“A nation, like a person, if not conscious of its own past, is adrift without purpose or protection against the contending forces of dissolution.”
~ Richard Goodwin
His colleagues, friends and family were still burying Lt. Chris Saunders when Canada¹s politicians began their mad scramble to divest themselves of responsibility for the fire that killed the 32-year-old weapons specialist and left the future of Canada’s four used submarines in doubt.
As I write this, there are rumblings that the Martin government will shortly announce a public inquiry into military appropriations, with Canada’s top armed forces brass and Canada’s federal politicians preparing to blame one another for why our nation’s 53,000 effectives ( the lowest state of readiness since 1950 ) are sent into harm’s way in rusty subs, deadly Sea Kings and those ridiculously under armoured Iltis jeeps.
Unfortunately what the politicians and their apologists have to say is not only wrong but evidences the sad malady of a national leadership devoid of vision and stripped of courage. Rarely in recent times have we seen politicians so flagrantly awash in the residue of their own petty narcissisms. They condemn Canada to a destiny of unfulfilled promise and undefined purpose.
Among the most disingenuous, and surprising, of the flaks was the redoubtable Sheila Copps. She had the temerity to insist that Canada’s military forced the Liberal government, of which she candidly admitted being a part, to buy the subs against its better judgment. She actually attempted to make the case that because acceptance took three proposals over a five-year period this evidenced a superior caution by a Cabinet that only acquiesced after the military leadership “begged” and the Navy “persisted”.
This level of sophistry ranks with Gov. George Romney’s plaintive whine that he had been “brainwashed” on Vietnam. That sophomoric exercise in false piety cost Romney the Presidency. We can only speculate on what the price will be on this latest Liberal version of the Romney side step.
The reality of this story is quite different. When Britain offered these four Upholder class subs to Canada in 1994 they were fully operational. The reason for the proposed transfer had to do with Britain’s own budget cuts. They had not been dry-docked and there were important strategic considerations for them to go to a close NATO ally. Though these subs were complicated and certainly not as good as the German-made Dolphin class subs, they were appropriate both for Canada’s alliance responsibilities and for domestic needs. They were also half the cost of the Dolphins even after revamping.
The real reason the subs were not bought immediately had nothing to do with any reservations on the merits that may have been brought up at the Cabinet table and everything to do with the fact that the government was in the midst of a program of $42 billion of budget cuts. And since that administration was wedded to those myopic twins of Canadian foreign and defense policy, “multilateralism” and “soft power”, the Cabinet placed the $800 million expenditure required on a par with funding dancing festivals and ethnic cooking weeks. It was to this lowly level that the administration Ms. Copps was a part of had brought Canada’s proud legacy of defending freedom which saw twice as many Canadians as Americans in uniform as a percentage of population in W.W.II and made this nation a leader in peacekeeping operations in the 1950’s and early 60’s. By the 1990’s we ranked 34th…behind Bangladesh.
Ms. Copps, like many of her colleagues who still erroneously equate Star Wars with missile defense, glosses over the motivation for the Cabinet delays by using the phrase “fast forward” in a clumsy attempt to give the Liberal narrative some seamless integrity in explaining the two-year intervals between considerations. What she fails to reveal is that Minister after Minister and Cabinet after Cabinet engaged in that grand old political ploy of buckpassing so as not to disturb Prime Minister Chretien’s, and then Finance Minister Martin’s, fiscal goals. Goals which they hoped to achieve without ever endangering any politically correct vote-grabbing pork programs. As for the country’s international obligations on the world stage the attitude was always “let the devil take the hindmost”.
To be sure, Canada’s military leadership advocated for the purchases. But the suggestion that it’s support somehow “coerced” the government is as impossible as it was unnecessary. Other factors had made the purchases essential by 1998.
As far back as 1987 a government white paper recognized the need for a fleet of 10-12 submarines just for the purpose of maintaing sovereignty over the Arctic. Last year’s pathetic display of a muster of six ski-doos in the high Arctic as a display of Canadian “purpose” underlined that urgency. Shades of the mouse that roared!
Pressure was also mounting from allies for Canada to meet its minimal Naval obligations to NATO. Ostensibly we were a core component of the North Atlantic fleet. But our assets were pitiful. Concern was also being voiced in domestic business circles that Canada, as a maritime nation, had an inexorable tie between economic health and maritime commerce and without modern marine capability it would be impossible to protect vital commercial interests on the high seas particularly in a perilous world grown so dangerous so quickly. Finally, the Chretien government itself realized that Canada’s coastlines, open to three of the world’s oceans, could not be serviced in emergencies, much less protected from attacks, without a credible and stable modern naval capability.
The delays clearly hurt. But the Navy did a remarkable job of retrofitting with a mere $140 million. The responsibility for the delays lies as a smoking gun at the feet of the Navy’s political masters…Canada’s civilian authorities. They exhibited an almost criminal negligence in protecting this country’s assets and interests. They betrayed any notion of fidelity to our undertakings with our allies. And they left the promise of this nation so compromised that we need heed the admonition of Richard Goodwin that, “A nation, like a person, if not conscious of its own past, is adrift without purpose or protection against the contending forces of dissolution.”