A disaster of unprecedented proportions has just occurred. Canada is in a position to show leadership and respond very strongly in support of those affected. That leadership should start from your office.
The Canadian Forces has the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) on standby, but the call isn't coming. This team of 200 personnel is specifically configured and mandated to assist in situations like what is occurring around the Indian Ocean. They are sitting idly by, while other nations and other Non-Governmental Organizations are taking the lead. The $4 million that Minister Graham announced is a drop in the bucket, and we should be providing hands-on assistance, as well as a lot more money. To be sure, Canadians are responding individually, but leadership at a higher level seems to be missing.
The excuse that deploying DART would cost money that could be better utilized by on-site national agencies is only partly true. The cost figures quoted, when government is trying to justify inaction, include things like salaries and other fixed costs that will be paid whether DART deploys or not. The real reason that we are in our now-customary role of dithering is much more fundamental. We simply can't get there from here, because that capability has been allowed to wither, and it would be another international embarrassment to show how weak we have really become.
Our strategic airlift capability is virtually non-existent. Our fleet of 32 C-130 Hercules, which are not even strategic airlifters, can muster only 6 - 8 serviceable aircraft on most days. It would take several dozen C-130 chalks to deploy DART, depending on the destination. We have been embarrassed in the past, when even small-scale deployments have been aborted due to lack of serviceable aircraft.
Our strategic sealift capability consists of two supply ships, overdue for replacement, and several smaller warships, not designed for the task of personnel, equipment and supply transport. All are over-committed, in any event, and are not available to respond in a timely manner.
Your government continues to pretend to support the requirements of the Canadian Forces. At times like this, the truth will out, and we are again embarrassed on the world stage. The many Canadians who are working and contributing selflessly in response to this disaster (and others) have nothing to be embarrassed about. I can't say the same for our nation, as a whole, and the buck stops at the PMO. Sir, you can fix this, in playing a larger role in the current crisis and in being able to respond more appropriately in the future.
If it's not possible to get DART to where they're needed today on Canadian Forces aircraft, find a way to get them there on someone else's. I suspect that most readily available aircraft are already being hired, but we should try. The deployment of DART, and a lot more money, would demonstrate some national leadership and will that used to be our hallmark, and which we have lost.
Please stop pretending and actually fund the Canadian Forces requirements in the areas of strategic airlift and strategic sealift. This will take several years but, like so many overdue programs, they simply have to start immediately. You may recall that a previous Minister of National Defence, John McCallum, quietly cancelled the strategic airlift program. I doubt that he did that alone. You may also recall that potential new strategic sealift assets were misrepresented as traditional aircraft carriers during the last federal election. I understand the politics of that, but it is counter-productive to what should be our national objectives.
Also, please have someone look at an out-of-the-box supplementary solution of agreements with airlines and shipping companies to treat their equipment and crews as national assets in times of emergency. They could be under contract to National Defence or Foreign Affairs on a cost-recovery basis and fill in gaps that cannot be covered by National Defence capability.
Prime Minister, at times like this, the world should be able to look to Canada for leadership, and we should be able to look to you. Please don't let us down.
Laurie Hawn, CD