By Steve Saideman
In October, I argued that hawks in Canada have a problem–the party that would seem to be their friend has been cutting various programs, harming the readiness of the Canadian Forces and undermining the services for the veterans. Where could such folks go? Could they find a party that might support their interests more? My answer then: probably not. That the Liberals would more likely pander to NDP voters than to Tory voters, so that it was unlikely that they would advocate for more defence spending.
The good news for the Liberals is that the repeated coverage of poor stances on Veterans Affairs has provided an opening. Harper turfed his Minister of Veterans Affairs, Julian Fantino, sending him to be Associate Minister of Defence, responsible for Arctic Security, information technology secuirty and foreign intelligence. Am I reading too much into this to read it as Fantino being sent to equivalent of Nome, Alaska or Greenland? That is where the US military sends folks who are out of favor (the best equivalent to the Hogan’s Heroes threat of the “Russian Front”). Arctic Security is not just a metaphor for a distant area of responsibility (feels mighty close with the super-cold temps this week), but a failed portfolio–that the government’s commitment to the Canada First Defence
Strategy and a focus on Arctic Sovereignty has produced exactly nada, nil, zilch, zero, zip. Info tech security? Only will be in the news if there is some kind of cyber security failure. Foreign intel portfolio? Sshhh! Again, only in the news if something goes awry–a Canadian Snowden or Ames or something like that.
So, things are looking great for the Liberals, eh? Well, this piece in yesterday’s Ottawa Citizen suggests that the Liberals are going to aim at dis-affected hawks via these candidates with military experience. The thing about this piece is it makes the Liberal attempt look kind of lame. I have heaps of respect for Lt. Gen. (ret.) Andrew Leslie, but there is really nothing in the piece about what the Liberals might to run the military or veterans affairs better. More money? Where would that come from? Cancel the F-35 and then do what? The Liberal history of cancelling programs is chock full of glory? Not so much. The Liberals can claim that this government is starving the military (which it kind of is, even as it limits the real choices the military could make to ease the pain of the cuts), but the Liberals starved the military pretty well in its not so distant past. And Trudeau’s stances last fall on Iraq suggested that he needs to listen to Leslie and pals much more closely so that he does not step on himself.
Still, firing one’s ministers and sending them to the Russian front are a signal that Harper is concerned about that portfolio and seeking to fix it before the election season really heats up. Will we see any better performance on Defence and Vets issues in the new year? I doubt it, as again it would require making choices. And there is no real need to do that since Harper knows that the hawks have limited choices indeed.