We are awash in issues these days and it seems that every newscast carries some variation of a controversy. Whether it’s the expanding Green Line budget, the questionable push for an Alberta pension plan, blanket zoning changes to neighbourhoods or unprecedented levels of immigration, there is no shortage of conversation starters.
None of these have embarrassed us and made our country look more foolish than the recent announcement that the federal government wants to cut a billion dollars from the Department of National Defence budget. Just a few days earlier, we heard military leaders say: “We live in dangerous times,” and learned that our military readiness is at an all-time low. The rules-based world order is under threat around the world. The existence of violent and extremist organizations can be witnessed on an almost daily basis.
Yet, here we are, with outdated military equipment and falling military numbers. It becomes more difficult to recruit young people to join the armed forces. The words “underpaid and underequipped” seem to be the mantra of government leadership today and our once proud nation’s role on the world stage is being questioned, as is our ability to hold up our end of the bargain of maintaining peace.
In a month, we will again walk the rows of the Field of Crosses and pay our respects to men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Many words of praise will be said, but are these just empty or are Canadians prepared to hold our heads high in the defence of democracy around the world?
Within the past few months, members of NATO agreed to make a concerted effort to raise military spending to two per cent of their GDP. Standing at just over 1.3 per cent, Canada agreed to start moving toward the two per cent target. Now we look like spoiled children who want to be part of the party but do not want to join in the cleanup. Can it be long before the U.S. and allied nations begin to question the value of Canada’s involvement in Norad and NATO? Can you imagine the national humiliation if we were ever asked to leave the NATO family, the Norad Command or even the G7? Yet that possibility cannot be ignored if we continue to do less than is expected of us.
It has never been Canada’s intention to become a military nation, but surely with one of the strongest economies in the world it should not be an issue to at least patrol our coastlines with excellent vessels and ensure our air and ground forces are equipped with the best possible equipment. The incentive of adventure is what often drives young men and women to join the military, but if they have to buy their own boots, use outdated armour and wonder if their trucks and tanks will even start, it’s no wonder it’s difficult to get recruits.
In a recent lecture, the House speaker said too many governments are not responding to what citizens view as important but rather are trying to tell citizens what they should consider important. Food security, energy security and national security are often cited as three priorities of the people, but our leaders seem to feel that we can continue to pretend we are world leaders simply because our governments believe that they can change the weather.
This billion-dollar reduction in defence spending is a gut punch to our military but it should also be embarrassing for all Canadians. On Nov. 11, we will all watch with pride when the Maple Leaf flag is raised and the words to O Canada are sung; but if that pride has been hollowed out by leaders who do not honour our commitments, then we, as a nation, should hang our heads in shame.
George H. Brookman is the chair and company ambassador of WCD Ltd.