Canada’s Defence Review

To be a world player, Trudeau must spend on defence

In developing Canada’s new defence strategy, the federal government faces the pressure of events and some fundamental constraints.

The first and most challenging constraint is budgetary. Budgets are to strategy what teeth are to lips.

The Speech from the Throne promised investment in a “leaner, more agile, better-equipped military.” It will certainly be leaner, given competing pressures around other government priorities, including infrastructure, indigenous peoples, climate-change mitigation and health care.

As it addresses its budgetary challenges, the government also needs to get a grip on military procurement.

Our F-35 purchase, originally estimated at $75 million apiece, was to be 65 planes, but as the costs ballooned to $45-billion from $9-billion, the previous Conservative government hit the reset button. Meanwhile, the Norwegians are buying 52, the Australians 72 and the British 138. For its part, the Liberal government has launched an “open and transparent competition letter ” to replace our aging CF-18s.

The cost of Canada’s new navy fleet is also rising. The cost for the originally proposed 15 new frigates, six to eight Arctic offshore patrol ships, two joint supply ships and Coast Guard vessels, including the icebreaker CCGS John Diefenbaker, is probably double the originally estimate of $38-billion. By comparison, Australia recently committed $90-billion to its shipbuilding program for eight new frigates and 20 new patrol ships.

The second constraint is the messy, confusing and constantly evolving international environment. (A useful Canadian perspective is the just released Conference of Defence Associations Institute’s annual Strategic Outlook: In Search of a New Compass.)

The third constraint is defining defence priorities. While the government shares some priorities with the Conservative government before it, it is also renewing commitments to traditional Liberal approaches such as a renewed focus on peacekeeping.

The Conservative government’s “Canada First” defence strategy prioritized homeland defence and specifically the Arctic. The second priority was defence of North America and participation in the North American Aerospace Defence Command, which for the Liberal government also means a reconsideration of ballistic missile defence in the wake of North Korean missile tests. Its third priority was our collective security obligations through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and supporting international peace and security.

These commitments are all reflected in Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s mandate letter, along with protecting vital infrastructure from cyber-threats; a workplace free from harassment and discrimination; a suicide-prevention strategy, and creating better synergies with the Veterans Affairs Department.

And last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that his government is also renewing Canada’s UN peace-operations commitments.

The government’s initial assessment of our defence priorities is correct. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of continuity with those of the previous Conservative government.

The Arctic, in particular, needs more attention. Claiming sovereignty in the Arctic is easy. Exercising it requires more than the government’s promise to increase the approximately 5,000 Canadian Rangers.

Russia and Canada have both staked claims to the North Pole. But the Russians are backing their claims with military might: Last year saw their largest ever northern war games, involving more than 35,000 troops, 50 ships and submarines and 110 aircraft. The Russians have 42 icebreakers and well-developed Arctic ports.

In defending our North, polling indicates that Canadians are prepared to take a firm line “regardless of the cost.” For now, Canada has two heavy icebreakers. We need more icebreakers and surveillance aircraft and we need to complete the as-yet-unfinished permanent northern base in Nanisivik, Nunavut, that the Conservative government promised.

The lack of real action in the Arctic is illustrative of a fourth constraint: leadership.

Fair or not, ceasing the combat role in Iraq raises new doubts about Mr. Trudeau’s resolve on defence. Having agonized through many months over an Afghan strategy, U.S. President Barack Obama will empathize with Mr. Trudeau’s decision. But others will be reminded of Jean Chrétien’s refusal to join the ill-fated Iraq invasion, Pierre Trudeau’s “peacenik” crusade, Lester Pearson’s criticism of the Vietnam War or John Diefenbaker’s lack of early and unequivocal support for the Americans during the Cuban missile crisis.

History has vindicated the Canadian approach (Mr. Diefenbaker excepted). And Canadians need no persuading about the value of security, but they do look for leadership and vision.

To that end, the government’s defence review must involve public outreach and parliamentary debate that inform and educate Canadians on why we have a navy, air force and army. Decisions on force levels should be made only after looking all three legs of the defence stool:

· Readiness: How quickly can we get the job done?

· Capability: How much of an edge do we have over potential adversaries?

· Capacity: Do we have the numbers to meet the challenges?

For now, we continue to do defence on the cheap, free-riding under the U.S. security umbrella and spending just 1 per cent of gross domestic product on defence, the least of any member of the Arctic Council, and significantly less than Australia (1.8 per cent), France (1.8 per cent), Britain (2.07 per cent) and the United States (3.07 per cent).

For the world to acknowledge that “Canada is back,” we need to put our money where our mouth is: It’s time to increase our defence insurance premiums.

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Homeland Security scrutinizes Canadian Syrian Refugees

Canadian officials have assured U.S.counterparts that Syrian refugees face multiple layers of security screening before they are settled inside Canada.

Canadian officials have assured U.S.counterparts that Syrian refugees face multiple layers of security screening before they are settled inside Canada.
Photo Credit: CBC

U.S. scrutinizes Canada’s screening of refugees

The U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is hearing testimony on Canada’s process of quickly bringing in 25,000 Syrian refugees. Some prominent American leaders have expressed concern that Canada’s screening of refugees may not be adequate and that dangerous people could too easily cross the Canada-U.S. border. About 400,000 people cross every day.

Canada uses several layers of security screening

Canada’s Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has told his American counterparts that Canada employs several layers of security screening. Only refugees screened and approved by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees are chosen. They are then screened by Canadian officials abroad and biometrics are collected.

This is by no means the first time prominent Americans have suggested terrorists have easy access to the U.S. from Canada. Canadian officials have had to work hard to dispel the myth.

Terrorist myth persists

“Ever since (the terrorist attacks of) 9/11, there has been this sense amongst many well-placed Americans including people like the chair of the Armed Services Committee and former presidential candidate John McCain and current presidential candidate Hilary Clinton that some of the bad guys came in from Canada. It’s not true. It’s mythology. But it remains there out as a kind of suspicion,” says Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

ListenNo ‘fast pass’ into the U.S.

Robertson points out that after multiple screenings, refugees are still not granted easy access to the U.S.  “They still come as stateless or Syrian citizens. They can’t travel to the United States without filling out all the forms that the Americans require…So it’s not as if they are getting a fast pass into the United States through the back door of Canada.”

Some Americans would like to step up border security measures by having Canada share its no-fly list and by having both countries share entry and exit information about people crossing the common border. Canada is reluctant to do so because there is more pressure to respect privacy concerns.

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Technology and Policy Innovation key to Paris climate commitments

Technology and policy innovation can help us achieve Paris commitments

What is the future for energy innovation in North America? Representatives from government, industry and the research community gathered this past weekend at the Vail Global Energy Forum (VGEF). The ideas generated here will help prime the North American energy ministers’ meeting later this month in Winnipeg.

There were two main takeaways from this year’s VGEF. First, that carbon pricing, at a suitably high level, stimulates both innovation and efficiency. Second, that energy innovation advances national, economic and personal security.

Stanford University’s Precourt Energy Institute provides the brain trust for VGEF discussions. Stimulation comes from the natural beauty of the Rocky Mountain highs that natives joke now has a new dimension, Colorado being one of 13 states that has decriminalized marijuana.

Now in its fifth year, the conference takes stock of developments in the North American oil and gas sector including water use, future electricity generation and transmission, and next generation transportation, including autonomous cars.

Autonomous cars could go a long way to reducing traffic, fuel consumption and minimizing accidents. The average North American car is currently parked 95 per cent of the time, spends 2.5 per cent of its time sitting in traffic and only 2.5 per cent in actual movement. Vehicles driven by humans are also a leading cause of death with 1.3 million annual deaths globally.

Cars without tailpipes and steering wheels may be as close as five years away, say Tesla and Google. The traditional auto makers are not far behind. The system challenges will result in a whole new urban redesign – parking places rather than parking lots and charging stations rather than gas stations.

The Canadian focus at Vail in previous years was on achieving the Keystone XL pipeline. While all still agreed that the U.S. permitting process needs reform, this year’s discussion on Canadian issues was more constructive. The election of Justin Trudeau’s government has moved Canada from laggard to putative leader in climate change. Alberta’s new royalty regime won general industry approval. There was also recognition of Canadian hydro power’s potential to help the U.S. meet its renewable energy commitments.

The oil and gas industry in all three nations is bootstrapping and focused on cash flows. Nonetheless, there is cautious optimism that a recovery will come and, through applied innovation and efficiencies, so will better margins for successful profit-taking.

Technology and policy innovation are central to achieving our Paris commitments.

There was general acknowledgment that policy ambition needs to be greater and that it will be enabled by breakthrough technology driving down costs and creating new kinds of services. Recent years have seen cost reductions of 40 to 70 per cent for onshore wind, solar energy, storage batteries and LEDs, and created thousands of jobs for their associated deployment. The U.S. solar industry employs 200,000 – more than the coal industry.

Perhaps the biggest U.S. shift is the replacement of coal with natural gas for electricity generation. The Chinese are pointing the way in re-engineering nuclear energy and a nuclear renaissance may yet happen in North America, Within North America, Mexico has been the most consistent in its forward-looking climate policies, dating back to Kyoto. President Enrique Pena Nieto’s energy reforms, opening the previously closed energy industry to competition, are well under way. With its emphasis on harmonizing to North American regulatory practices, Mexico is now seeking the best-in-class practices and it has turned to Alberta’s energy regulator for advice.

The eccentricities of this year’s unconventional American presidential campaign generate a lot of noise, including Donald Trump’s promise to get “a piece of the profits” of Canadian oil exported through the U.S.

A more realistic development is the energy efficiency legislation that Ohio Senator Rob Portman told the VGEF that Congress could pass this year. It would clean up outdated regulations, expedite natural gas export projects, and improve pipelines and the electric grid infrastructure.

In each of these areas, especially given the Canadian government’s infrastructure initiatives, Canada and Mexico should be working to align with the U.S. Energy infrastructure should be on the energy ministers’ agenda in Winnipeg.

Technology innovation and smart regulation are the keys to de-carbonization. Like the agreements on acid rain and the Montreal ozone protocol, the Paris agreement is smart insurance on climate change. In Winnipeg, the energy ministers need to set the policy parameters permitting the private sector to get on with practical innovation, especially in the transportation and electricity sectors.

Attend the Vail Global Energy Forum and you can’t help but feel optimistic about the future of North American sustainable energy progress. Happily, the human propensity to get itself into a terrible fix is only surpassed by our ability to figure a way out.

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Changing Diplomacy and Changing Canada

Whither Canada: In conversation with ex-diplomat, Colin Robertson

Posted on Monday, February 1, 2016


A former Canadian diplomat with a career in foreign service that spanned over 30 years, Colin Robertson is a Senior Advisor to Dentons LLP living in Ottawa, Canada and working with the Canadian Council of Chief Executives. He is Vice President and Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and Executive Fellow at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy. Roberston is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University and chair of the board of Canada World Youth. A commentator on international affairs, Robertson writes a column every two weeks on foreign affairs for the Globe and Mail and he is a regular contributor to other media.

Colin Robertson will speak at the upcoming conference, Canada on the Global Stage, hosted by the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC). Feb. 11-12, Hotel Sofitel Montreal, 1155 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal. Get more information.

Tell us a little about your background and how it has led you to be interested in issues concerning Canada’s place in the world, and specifically, Canada’s image, brand and reputation.

I grew up in Winnipeg. It was multicultural, internationalist and focussed on trade. One grandfather worked for Swifts meatpacking and the other for Ogilvie Flour Mills so I was conscious of the importance of trade. It put bread and meat on the family table. My father worked for CBC (he produced the supper hour show) and he would bring home guests, mostly in the entertainment business, who had travelled the world and told me of faraway places and peoples.

I learned how to play chess from a Holocaust survivor. Our neighbourhood included many who had come to Canada after the Second World War. My father and his brother had served in the RCAF. Several of my grandmother’s bridge partners had lost husbands when Hong Kong fell in December 1941. My other grandmother had lost brothers in the First World War. I was conscious of the cost of war and the impact of international affairs on ordinary people.

During first year at university, I read Siren Years the memoir of a Canadian diplomat, Charles Ritchie (whom I would later meet after I joined the Foreign Service). Set in London during the Blitz he served with Lester Pearson, Vincent Massey and Georges Vanier. He served Canada and the work was exciting and the nightlife entertaining. I decided that this was the career for me.

As a former diplomat, what do you find has changed over the last few decades for Canadian diplomats and the relationships they have to foster around the world? 

The biggest changes are technological. When I joined we would dictate our dispatches to a secretary who would transcribe them and give them back to us for editing. Fortunately, I’d learned how to type as within a few years we were doing all our dispatches ourselves. Cheap telecommunications meant that where once we had to seek permission to make a long distance call, now we called anywhere in the world. While communications are now instant, they come at a price. We once had time for reflection; less so today. As well, with instant communications, decisions and dialogue with foreign interlocutors are increasingly made and conducted from Ottawa meaning that there is less input from our people in the field.

The other big difference is cultural. The Foreign Service I joined was not all that different from the environment portrayed in ‘Mad Men’. It was politically incorrect by today’s standards but it was lots of fun.

What will be Canada’s primary challenges in defining itself over the next five years?

The first challenge is existential what with climate change, cyber threats, and terrorism, home-grown and abroad. We are a comfortable people living in a very comfortable country but we are not ‘fire-proof.’ We must contribute and, where we can, lead in finding solutions or temporary fixes to problems.

The second challenge is continuing to build a strong Canada – it means opening our doors to trade and, given our demographics, more people. We are competitive but we can be more so. There is sometimes a tendency to settle for bronze when we should go for gold. We do pluralism better than anyone else with lessons for the rest of the world, but it is a constant work in progress.

What do you think should be Canada’s image, brand and reputation in today’s world?

Practical problem-solvers who get the job done and who have created a pluralistic society that is the envy of the world, as long as we keep working at it. In diplomacy this means not just pursuing our own economic goals, but an emphasis on multilateralism and reinforcing the norms of liberal internationalism. This is what makes possible the free movement of people and goods, which in turn creates the prosperity that pays for our health care and education, and the things that define what it is to be Canadian. A key tool to getting the job done is a first-class diplomatic service trusted by the leadership – prime minister and premiers, business and civil society – of our country.

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