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Uzelman: Canada is a laggard in NORAD, NATO and Arctic Defence

New column from Bruce Uzelman

~BW Uzelman

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) has been in the news quite regularly since the federal budget, and not for good reasons. The CAF has been underfunded for the last thirty years, and certainly since the Liberals attained power in 2015. Canada has consistently not contributed two percent of its GDP to defense, though that is our commitment to NATO. And not only has the budget for the operation of the CAF and for equipment acquisition been deficient, the government has not spent the funds allocated.

Andrew Leslie, a retired General and former Liberal MP, has frequently expressed those concerns, “Over the last seven years, the Armed Forces has been allocated roughly [$23.3 billion annually] but it hasn’t been able to spend it all. And the blame for that lies squarely with the prime minister and the minister of finance.” Military experts have long recognized that the military procurement system is broken. They continue to advocate that it be fixed. The government continues to do nothing.

As well, the increase in the 2022 Federal Budget for the military is not what it seems to be. In a post-budget interview with CPAC, Leslie argued that, since 2015, the government has underspent the defense budget by a total of $12 billion and have reallocated the funds. Now, he adds, they are replacing it with $8 billion over five years, and each year they underspend by $2 billion. “So, this is smoke and mirrors.”

The Department of National Defense (DND) is presently short ten thousand personnel. To bring the personnel up to the level needed, says Leslie, would mean spending $1 -$1.5 billion per year alone. As well, the equipment purchases foregone over the past decade, are “sorely required”.

An order for F-35 fighter jets, placed by the Harper Government in 2010, was cancelled in 2015 by the new Liberal Government. However, in 2022, they reversed course, and committed to purchase 88 of the advanced fighters, with phased deliveries through to December 2027. So, that is positive. The government also announced in June that Canada had agreed to (belatedly) replace the NORAD Detection and Early Warning system to enable the long-range detection of incoming missiles and aircraft, at a cost of $4.9 billion. But will they fulfill these commitments, and when?

At the present, Northern Canada is at risk. “The Canadian Arctic is defenseless right now, and I’m not exaggerating,” asserts Leslie. He notes that there are no troops permanently stationed there with any significant combat potential, there are no surveillance assets, our maritime patrol aircraft are old and there are no ships capable of operating in the Arctic for any significant period.

Russia and China have both demonstrated interest in the Arctic, and clearly can’t be trusted. Russia has several nuclear-powered ice breakers, and has begun to reoccupy former Soviet Arctic bases. China currently has two ice breakers and is developing a nuclear-powered ice breaker, the first in a series. Radio Canada Int’l reports that this fits with their latest five-year plan, which seeks to increase China’s presence in the Arctic with ice-capable ships. This all should seriously trouble the federal government.

Meanwhile, a Canadian Arctic deep-water port and naval base, first announced by former PM Steven Harper in 2007, is still not operational. A plan for up to seven Arctic-capable vessels was also proposed. The base has been scaled back. A 2021 CTV article revealed that a proposal for an airstrip has been abandoned. The facility is expected to be operated by four to six people from July through October. Only one of the ships has been completed to this point. Our Arctic capabilities are largely non-existent.

Astonishingly, the Canadian Government demonstrates no concern. Rob Huebert is a northern defense analyst at the University of Calgary. As a Senate Committee investigates Canada’s Arctic security, he points out that existing hangars in the North should be modified to accommodate F-18 and F-35 fighter jets 24/7. He recently told the CBC that the federal government has largely ignored Arctic security, and has fallen behind our Nordic allies, who are beginning to lose patience. Huebert is being too nice. The Trudeau Government has been negligent in the defense of the North, and a laggard in NORAD and NATO.


Bruce W Uzelman

I grew up in Paradise Hill, a village in Northwestern Saskatchewan. I come from a large family. My parents instilled good values, but yet afforded us, my seven siblings and I, much freedom to do the things we wished to do. I spent my early years exploring the hills and forests and fields surrounding the village, a great way to come of age. My parents owned a successful general store. My siblings and I were required to help out in the business, no choices allowed there!

I attended the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. I considered studying journalism at one point, but did not ultimately pursue that. However, I obtained a Bachelor of Arts, Advanced with majors in Economics and Political Science in 1982.

My career has consisted exclusively of small business, primarily restaurant and retail. I was originally based in Alberta, and then BC, first in Summerland, then Victoria and finally Kelowna (for over 20 years). I was married in Alberta, and we have two daughters, who have returned to Alberta as adults for career reasons, as did my now ex-wife. My daughters are successful, and now have families of their own.

I have maintained a healthy interest in politics throughout my adult years, and wish to put that and my research skills to work as a political columnist.


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