Friday, October 08, 2004

Who Pays the Price?

Who pays the price when government fails? That depends on the failure and how it is perceived. If government fails the people, and the people understand it, government MPs pay the price with the loss of their jobs and the government pays with the loss of power. If the people don't understand the failure or that it affects them, then the government gets away with it and someone else pays.

For decades, Liberal governments have been failing the people, with catastrophic long-term implications. Like many things in the warm and cozy Canadian imagination, this failure hasn't hit home, yet, except to a relatively small group of people directly affected. It probably won't hit home nationally, until it is too late, and our warm and cozy imagination is shaken into reality. That reality is that Canada is no longer looked upon as a reliable ally. We are no longer looked upon as a country that will back up words with actions. We are systematically eliminating our ability to turn words into action. In the meantime, the government deludes itself and Canadians that we are what we used to be. In an effort to maintain that delusion, government commits loyal and brave Canadians to missions and roles without the tools to carry them out safely and completely.

Who pays the price for our national delusion? Most recently, Naval Lieutenant Chris Saunders and his family pay for our delusion. There will be much written and said over the coming weeks on this tragedy at sea. There will be a thorough investigation by a safety board and it will conclude that this was an accident. They will make an assessment of how the situation was handled, and my guess is that the crew will be praised for their response. Without knowing the details, I feel pretty safe in that prediction. This is based on an appreciation of the quality and competence of the people in the various uniforms of the Canadian Forces. My guess is that the report will say that the technical failure was not foreseeable and, therefore, not preventable. I will have a little more trouble with that one, in the broader context of government defence policy implementation.

The progressively more disastrous under-funding of the Canadian Forces is a legacy of decades of (primarily) Liberal governments, starting with Trudeau. This under-funding has reached new lows in the past eleven years, despite Liberal smoke and mirrors and minor injections of cash; and then only when the government has absolutely no other option. The great debate will centre around whether the used British subs were a good deal and whether we need submarines, at all.

First, the issue of submarines, at all. I don't profess to be an expert on naval operations and warfare, but I have an opinion. Canada is a maritime nation with an extremely long coastline and claims over vast areas like the arctic archipelago as far as the north pole. If Canada intends to claim sovereignty over such a vast coastline and mass of land and ice (and the resources thereunder), we must be able to exercise that sovereignty and project our presence in the area. That can be done by air, land and sea forces with varying degrees of effectiveness and difficulty. With climate change, access to the northern passages will become easier and challenges to our claims of sovereignty will increase. We have already seen that with Denmark. Both surface and sub-surface surveillance in this area should be one of the key roles of the Canadian Navy. One is overt and one is covert; and covert surveillance could be key in addressing issues in an international court. Covert surveillance is also an important capability under the threat of terrorism and the war on drugs. Canada should feel a commitment to assist the United States in the sub-surface monitoring of the approaches to North America, and the destruction of imminent threats. And, does anyone think that the serious druggies couldn't afford a couple of old Soviet submarines on the black market and hire crews desperate for a paycheque?

Second, on the issue of the British Upholder Class submarines - you get what you pay for. Even the British press is outraged at what their Ministry of Defence has done to us, but I think that their outrage is misplaced. Caveat emptor would be more apropos, and when the emptor is desperate, mistakes are made. The Royal Navy never put these boats into active service and the Australians took one look on the used sub-lot and passed. There was probably a message there. The desperate state of naval procurement, no doubt, impelled the military to grasp at a straw. With their justified faith in the quality and competence of their personnel, I'm sure that the Navy and "purple" staffs felt that they could make it work. They may have been wrong.

In the National Post today, Sheila Copps bleats that this was not the government's fault, but that any blame rests with the Navy. I would ask Ms. Copps that, if she were drowning, would she accept being thrown a cracked life preserver or no life preserver, at all. She wouldn't answer such a rhetorical question because she, like the current Liberal government, is a hypocrite. I caught the CTV item on her stage-acting debut last night. It was pretty tough to watch, but the conclusion was that she is as bad an actress on stage as she was in Parliament.

Let me finish by asking the question again. Who pays the price when government fails? We all do, but we all owe a debt of gratitude, that can never be adequately repaid, to the men and women and families of the Canadian Forces who pay the direct price on our behalf.

I know that he was talking about a different time and a different service, but in summary, Winston Churchill's words ring true today - "Never......was so much owed by so many to so few."

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