Writing in the National Post, historian J.L. Granatstein discusses the rise and fall of the government’s “Canada First” defence policy:
No one who has followed the history of Canadian defence has any doubt that for their first four years in power the Harper Conservatives were the best government for the Canadian Forces since the 1950s St Laurent government. Coming into power at the beginning of 2006, the Tories supported the troops in Afghanistan with the equipment–Leopards, C17s, new C130J Hercules transports, Chinook helicopters, anti-mine vehicles– and personnel they needed, they extended the mission twice, they increased defence spending massively, and they even produced their Canada First Defence Strategy in 2008.
[. . .]
If Afghanistan was one blow to the government’s defence plans, the Canada First Defence Strategy was another. The CFDS, despite its name, was not a strategy so much as a list of promised equipment purchases. It did not try to lay down much of a rationale for the nation’s defence or indicate how the government envisioned the ways in which the Canadian Forces might be employed in the future. Instead it promised guaranteed growth in defence spending, proposed a modest increase in personnel strength, and promised a long list of equipment to be acquired–15 combat vessels, support ships, the F35 fighter, and a fleet of land combat vessels. In all, the government pledged to spend almost a half trillion dollars over the next twenty or so years.
And maybe it might have done so, the voters permitting. But the sharp recession of 2008 tossed all plans into the garbage bin, and deficit fighting, not defence spending, soon became the Tories driving force. Instead of the promised increases, there are cuts that are already north of ten percent of the DND budget. The Army has already reduced its training, and there will be more cutbacks everywhere.
The new equipment was necessary — and welcome — but Canadians don’t have the almost instinctive deference Americans sometimes demonstrate to the demands of the generals and admirals for ships, planes, and tanks. Canadians are proud of their armed forces, but will not support endless demands for military toys and don’t welcome the idea of sending in the troops when things go wrong overseas. A well-thought-out, well-articulated defence policy is needed sooner rather than later to outline exactly what the government intends the army, navy, and air force to do in pursuit of our national goals and in protection of Canada and Canadians.