Election 2015: National Security

True or false: ISIS is a threat to Canadians.

ISIS is a brutal entity that has butchered a legitimate faith to justify mass murder and a violent power grab in the Middle East. My gut tells me that we should be fighting them. We have a proud military history and I would like nothing more than to see ISIS wiped off the map, and Canadian soldiers coming home as heros for having done their part.

Unfortunately things are not so simple in the Middle East. It is a place where the enemy of your enemy is also your enemy, and where your friends are enemies of each other. There are numerous groups, factions and organizations in the area, including the brutal Assad regime in Syria. The latest complication is the involvement of Russia, who, as you might expect, are making things much worse. As much as Harper would like to frame this as us against the bad guys, there are complex dynamics in this area of the world.

But still, the least we can do is provide air support for the Kurds and the Iraqi troups who are fighting against ISIS, right? Not according to Jason McNaught, a writer for Esprit de Corps magazine, who concludes:

If we want to reduce the terrorist threat, perhaps we should attempt to restore our image in the Middle East, not by “killing them over there,” or by refusing refugees based on their religion, but by spending our money on winning hearts and minds through support for Iraqis displaced by the war. 

He points out that other instances where Canada “helped” with air support are now more of a disaster than they were before. Besides (this is me now, not Jason), our air support is not going to stop ISIS. If that were our goal, we would have to get far more involved in combat than anyone is willing to stomach.

But is ISIS a threat to Canadians? No. Not directly. Very few Canadians have been killed by ISIS. Some, yes, but if you avoid the area where ISIS operates you are not in danger. Indirectly, there have been incidents where “ISIS inspired” individuals have killed or attempted to kill here in Canada, but we are not going to stop these deluded individuals by dropping bombs in Syria and northern Iraq.

Maybe the question is irrelevant, because, as sad as this sounds, nothing we are doing or are prepared to do is going to stop them. There are no clear paths to success here. Harper’s plan is as good as Trudeau’s or Mulcair’s. As far as election issues go, this should almost go to the bottom of the pile.


I am far more concerned with our ability to physically protect ourselves and our land. Over the past 20 years our defense capabilities have been eroded to such an extent that we are incapable of independent naval military deployments abroad, and increasingly our ability to protect our own shores is in question.

Canada’s warships are being taken out of service, the used submarines that we bought from England are finally in service but cannot be used to patrol our arctic in the winter, and recently our last destroyer, HMCS Athabaskan, was taken out of service, meaning that Canada will no longer participate in Trident Juncture 15 – an important NATO exercise taking place this month.

Even more embarrassing: we have no supply ships. “If we find ourselves in a situation where extended-range capability is required, we’re not going to be going anywhere by ourselves” says navy Vice Admiral Mark Norman.

I’m not even going to get into the F-35 debate.

I think the turning point might have been when Jean Chretien took office in 1993 and immediately cancelled the EH101 helicopter purchase deal that Brian Mulroney had just finished signing, at a penalty of half a billion dollars, thus dooming Canada to three more decades of archaic Sea King search and rescue helicopters that require 30 hours of maintenance for every one hour of flying and occasionally fall out of the sky killing its occupants.

In a way, this has been the blueprint for all our naval procurement: spend forever fussing over which Canadian companies will benefit from a particular procurement while everything we have falls apart. When a decision does result from our dysfuntional and misguided procurement process, it takes years longer and costs billions more than it should.

The NATO Council of Canada diplomatically summarizes:

The Department of National Defence (DND) has struggled with a long-standing inability to manage major procurement projects. These failures are extremely costly, accruing economic losses, damaging the CAF’s reputation and reducing its operational capabilities.

Scott Gilmore from MacLean’s magazine slightly less diplomatically:

It is difficult to say this with sufficient emphasis without resorting to all-caps: those politicians, this government, the senior officers and the procurement bureaucrats in Ottawa deserve nothing but our contempt for the way they have managed Canada’s military purchasing.

This started before Harper took the helm, but it hasn’t gotten any better since then. I am concerned, not only with our ability to intervene globally when needed, including assistance with natural disasters, but also with our ability to protect our own sovereignty. With Putin’s ambitions, it’s not a stretch to imagine that the Canadian arctic might not look the same on a map in 10 years. Maybe we can rely on the US to come to our aid … or maybe not … who knows what President Trump will do? The point is we shouldn’t have to.


Harper’s emphasis on national security has seeped into many of his policies and campaign promises. For example, his government introduced a law to prevent Canadians from traveling to areas of the world controlled by terrorist organizations. Is it necessary? No. It is already illegal to collaborate with terrorists, but it keeps up the optics of protecting Canadians.

Even policies that are not related to national defense in any way are presented by the Conservatives as “protecting” Canadians

ProtectThere’s nothing wrong with that, it just displays the mindset that Harper and his team have. It’s the same mindset that plays up fears of immigrants, and nudges us towards being a less tolerate society, and there IS something wrong with that.

Harper’s newest gimmick is a tip line for “barbaric cultural practices”. This has nothing to do with National Defense, but it’s all ties together, because his strategy for protecting Canadians is an extension of this cultural war that he’s fostering. I find it a little unsettling.


What about the other parties?

The Liberals and NDP both say they will fix the broken procurement system (which is easier said than done), and restart the CF-18 replacement program with a transparent bidding process. (The NDP is clearer on this point than the Liberals). What I really want to hear is somebody commit to removing ‘domestic industrial benefit’ as a major factor in procurement. Everybody is concerned with the benefits to Canadian industry when we buy ships or planes, but this requirement is a major reason why everything is such a mess. I am skeptical that either Trudeau or Mulcair will improve matters much.

Both Trudeau and Mulcair have committed to treating our Veterans and Canadian Armed Forces personnel better. This is important as well and I hope they follow through if elected.

Something we know for sure is that either Trudeau or Mulcair will be sure to cool down the divisive rhetoric about our safety.

Despite the valid arguments against it, I still agree with Harper that we should be directly involved in the fight against ISIS. I don’t like to sit idly by while people die and suffer if there is something we can do assist. Harper has also made some progress with improving military funding and equipment in recent years, and is belatedly attempting to streamline the procurement process. However, his advantage in this whole area of national security is not nearly as strong as he thinks it is — at least in my mind.


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