A Conservative Defence Policy

Jan 15, 2004

Canada has unrealized potential as one of the world’s leading nations. Our vast ­geographic and economic breadth, based on a free and democratic society, ­provides tremendous leadership potential.

Traditionally, Canada has played this role in the struggles against fascism and communism and in countless peacekeeping missions around the globe. With this position, however, comes responsibility. This is why Conservatives advocate a new defence ­strategy that can better project our military forces globally, while simultaneously increasing our continental efforts to defend North America. Rebuilding the Canadian Forces is at the core of Conservative defence policy.

Since 1993, over $20 billion has been cut from the defence budget under the   “Soft Power” defence doctrine of the Liberal government. Canada is now at the bottom of the NATO alliance in defence spending as a percentage of the size of our economy, ­creating a crisis in national defence.

The Canadian Army is on life support. Canada does not have enough rapidly deployable land forces for overseas operations. The government  has failed to maintain brigade-level deployment capacity, disbanded the Canadian Airborne Regiment, and has not significantly expanded the JTF2 elite counter terrorist forces.

The size of the Canadian Forces (52,400 effective), and in particular the Canadian Army, is far too small to meet Canada’s national and international commitments. A G8 country like Canada must have a larger force. Consider the fact that in 1962 the Canadian Forces totaled 126,000 personnel when our population was half of what it is today.

Furthermore, the government  plans to scrap our 114 Leopard tanks (already the smallest tank force in NATO) and replace them with 66 wheeled vehicles. A Department of National Defence scientific report found that such a decision would cause higher casualties, “courts defeat” and would be “morally and ethically wrong.”

Without modernized tanks to augment the new wheeled vehicles, Canadian armour will not have the firepower and manoeuverability to counter foreign tank ­formations and will lack adequate protection from rocket propelled grenades and land mines. Meanwhile, the artillery’s self-­propelled howitzers are on the chopping block and our troops are driving rusted out dune ­buggies instead of armoured Humvees ­overseas.

The Canadian Navy is similarly in dire straights. The Navy’s two Auxiliary Oiler Replenishment ships are 35 years old and only one is available for use. This is down from the three replenishment ships that were in service until 1998 (before 1970 ­aircraft carriers often doubled as sealift transport). These replenishment ships are essential for maintaining global logistical reach.

The Navy’s Area Air Defence Destroyers are now 33 years old with no replacement planned. Canadian destroyers are essential for leading and defending naval task groups in foreign waters. Without new destroyers, the Canadian Navy will downgrade from a global blue water Navy to a coastal green water constabulary force, seriously limiting our ability to lead and participate in multinational naval operations.

In addition, the Navy has very little ability to support troops operating ashore. In the past, the Canadian aircraft carrier HMCS Magnificent acted as the core offshore ­support element on the first Canadian peacekeeping mission at Suez. Later in the 1960s, Magnificent’s successor, HMCS Bonaventure was the flagship of the Canadian Navy in the Atlantic.

The development of light helicopter ­carriers with an amphibious capability would greatly enhance Canada’s global reach. The ability to transport Army equipment and personnel overseas with significant helicopter, supply, and medical support ashore would be very useful for both peacekeeping and combat ­operations.

The state of the Canadian Air Force is equally grim. A recent report by Queen’s University and the Conference of Defence Associations predicted that “the air force will likely disappear through the 2008-2013 time-frame, and either the army or navy will disappear in the same time-frame.” Since the Liberals took office, Canada’s Air Force has been reduced from more than 700 aircraft to less than 300.

The Air Force’s transport resources are today totally inadequate. Nearly two-thirds of Canada’s fleet of CC-130 Hercules ­tactical-lift aircraft are approaching 40 years of age and are often grounded by maintenance problems and shortages of trained mechanics. These workhorses must be replaced immediately.

Worse still, the Air Force has no strategic heavy-lift transport aircraft. This means Canada has to rely on foreign assistance for our international and domestic heavy-airlift requirements. Any program to replace the Hercules aircraft must include the acquisition of some strategic-lift aircraft.

The condition of Canada’s helicopter capabilities is a national disgrace. A project office to replace the existing Sea King helicopter fleet first opened in 1981 and the procurement/maintenance costs have exceeded $1 billion. Yet Sea King replacements have still not been ordered. Furthermore, Canada presently has no tactical strike or heavy-lift helicopters to support our troops in the field.

And fighter aircraft resources are continuing to shrink. In 1994, the CF-5 fighter was eliminated without replacement. Today, the CF-18 fighter force is being cut from 122 to just 80 aircraft. These aircraft must be maintained and replaced at adequate levels to ensure that Canada can meet its national and international commitments.

In my view, the Liberal “Soft Power” defence doctrine has created a crisis in Canada’s national defence. Conserva­tives reject this doctrine because we believe Canadian security rests in large part on maintaining a strong military, with modern equipment and skilled personnel. I believe we must rebuild Canada’s traditional forward defence capabilities – to counter threats before they reach our homeland.

As Leader of the Official Opposition, I have consistently warned that in a time of growing international instability, Canada’s military is inadequately equipped, under funded and short of personnel. In Spring 2003, I released the Official Opposition defence policy paper, The New North Strong and Free, a common sense plan to strengthen the Canadian Forces and restore Canada’s traditional role in the world.

This plan would see an immediate $1.2 billion increase in defence spending to fully address all existing shortfalls in the operations and capital accounts. Over the long term, this plan would see the strength of the regular force increase to at least 80,000 personnel and the defence budget increase to the NATO average, by reallocating wasteful areas of federal spending to national defence.

Stephen Harper is a Leadership Candidate for the Conservative Party of Canada www.oneconservativevoice.ca
©FrontLine Defence 2004