May 15, 2003


Well, now it turns out that in addition to holding their budget speech in private at an auto plant instead of in front of the people, the Ontario government has now granted itself the next six months' operating funds in secret, without debate or approval.

With the Legislature building in Toronto now effectively the Museum of Ontario Democracy, one is reminded, as we were in the Devine years in Saskatchewan, that when Tory politicians go bad, they go very very bad indeed. Ontario citizens are now essentially in the same consensual relationship to taxation and the spending of the proceeds thereof that American colonists were in 1774, or indeed Ontario voters in 1837.

The simple fact is that, while these Tories may claim that they will only use their new powers for good (lowering taxes on the elderly being their big and deeply cynical election promise) the removal of any restrictions on government power they have launched can inevitably be used the next time they, or anyone else in their place, wants to raise taxes, too. Never mind any requirement for public oversight over expenditure, either. The Ontario government has, effectively, declared themselves an unelected tyranny. It's fair to say now that any self-proclaimed "conservative" who still works for or supports their extension at this point, is, as Orwell would have said, objectively pro-dictatorship.

Posted by BruceR at 11:29 AM


Cecil T. in Flitters comes back on the defence policy proposals below (parts 1 -- 2 -- 3 -- 4). It's a thoughtful post: here's my response.

Most of your approach appears to be looking for an analogous situation among other nations and modeling a force similar to their template, designed to a bearable cost. However, each of these nations has a distinct strategic environment and tailored response (e.g., Australia, an island nation with many relatively weak and restive neighbors, focuses on an amphibious brigade). If form follows function, an analysis of Canada's national defense strategy seems to be the first step.

I don't think I went looking for analogies, so much as used them when I found them, actually. I agree Australia has a sound response to its current situation, but I'm not sure it's as different functionally from Canada as Cecil makes out. They have structured a force to intervene regionally before regional problems come to them. There are few better modern or historical analogues to the North American situation, where millions in two countries have been for two centuries essentially free of the threat of conventional war. Like Australia (or Britain, in the 19th century) our "defence", if we are to have one, must then be a "forward defence," involving power projection. As I observed, the primary limiting factor on Canadian operations over the last 15 years has not been money, or national will, but a legacy Cold War structure that made more sense when it was centred on fighting from fixed bases in Germany, but now leaves us without many options in the post-Cold War. All that stuff below was just meant as a rational road map out of that gridlock.

But I think it's fair to say that the defence policy options, given the geographical realities for Canada, Australia, or the U.S., boil down to two. We can go to the problems, or we can stay home and save the cash for other things besides defence.

Some obvious threats are 1) an invasion from the US, 2) nuclear missiles (whether targeting the US or Canada), 3) naval incursions in Canada's territorial waters or EEZ, or (less probably) 4) some sort of amphibious assault or 5) airborne attack. (A Canadian can probably come up with a better list.) Responses might be: 1) impossible, so diplomatic approach is required; 2) work with US on NMD program; 3) coastal defense force; 4) ditto plus modest land force; 5) interceptor force/alliance/NMD (or ignore it as low probability threat).

One could add, of course, that those are more or less the only threats that the American military faces, too, if it chose to stay home. It doesn't, and the world is glad, more or less, for it. But none of the threats above, I would argue, are credible or likely in the near or even long-term -- not even naval incursions (why? to get the cod?). Besides geographical limitations, there are simply no adversaries... nor any foreseeable ones, were Canada to embark on an isolationist course. Earthquakes in B.C. are a far greater threat than all of them combined. It is essentially a neutralist, isolationist position to pretend those are the threats. No, North America has no need to plan, for the most part, for its own "defence," in the literal sense, Canada even less than America. So... what?

It appears to me that most of the requirements (that can be met) can be met with relatively modest forces. And that the main consideration is a close alliance with the US. If the primary goal is national defense, interoperable forces with strong military ties would seem to be in order. And that there is considerable leeway in structuring those forces. But a unilaterally deployable brigade-level force is of questionable value, as is any plausible naval expeditionary force.

The simple fact is that, given Canada's vast expanse and sparse population, a military force that could actually intervene anywhere domestically would also greatly benefit from all the capabilities I've been talking about, too. We have minimal ability to intervene rapidly now along the Northern B.C. shore or the Labrador coastline, or in Northern Ontario. Even in situations like the Winnipeg flood or Quebec ice storm, it took inordinate time for the forces to gather. The Americans are, in truth, better able to more quickly send forces to all those places than we are at the moment. That's what people really mean when we talk about turning over defence to the Americans... if a deadly earthquake hits Prince Rupert tomorrow, it will be the Americans, if anyone, who are able to help the civilian authorities save lives, for instance. The improved ability to exert national sovereignty over such an insanely large nation, if we needed to, actually flows from international deployability, too.

But I think my synopsis of the Alliance platform also indicated why territorial defence cannot be the primary priority. Canadians are not stupid. They can see there is no real territorial defence threat to their lives. So they will spend their money on something else, instead (in the case of earthquakes, an enhanced emergency measures organization, perhaps). Instead of "modest" forces, you would have none to speak of. Canadians would go on, get rich, scold the Americans occasionally, and live immeasurably happier lives than the vast majority of the world's population. Oh, we'd feel guilty about it. But that's the alternative to internationalism... one Quebec political leaders have been touting to the country for over a century now, it should be added.

Because there is no real conventional defence threat to Canadian soil, there is no need for a close U.S. military alliance, either. It's nice to have, of course, if you can get it for a fair price... again, as I said in reference to the Alliance platform, it is not a vision that will inspire any spending or interest... especially in a time when the Americans seem so disinterested in having permanent alliances, or particularly grateful to the allies they have. Not that I blame them... I'm just saying.

And we HAVE focussed on interoperable forces... to the point at which our navy and air force essentially can't operate outside an American force structure, and the army can't even leave Canada without them. The leaders of the three services are closer to their American counterparts than to each other, in fact... Canada has no real ability any more for joint-service operations. As we've seen in Afghanistan and Iraq, even in a situation where we felt key Canadian interests were at stake, at best we could only get involved when the Americans get some planes and ships free that they could use to bring us over. In a real crisis, the Americans have got better things to do with their troop lift. And in a case like Rwanda, where the Americans are hell-bent on staying out, we have no foreign policy options at all. The Americans couldn't even ask us, as they did the British in Sierra Leone or Australia in East Timor, to conduct a proxy operation for them. It's hard to see, other than economic savings to Canadians, any benefit of this current approach to either the Americans or us. So the key is not, in any case, "unilaterally deployable," so much as "independently deployable," a capability that would be a boon regardless of our orientation to the Americans.

If cooperation with the US is politically undesirable, it would appear that additional forces would be required (though the response to threat #1 would be to assume it wouldn't happen--probably a safe bet). Also, a coastal maritime focus would be prudent. Excess capacity would still be available for peacekeeping or other UN-related functions, but it's hard to see how that would enhance Canadian security.

I don't know how valid any of this is, but it seems to me the difference in approaches I've seen largely stem from differing grand strategy visions--and it also seems to me the effort would be profitably spent in debating those considerations.

As I said above, a focus on territorial defence will result in no excess capacity at all. The armed forces will just inevitably and progressively disband. To say that international operations don't enhance Canadian security is, in the American context, the equivalent of Buchanan saying America shouldn't have fought Germany. Yes, isolationism and a foreign policy of just cheering/booing the Americans from the sidelines could well be to Canadians' financial benefit. But one could also argue it's an abdication of a rich nation's responsibility in the larger world. If Canada had a battalion right now it could deploy independently of assistance and fold into a British or American division keeping the peace in Iraq right now, would anyone really object? If we could have honoured the American requests to stay on in Afghanistan last year, would we still not have stayed on, because that wouldn't have contributed to "Canadian security?" Only in the narrowest sense of what our security really is... an isolationist position that I personally don't think in today's world is either morally or practically defensible. 24 dead Canadians on Sept. 11, 2 dead Canadians in Bali, and the injured Canadians in Riyadh this week tell me that's so. But many disagree, and I still consider that an honest disagreement. But I think it's fair to say if we want to have some way to effect those circumstances that are killing those Canadians, then some kind of rearmament, one that enhances our independence of operations, will be necessary.

Posted by BruceR at 10:43 AM