accepting of any proposed defence cuts, believing that there actually is fat to cut.

There isn’t.

Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who never felt he needed to pander to the military to make himself look strong, may not be turning in his grave. But surely his legacy might well start screaming for a reality check."

Back in the 1990s, the over arching attitude from Canadians - be it in letters to the editors across the country, call-in talk shows, in private discussions etc. - was we didn't need to spend on the military. The reasons were usually a mix from the idealistic - ie not needing to because we're peaceful - to outright hostility - ie we can put that money into other areas like education and health. Note, to such people, apparently, all Canada comprised of was education and health. Add some 'we're not violent like Americans' nationalism and you get - presto! - an instant recipe for how to ignore (and demean: See Airborne Regiment) the military.

The fact is Canadians took its military responsibilities seriously under most administrations. Under Chretien Canada, for example, was perceived as a country not pulling its weight under NATO and not without its embarrassing controversies. The fight over who spends what and how is a bit of a trap as we never cracked 2% of GDP regardless of who was in power.

I suspect part of the reason is our complacency coupled with the notion we fall under the American satellite security apparatus. 

Notice, the two things that ensure mature sovereignty - military and economic (including natural resources. See blog post below) - have usually been the most maligned and debated over the years.

We're good at pointing the finger at the United States and internal partisan bickering but in the end, we all share this mediocre record.

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