Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Here we go again

Here we are at Day Two of one of the longest writ periods in Canada's history. So far, so good.

There has been a lot of quack about having a Christmas election. This not a Christmas election. It is a winter election with a break in the middle. Anyone who is playing the Christmas "card" is looking for an excuse to be angry. Folks, this is Canada; we have winter; we are Canadians; we can handle it.

Election day is almost a full month after Christmas. That should give everyone lots of time to finish the last turkey casserole and turn a thought or two to the future of Canada.

The people inconvenienced by the timing of the election are candidates, volunteers and Elections Canada personnel. Others are free to ignore it, except on January 23rd. On that day, it would be really dandy if citizens could exercise what that word means and take the thirty minutes required to participate in their own futures.

When sixty percent of Iraqis turn out in January 2005, under threat of death: and sixty percent of Canadians turn out in June 2004, under threat of sunburn, you have to ask yourself what is wrong with this picture.

Canadians profess to love democracy, but two out of every five eligible to participate in the most fundamental way, simply can't be bothered. Disenchantment with the political process and many of its practitioners is understandable. I'm sorry, but apathy is not.

There are hundreds of candidates for all parties who have made an enormous personal commitment. Regardless of party and politics, all of them deserve credit.

There are many thousands of volunteers dedicating many hundreds of thousands of hours to participate and to promote their favourite. Regardless of party and politics, all of them deserve credit.

I've met a lot of apathy at the tens of thousands of doors I have visited over the past two-and-a-half years; and I occasionally get very direct in my advice to them. The odd one gets a little angry at me for that; but if it makes them angry enough to get off the couch and vote for anyone, that's okay.

I could give you my Conservative answer about who caused the election, but it's frankly irrelevant, at this point. The fact is that we are in an election and it is every Canadian's duty to vote. While I obviously crack myself up, I'd sure like us to not let a Canadian winter and apathy be bigger deterrents to voting than death.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Airplanes and elections

Tuesday, Defence Minister Bill Graham, flanked by Chief of the Defence Staff General Rick Hillier and Public Works Minister Scott Brison, announced an accelerated program to replace the oldest of our C-130 Hercules fleet. It’s about bloody time!

Mr. Graham seemed to express frustration at being forced into this scenario by the threat of an election. Is that what it takes – the threat of losing his job to make him and his colleagues do the right thing? If so, then good on the Opposition parties for making something happen.

The truth is that there was nothing stopping the Government from going ahead, other than political gamesmanship and chronic defence underfunding. They're not sure whether they are afraid of being criticized for foolishly committing money with an election in the air; or whether they want to try to look like belated heroes to a Canadian Forces that they have shamefully neglected for decades.

As an airman who is deeply concerned about the critical degradation of the CF's capabilities over the decades, I am glad that something has been done. Most of the C-130 fleet is on its butt and that is severely restricting the Air Force from fulfilling its operational commitments.

The Air Force needs new aircraft right now. They have expressed their preferred solution for the tactical airlift part of the equation through General Hillier. That is an important step, but we still have to address our continuing shortfall of strategic airlift. Canada has never had strategic airlift capability; that is, the ability to carry a significant amount of personnel and equipment over a significant distance. The Canadair Yukon, Boeing 707 and now the Airbus CC150 did a pretty good job of moving personnel over a long distance, but couldn't carry much in the way of equipment.

Some are questioning the projected high cost of the new aircraft, but that is somewhat misunderstood. I'm basing my comments on being intimately familiar with the New Fighter Aircraft Program (CF-18). Program cost includes life cycle costs; which comprises many things. These may include operations and maintenance, spares, support equipment, test equipment, documentation (in both official languages), training (flying, simulators, technicians, logistics), and infrastructure.

It also includes things like GST and revenue dependency for PWGSC to administer the program. With the CF-18, we had to pay GST on every aircraft that was delivered to Canada and was not re-deployed to Germany. In those days, PWGSC was Supply and Services Canada and, as I recall, we paid them 1.5% of the program cost to administer it. So, if numbers are similar today, take about 8.5% right off the top of program money. Your security and defence is just another source of over-taxation in Government eyes.

The CF-18 program was about CAD 5 billion for 138 aircraft. The contract cost of each individual aircraft was just over USD 16 million in January 1978 dollars. Simply dividing the total program cost by the number of aircraft is misleading. I'm not sure whether we are or are not paying a fair price for the proposed new aircraft, but people should understand all aspects before they criticize.

The other issue is the urgency of signing a contract. The Liberal Government has brought this urgency upon themselves (and, regrettably, upon members of the Air Force and those they serve), by many years of deliberate penny pinching on defence.

The current plan will amount to an essentially sole-source contract. If the answer is obvious and the need is urgent, that is acceptable. Such decisions should be more about defence and security requirements and less about politics. Within the constraints of budgets and due process, the lead should be given to military staffs. The personnel flying and supporting our current C-130s under increasingly difficult circumstances deserve that, and the other military units that they support desperately need that.

We still need a strategic fixed wing airlift capability and a heavy lift rotary wing capability. There are capable aircraft available for both those roles and their manufacturer has been very pro-active in proposing cost effective acquisition programs. MND John McCallum quietly cancelled the strategic airlift program some years back, apparently at the urging of a misguided Chief of Staff.

The realities of Canada's commitments to peace making and peace enforcement (read war fighting), as well as to natural disasters, such as tsunamis and earthquakes, require on-demand strategic airlift. That means that we need to own it. We will never be able to react in less than about two weeks, if we have to line up at the local Budget Rent-an-Antonov every time something happens. A DART without feathers doesn't fly very straight, very far, or very fast.

I've also seen the airplanes and elections movie before with the New Fighter Aircraft Program. In late 1979, when Joe Clark lost count of his fingers and toes and, consequently, his government, we had the CF-18 contract completely ready for final blessing the next day. We had endured many years of false starts, extensive evaluation, delays, difficult negotiations, funding envelope changes, and many other challenges. Program Manager, Brigadier-General Paul Manson (later CDS) and his senior staff stayed up all night trying to convince the falling government to approve the program. They wouldn't and we had to do it all over again for Trudeau's Liberals. It was a black day, but we did eventually buy the CF-18 and it has performed magnificently. In reality, the delay didn't have much impact on the long-term program.

The difference between then and now is that, in 1979, we didn't have units in an active combat environment without the support they should have. Today, we do, and we need to pull out all stops to redress that situation. If we take a quick, hard look at costs, that's okay; but let's not forget what's going on out there in the real world of Afghanistan and other garden spots, where Canadian men and women are risking everything. We owe them the best and we owe it to them yesterday.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Puppy dog faces

Cut it out, Prime Minister, you're killing me. You and your minions are popping up in front of every microphone and camera, putting on your best puppy dog faces and telling us how all you really want to do is make it work. You say to look at all the good things for Canadians that will be lost if the obvious and justified lack of confidence in your Government is played out in the near future.

You are the one that has dithered on such critical items as the gas rebate, refusing to allow it to proceed no fewer than three times, even though all parties were behind it.

You are the one who, as Finance Minister, strangled the Canadian Forces.

You are the one who, as Finance Minister, choked the life out of Canada's healthcare system.

Yours is the Government that has allowed our First Nations population to continue to wallow in poverty without something as simple as safe water to drink.

Yours is the Government that has wasted billion after billion on misguided or downright corrupt ventures such as the useless and irrelevant gun registry, HRDC, unaccountable Technology Partnerhsip money, and brokering election support with tax-payers money.

You are the one who solemnly promised to fix the democratic deficit and have, instead, made it more acute.

You are the one who solemnly promised to end patronage and have, instead, refined the art form.

You are the one who claimed to be able to repair the severely damaged relations that your Government caused with our biggest trade and security partner. Instead, you use every opportunity to inject "American-style" into your comments designed to stir fear in Canadians. Regardless of what are our issues with the United States, that is hardly helpful.

Yours is the Government that has done nothing to support family values and now expresses such dismay at the fact that we will have a campaign that runs through Christmas.

You are the one who has made so-called commitments that are back-end loaded by many years and will probably never happen.

Now, you pretend that they are around the corner and that the very fabric of Canada will be lost if your wretched and corrupt government falls, as it deserves to do.

Now, you want to take the money that you have sucked out of Canadians' wallets through over-taxation and feed it back to us in post-dated bribery.

No matter when an election is called, there will always be things that will be delayed. If that were allowed to delay an election, then we would never hold one and we would be stuck with a de facto Liberal dictatorship forever. True democracy doesn't work that way.

The quicker that we can put your Government out of our misery and replace it with an accountable Conservative alternative, the quicker the country can get on the real task of restoring our position with our own citizens and with our friends and allies around the world.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

It is the soldier.

Another eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month is here. Fewer veterans will be on parade than last year and more than next year. Backs will be a little more bent; salutes will be a little more shaky; and more will be under wheel power. What won't have changed is the pride that the veteran feels for his country and his comrades, present and absent. His heart is ramrod straight and he has a clear vision of what it takes to make a country strong and free.

Besides respecting and honouring what the veteran has given us, what can we do to make his sacrifice worthwhile? We can honour and respect the future. We can do that by recognizing that safety and security aren't free.

More Canadians are thinking more clearly about what our current military is facing on our behalf. Part of that understanding is because of the no- nonsense approach and forthrightness of General Rick Hillier, Chief of the Defence Staff. The Canadian Forces cannot be social workers in uniform and they have to be given the right tools and enough of them to do what is a deadly job. General Hillier has been very clear about the hazards that our soldiers are facing in Afghanistan. The point is not to alarm us, but to prepare us for what is probably inevitable.

When you look at a veteran today, take a look at the young men and women in uniform on parade, as well. Imagine them in forty or fifty years at a Remembrance Day Parade. Far fewer of them will probably have lost comrades in service to Canada than the older veterans you see today. It's our job to make sure that this is as few as possible. That doesn't mean shirking our duty as a country. It means making sure that our men and women are equipped to do the job. It means supporting a significant increase in defence spending.

It means remembering that:

It's the soldier, not the reporter who has given us the freedom of the press. It's the soldier, not the poet, who has given us the freedom of speech. It's the soldier, not the politician that ensures our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It's the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag. They shall grow not old as we who are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. And at the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.