Tuesday, May 31, 2005

And now for something completely different.

With so much negativity and angry blogs around, how about a happy one, for a change? We still have a lot to be happy and proud about, being Canadian and, particularly, being Albertan.

Yesterday, I spent the day escorting six significant Edmonton citizens around Exercise Maple Flag at 4 Wing Cold Lake for the day. We attended briefings on the fighter pilot training programs; crawled around CF-18s and Hawks; flew the Hawk simulator; watched the CF-18 flight demonstration pilot perform; attended the Maple Flag mass briefing; watched the exercise live on the big screen; had a great burger with a bunch of multi-national air and groundcrew; and watched the launch of Canadian CF18s, Israeli / Dutch / Belgian / American F-16s, French Mirage 4000s and Mirage 1s, British Tornados, Israeli tankers, AWACS, and C-130 and C-160 trash haulers, from about a hundred feet away right beside the runway. The ears split; the ground shook; the air reeked of burnt jet fuel; the grins spread; and the testosterone spiked.

What made it really great was the pride and professionalism that we saw everywhere. Participants from seven countries and observers from several more worked together to get the mission accomplished. It's this kind of training and cooperation that leads to success in combat. And it's the Canadian role in bringing it all together that made us most proud of what we saw. Young and not-so-young men and women are still giving it everything they've got, despite all of the shortfalls that they are forced to deal with.

It's too bad that more Canadians can't see first hand the quality and dedication of our men and women in uniform. Maybe they'd understand what a great resource we have and how important it is to nurture it back to full health.

Tonight, I attended the annual dinner of Merit Contractors Association, an organization committed to supporting the right of employers and employees to promote free enterprise. They have many programs in branches across Canada, all intended to promote best practices in the trades, effective training and apprenticeship programs, and labour harmony in the contracting business. They are very successful and, in the past year alone, excused $1.28 million in apprenticeship fees and put 1,850 people through apprenticeship programs. That's just in Alberta. The awards and speeches by apprentices and their companies showed that business and industry can thrive in the open shop environment. It is the Alberta Advantage at work for Albertans.

One of the participants in the evening was from Alberta's Promise, an organization whose mission is to inspire and encourage businesses, agencies, communities and individuals to adopt the Alberta's Promise commitment to children. They celebrate successes and recognize accomplishments to motivate all Albertans to participate in making Alberta a better place for children to live, learn and grow. Their promise is to be partners with their neighbors, heroes to their children and champions of their childrens' futures.

They have many partners, like Merit Contractors, and the more time that I spend at many different such events, the more I realize that everyone is partnering with everyone else. Life is one big partnership and, if we could spread that attitude to more areas, like, um, say, politics, the better off we'd all be.

The last two days have reminded me why I'm still proud to be a Canadian and an Albertan. Sometimes, ya just gotta do that.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Honour amongst Liberals

I'm guessing that yesterday set a record for the use of the words "Belinda Stronach" in blogs, editorials, letters to the editor, coffee shops, water coolers, etc., etc. Many derogatory things were said about Ms. Stronach and a lot of colourful language was used. Most of it was naturally emotional and much of it was a bit over the top. Belinda will wear many of the characterizations for years and everyone can decide for themselves whether she deserves them or not.

In the Liberal caucus today, the Deputy Prime Minister mustered all of her best self-righteous indignation and denounced Conservatives as sexist and misogynist. Later, she will, predictably, surround herself with like-minded indignants to denounce every Conservative as various things that Liberals would like us to be......and we are not.

The issue is not one of gender. It is not one of personal professional capabilities. It is not one of personal intelligence. It is one of personal honour. And that, my friends, is utterly lacking in the Liberal Party and their newest member.

Some will argue that there is little honour left in public service, and there is plenty of evidence to back that up. Like a lot of things that they do, the Liberals have turned dishonour into an art form. In the process, they have further discredited the notion of politics as an honourable profession.

Ms. Stronach certainly doesn't honour loyalty or commitment to people or organizations. She doesn't honour her debts ($379,000 owed to her former party), although I don't think that she'd be hard pressed to pony up.

There surely are honourable people in every political party and all of them must cringe at least a bit at the lack of honour and integrity displayed by Ms. Stronach. Her "lack of complexity" will probably do her in, in the end, and Conservatives shouldn't lose too much sleep over her new red Armani.

On May 10th, she said, "We gave Paul Martin and his government the chance to finally do the right thing, but once again, they have failed."

She voted five times to put the Liberal Government out of our misery.

On May 17th, she praised the same Prime Minister and Party that she had trashed the day before. Not to worry, later the same day she said to CTV, "I'm not here to defend the actions of the Liberals."

Um, Belinda, what the hell are you here for?

Some people have expressed concern about the Conservative election secrets that Ms. Stronach would leak to the Liberals. Please be clear that I'm quoting a Liberal MP who wished to remain nameless, "That's okay, she won't remember them, anyway."

Not surprisingly, there will be folks in her new caucus who might not be too pleased to see their loyalty and hard work passed over by their Leader. He has only one principle, and that is hanging on to power at any cost. Not much of a principle and certainly no honour. Ms. Stronach will fit right in.

I guess that even multi-millionaires have their price, and it apparently takes another one to know what that is.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Airborne - reborn or stillborn?

On the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Europe, it is fitting to have a quick look at the recently announced revitalization of Canada's airborne infantry capability. In WW II, Canadian paratroop forces played a major role and the Canadian Airborne Regiment continued to enjoy a proud history in peacetime, until Somalia.

The point here is not to replay the Somalia affair. Suffice to say that the Airborne fell prey to political correctness, as the many suffered for the sins of the few. It's time to redress that error of political expediency and cowardice in the face of orchestrated public opinion.

The recently announced "911 Force" to be drawn from three existing regiments is a good start, but it's only a start. Their role in support of JTF2 is also a good start, but it's only a start.

The mandate to be lightly equipped and adequately trained sounds fine, so long as it's not an excuse to define "light" and "adequate" as something less than what is really required. Call me cynical, but Canadian governments of all stripes have often set low standards in military affairs and failed to achieve them.

With promised funding not kicking in for several years, it might be easy for government to let this excellent initiative slide, if they get the chance. The defence community, in and out of uniform, can't allow that to happen.

The other thing that the defence community should do, in my humble view, is to make the size and capability of the new force as robust as possible. They can be light, but they also have to be damned strong, in terms of arms, equipment and training. They may not need to have the individual training standards of JTF2 in some areas, but they can't be just a cleanup crew, either. If they are not capable of taking on a combat task in their own right, they will not fulfill the mandate that they should.

General Hillier and his planners are on the right track in many areas, although I think they're perpetuating a serious flaw with the lack of attention to organic strategic airlift. We have to keep the pressure on the government, whatever it looks like after the 2005 election, to not play games with defence funding (such as clawing back over 40% of the $1.1 billion promised over the next two years). The rebirth of the airborne capability will take many years and it will be easy to let it slide.

Here's a radical idea. How about we make the longer term plan to simply re-establish the Canadian Airborne Regiment, once the capability has been built up within the three existing regiments? Then, keep building those regiments until they are up to an appropriate level of manning, equipment, training and capability. The whole process will probably take twenty years, but we can't rebuild in a day what government has torn down over decades.

Our condo neighbour is a wizened older fella whose normal attire includes a burgundy T-shirt with the blue Airborne logo on the front. He is still a proud member of his regiment and I think that we have an obligation, to him and to Canada, to make sure that it is reborn and not stillborn.