Wednesday, 22 June 2016

If The Liberals don’t release a White Paper on defence...

We’re in for a lot more of the same 

For those who don’t know, a White paper is is a repot issued by the government of a state that delivers a highly complex government policy in regards to a specific issue. It  spells out in immense authority: the government’s philosophy and it’s respective polices on the issue, a strategy for procuring or developing the necessary resources and infrastructure associated with the governments purported solution for the issue, and the necessary industry requirements and benefits that support the previous item. It seeks to do this in a way that helps the reader understand the issue, understand the solution, and hopefully agree with the later. 

When a new federal government takes office in Canada there is not a mandate to release such a paper, but often governments seeking to distinguish themselves from their predecessors choose to do so, usually with a paper written about the area in which they wish to make their differences apparent. When speaking of defence policy, according to the governments website, Canada has officially released six white papers on defence. The use of papers was started in Canada in 1964. The most recent paper put out in 2008 I discount for reasons I will defend shortly, but six papers in 52 years mean there is a paper released once every eight and a half years. If we count the 2008 paper, we are right up against that eight year window, and the time could not have come soon enough. 

If you don’t pay attention to defence issues, or Canadian politics (how are you here?) then I have some news for you, the Liberals have been making announcement after announcement regarding defence. Many of these announcements are extensions of campaign promises, such as reopening the bid for Canada’s new multi-role fighter (putting Canada’s role in the F-35 program in jeopardy for dubious reasons, even though it’s arguably the best aircraft available) and some of them are not even really announcements. Rather, they are small pieces of information, like the fact that Canada’s new Single Surface Combatant Vessel will de based on “off the shelf plans”. Most of these announcements are the finishing touch on many plans from the aforementioned 2008 white paper, named: The Canada First Defence Strategy. This policy by the Conservatives, was not in my opinion not a full white paper as it left out some crucial elements. It do not include for instance, any policy regarding industry requirements, or the benefits directly, it also left a few blanks over design specifics. What it did spell out in some depth with the Conservative policy and philosophy on recruitment, mission requirements, arctic sovereignty, funding, among a few other boilerplate defence issues such as global terrorism response. 

While the Canada First Defence Strategy did give specifics on the subjects I mentioned, its scope and authority was lacking as it did not set down industry requirements, nor did it fully spell out procurement in an authoritative way. This is why I defend it is not a true white paper, but I digress.

Despite its shortcomings, the paper followed through on most of its policy and philosophy statements. As well, Harper and the Conservatives completed several of their stated procurement items such as the C-17 Globemaster, C-130J Hercules, CH-47F Chinook helicopters, and Canada’s new Arctic Offshore Patrol Vessel (although the Liberals seem to be taking the credit even though steel had started cutting before Harper left office). It also spelt out funding for new Destroyers and Frigates, funding to update search and rescue aircraft, funding for land combat vehicles, and of course controversial funding for 65 new “next generation” fighter aircraft to replace the CF-18 by 2019. What was left with some ambiguity was the specifics as to what destroyers, frigates, and aircraft would be chosen to replace Canada’s current assets. 

My problem with the Liberals announcements to date, is so far as I can tell, they’ve been shooting from the hip. They have continued their election strategy of separating themselves ideologically from the conservatives, in the F-35 issue for instance they have said much about re-opening the bid, however when you consider the procurement of the F-35 is some eight years in the making, that the planes are both budgeted and scheduled to be complete in three years, slowing down the process by cancelling the contract now is some serious hip fire nonsense. Its not like previous Liberal governments did the same and left us flying 50 year old helicopters that are literately museum pieces to our American neighbours, causing severe monetary strain and seven Canadian military deaths in the process

(A Seaking Helicopter that looks in better condition than Canada's -
on display at the USS Midway floating museum in San Diego CA.)

The politicizing procurement that has occurred is in my opinion, some serious hip fire bullshit for this new batch of Liberals. After Judy Foote’s missing announcement the other day, and various Harjit Sajjan releases, some about …drones? You can see how this apparently impulsive stagey begins to spread. 

If the Trudeau Liberals want to separate themselves ideologically, change Canada's procurement priorities, and overhaul our Country's military philosophy, a White Paper is the way to do it. 

Image result for canada first defence strategy
(The pained  expression of Harjit Sajjan
as he conducts  public consultations
 on Defence Policy)
Shooting from the hip and politicizing procurement (an issue I will write about in greater depth in the coming weeks) is a bad decision, and can have dire consequences for our state. 

Lets hope the defence review that is ongoing, is a precursor to a new Liberal white paper, a decade without a real one is to long, and shooting from the hip, often has a way of hitting yourself in the foot. Its time Justin, its 2016 after all.

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