Sunday, September 10, 2017

Liberals on Defence: My "Prediction" and the Reality

Two years ago, I wrote a Liberal Defence Platform since I was pretty annoyed at the one I saw in the news.*  Turns out that platform was not the official party one but that of the defence critic.  The actual platform was better, but still way, way, way too heavy on defence spending = jobs and not as much defence spending for, well, defence.  Anyhow, I thought I would check what I proposed with the reality of the Liberal defence policy, nearly two years into their government.  In the preamble, I did say there would be a white paper.  The Defence Policy Review [DPR] may not be it technically, but did fit the bill--a thorough review of the CAF and DND that sets the agenda and makes commitments.
* I also wrote ones for the NDP and the Conservatives, but they don't shape defence policies these days.
First, I talked about defence procurement and a need to study other countries to fix Canadian procurement.  While the DPR had some text on this, so far it is not clear that procurement is being done differently or better.  That is the hardest thing to fix, and is equivalent to turning around an aircraft carrier.

Second, I suggested that the subs should be killed [that was never going to happen].  Nope, not close.  However, no mention of new subs in the DPR.

Third, I recommended a cut in CAF personnel, given that we will be buying fewer ships and planes.  Well, the Liberals found a capability gap which means more planes, not less, and the DPR has money to be allocated so that the Navy gets all of the ships it had planned.  So a double whiff on this, plus the DPR adds personnel for cyber and other stuff.

Fourth, I pushed more money for readiness--maintenance, exercising and the like.  I am not sure about the numbers, so I cannot say for sure what is going on here.  I have been told that my previous guesses were probably low--that there had been money for such stuff.  Maybe I was projecting from the US case where less money for that has probably lead to, among other things, ship collisions.

Fifth, the F-35... oy.  I called for a competition based on all of the previous work that had been done by Canada, the Danes, Aussies, and others. What do we get?  This interim mess:
  • we need 18 planes fast to address a gap that had not been previously identified. 
  • rather than seeking used F18s (the Kuwaitis and others had some), let's get Super Hornets, which might just game the big decision
  • Oh crap, Boeing is attacking Bombardier so maybe not
  • so now used Aussie F18s look good.  
  • and, yeah, still not making progress on the big competition.
Sixth, cyber?  Yep, a major focus of the DPR.

Seventh, taking care of the personnel?  Yes, the personnel issues got more text and more upfront text in the DPR than any other issue.  Progress?  We shall see.

Eighth, more transparency.  Um, hmmm.  The good news about the DPR: the process itself was very transparent, and they definitely engaged the defence community.  I have heard mixed stories about how open the CAF and DND are now to journalists.  As always, the real test is "will they talk to me"?  I will know that later this month as I head off to Riga.  

So, my attempt at a Liberal platform got some of it right, but missed much as well.  The DPR was more and different than I expected, and, as others have noted, the follow through is the key.  How much of it will actually be done?  Ask me in six years.

What did I learn from this exercise?  I suck at platform writing, but it was a fun exercise.  It led to some interesting conversations with folks in the party.  So, squeaky wheel gets some grease, I guess.  It also serves as a way to measure where things stand now compared to where I would have liked them to be.  How would I grade the Liberals on defence policy thus far?  Probably a B, but then again, I am an American and I am guilty of grade inflation.

No comments: