Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Canada's Parliament and the Canadian Forces

In the course of an interview today with a French senior officer about France's command and control relationships, the officer indicated that parliamentary systems are different than presidential ones (he has not read my CPS piece of 2002), asserting that Canada had strong control over the Canadian military. I countered, nay, nay. But he got me thinking about it.

The officer's evidence was a quarterly report that the Canadian government must provide the parliament about the conditions in Afghanistan. This was one of requirements as a result of the extension of the mandate from 2009-2011. Indeed, given the series of extensions of the mandate for Canadian Forces by Parliament and the serious likelihood that Canada will pull out of Afghanistan (or reduce substantially) in 2011, the officer had a point. The report is not really much evidence, but the votes are. Yet, Prime Minister Harper is not constitutionally required to get approval for military deployments. He chose to do so, and, of course, the Parliament could always hold a no confidence vote, if he does not satisfy their concerns. Given that his is a minority government (his party does not have a majority of seats, and must depend on the inability of the rest of the parties to get their act together), this is a serious threat.

But, I guess it depends on what is meant by control, which is a central issue in the civil-military relations literature. Certainly, the CA parliament has far less power than the German Bundestag, which I expect to confirm next week when my travels take me to Berlin. I have been skeptical about the power of the CA parliament in these matters once I learned that:
  • the only members of parliament who have security clearances are the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defence, and the leaders of the various parties (mostly for terrorism issues), so the committees that are "responsible" for Foreign Affairs and Defence cannot ask any of the interesting questions or get the most important documents unless they get de-classified. How can you control the military if you have little clue about what it is doing?
  • one MP's staffer said that one of the ways they get information about the Canadian Forces' activities is to call the Pentagon. Yes, the Pentagon has more transparency than the CF (that was when Bush was still in power!).
  • The Previous PM did not seek Parliament's consent for deploying troops to Kandahar and Harper chose to do so. He did not, but now he is stuck.

Does domestic politics shape if, when and where the CF is deployed? Sure. The Prime Minister makes those decisions with an eye on his political position. Harper is not going to talk about 2011 until late in the game since there are no political rewards for it. But how Canada operates is largely out of the hands of civilians and entirely out of the hands of Parliament. Perhaps Canada's parliament is strong when compared to France's, but that is not saying too much (even with recent constitutional changes). And Canada's MP's are almost certainly kittens compared to their peers in Berlin. But I will only gain some certainty about that next week in Berlin, where it has to rain less (raining 6 out of 7 days would be less at this rate).

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