Defence: The Great Canadian Fairy Tale

By Colonel Strome Galloway, E.D., C.D.
The Army Quarterly and Defence Journal, Vol. 102 (Oct 1971 to July 1972)

At no time in history has Canadian defence policy been so confused in the minds of Canadians as at the present moment [i.e., just to be clear, the early 1970s - TRR]. And this, just a few scant months after the publication of a long-heralded White Paper entitled "Defence in the 70s."

Hard on the heels of the White Paper came another, equally remarkable document, entitled "Defence 1971." This document was issued on 31st January, by Defence Minister Donald S. Macdonald. Less than four weeks later he was shifted to another Cabinet post. This was apparently to allow finance Minister Edgar Benson to escape the wrath of the Canadian public by hiding behind a less controversial portfolio. That the Defence portfolio was chosen as a refuge from the gathering ire of the taxpayers indicates to some extent the limited importance which the Government of Prime Minister Trudeau puts on national defence.

One newspaper described the White Paper as a "collection of trivia," to which description Lieut.-Colonel Cecil Merritt, V.C., a Vancouver lawyer writing in the Canadian Defence Quarterly, added the words, "This does not appear to be an unfair comment." Merritt continued his review of the paper by saying,

The document devotes too many of its 49 pages to such matters as illustrations of "goods in the shop window," pollution control, protection of fisheries, aid to the Civil Power, international peace-keeping, and other ancillary functions to which a large nation, with large military potential, can devote in peacetime its surplus military might. It does not deal in any adequate fashion with the manner in which Canada expects to cope with the real purposes of national defence.

Later on, he wrote:

Our closest ally [i.e., the United States] sees a military vacuum in the northern half of the continent. This ally also must provide for its own local defence. In such circumstances, in the absence of any provision for major mobilization in Canada (not mentioned in the White Paper even as a possibility), the US. military planning staffs could not be blamed if they drew the obvious conclusion. In their planning for the survival of their own country, they must make provision for necessary garrisons at strategic points in Canada in time of emergency. Thus, the sovereignty of Canada could pass into other hands even before there were any declaration of war or nuclear surprise attacks.

In December, Brigadier-General Ned Amy, a retired Regular who is generally accepted as the country's leading authority on armoured warfare, told the Royal Canadian Military Institute that,

The White Paper falls short of enunciating a realistic and imaginative defence policy for a country with Canada's projected international status and responsibilities in the final decades of this century. … Also, it projects our defence needs no further into the future than the day before yesterday.

Few Canadian military thinkers would question the opinions of either Merritt or Amy. Yet former Defence Minister Macdonald, in his 73-page sequel, "Defence 1971," states that, "The objective of safeguarding sovereignty and independence, which is of first rank importance at this time, leads to the role of protection of Canada. …"

As one reads further into the White Paper and "Defence 1971" it becomes fairly obvious that the two documents are little else than Parts I and II of the Great Canadian Fairy Tale.

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Post-war disenchantment with Canada's traditional British ties—largely due to the out-dated colonial mentality of Lord Halifax, the cultural and economic inundation of Canada by its huge and powerful neighbour south of the 49th Parallel, the revolutionary spirit of Canada's 5 ½ million Francophones, the political philosophy of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, and the roles Canada has played, or attempted to play, within the U.N., N.A.T.O. and NORAD, have all had their influence on defence matters in Canada. Additionally, the country has no idea where it is going. Under such circumstance the formulation of a sensible defence programme is impossible.

Where is the country going?

Canada is on the eve of its first general election since June, 1968, when a phenomenon known as "Trudeaumania" propelled a politically unknown professor named Pierre Elliott Trudeau into power. Today, pre-election stickers bear the words, "Trudeau—Canada's biggest mistake." The coming election will be the most important since Confederation, 105 years ago. Grave domestic issues divide the country. Foremost among these issues are high unemployment, increasing foreign ownership of Canadian industry, and a whole galaxy of other burning matters stemming from the controversial policies of the Trudeau Government.

By 1973 the Trudeau Government will have spent 300 million dollars of the taxpayers' money on a programme designed to make the country officially bilingual, a term which means the imposition of the mother tongue of 5 ½ million Francophones on the 16 ½ million Anglophones of the country. Another 400 million dollars is going into an overseas aid programme for France's former colonies in Africa, South-East Asia and elsewhere. This is a bid to elevate Canada's French-speaking province of Quebec into the role of being the hub of a worldwide, French-speaking "commonwealth." Eventually, it is believed that this will make Quebec a viable political, economic and social unit, thus facilitating its ultimate withdrawal from the Canadian confederation.

Such goings on, are of course, directly traceable to the visit of the late President Charles de Gaulle to Canada as a national guest for the Centennial Year of 1967. While here, he inflamed the nation when he shouted the words, "Vive le Québec libre" from the balcony of Montreal's city hall, to the astonishment of most of the world and the horror of most of the Canadian people. He was publicly rebuked by Canada's then Prime Minister, Lester Bowles Pearson, and the next day packed his bags and returned to Paris, the damage done.

Added to this dangerous bilingual, bicultural situation is the fact that under Trudeau's leadership huge sums of the taxpayers' money goes for local incentive, cultural development and welfare programmes all designed, it is claimed by certain observers, toward creating a "rabble." Since more than fifty thousand US Army deserters and draft-dodgers have been allowed sanctuary in Canada by the Trudeau Government, most of whom benefit directly from these substantial hand-outs, the charge that something sinister is brewing cannot be entirely disbelieved. Hundreds of jobless "students", the majority of whom are to be found in Montreal, are leading Canadian society towards a polarization dominated by Francophones at one end and Anglophones at the other. Post-war urbanization and education have been responsible for this condition.

Somewhere in the background there still lurks the F.L.Q. (Front de Libération du Québec). Its efforts at open revolution and drastic separation of the province of Quebec from the rest of Canada was scorched in October, 1970, following the kidnapping and murder of a Quebec Cabinet Minister and the kidnapping of a British diplomat. This outbreak was crushed by the quick action of Prime Minister Trudeau, who invoked the War Measures Act and sent troops into Montreal to nip the embryo revolution in the bud. Trudeau is no separatist. That is, unlike the F.L.Q., he does not want to see Quebec become a Francophone republic sandwiched in between English-speaking Canada and the United States. That he looks forward to a Canada ultimately dominated by French language and French culture is difficult to deny.

With such a political environment in Canada today, it is not surprising that defence policy is difficult to formulate. It is almost impossible to discuss defence matters with any degree of clarity. For these reasons, national defence matters are unlikely to see much play on the election scene. This, despite the fact that 13 per cent of the national budget goes for defence.

Under the Trudeau administration and that of his predecessor Pearson, the armed forces were unified. The Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Air Force were disbanded, the new amorphous green-clad mass known as the Canadian Armed Forces taking their place. This transition saw the total strength cut from 120,000 to about 80,000 and the almost complete emasculation of Canada's N.A.T.O. contribution.

Although it is unlikely to have much influence on the Canadian voter the defence picture has not been forgotten by the Progressive-Conservative Party, Robert Lorne Stanfield, leader of the Opposition, has stated that;

the greatest failure of the previous Liberal government [that of Mr. Pearson] was the unification of the Canadian Armed Forces. The programme did not produce the savings which were predicted, nor [sic] did it contribute to the overall effectiveness of the forces. Indeed, the unification of the Armed Forces and the high-handed method employed to bring it about dealt a serious blow to the morale of the forces and defence spending actually increased.

Stanfield's statement put the matter mildly.

The Progressive-Conservative policy paper on defence goes on to say that "there is a substantial degree of disenchantment within the Armed Forces." This, again, is a softly spoken comment. Finally, the P.C.s say,

The Party endorses the principle of integrating supply, administration and staff functions of the Armed Forces. The morale and general effectiveness of the Armed Forces, however, would be much improved by some restoration of the distinctiveness and traditions of the former three armed services.

The vast majority of servicemen hope for a P.C. victory at the polls next election, although it is generally agreed that it is difficult to unscramble an egg!

Biggest blow to Canadian military morale, after the disappearance of the three traditional services, was the semi-withdrawal from N.A.T.O.'s front line. Trudeau's decision to cut the NATO. land and air contribution by half meant that there were two logical ways to do it. The first was to leave the air contribution intact and pull out the tank-supported infantry brigade group. The other was to pull out the air division of 5,000 men and leave the land force intact. Unfortunately, the third, almost militarily unacceptable solution was adopted. The reducing of the brigade group to a "light mobile force" of 2,800 and the halving of the air division took place. The two components were then joined administratively, but not tactically. The land element moved from Westphalia, where it had been associated with the British Rhine Army, south to Baden-Wurttemberg, where both elements were placed under American command and where the one Francophone unit was able to train with its linguistic counterparts from the French Army. This minor sop to Francophone fancy was one of the objects of the exercise.

This move, strongly urged by the then Chief of the Defence Staff, General Jean-Victor Allard, now retired, has resulted in a puny, reconnaissance force theoretically supported by CF-104 aircraft, a million-dollar machine whose use in such a role is farcical. Actually, the CF-104s have their own tasks to carry out, which are in no way connected with the land element. The latter, equipped with a light tank such as is normally employed in anti-insurgency operations, has no battlefield "punch," and very little chance of surviving more than a few hours once battle is joined.

Morale in this situation is low, and the troops are well aware that they have no real role within US. 7th Army, whereas their former post in Soest/Westphalia was a vital part of the NORTHAG front. The saving grace in this situation is that the personnel of both the land and air components of Canada's truncated N.A.T.O. contribution are undeniably among the most efficient troops on the Continent, perhaps in many ways the most efficient. But their sparse numbers and their paucity of fighting equipment means they are wasting their sweetness on the desert air.

The ratio of officers to men in the Canadian Forces is one officer to every 4 ½ men. Out of a total of 68,000 men, 52,000 are N.C.O.s. The Canadian serviceman is the highest paid in the world. Yet, the organization he belongs to is probably the least effective and inflexible of any of similar size. The cost of all this rank, of housing and of other domestic features of service life is so high that hardly any money is left for new equipment to replace worn-out or obsolete items. This year only 10 per cent of the defence budget will go for equipment, the lowest percentage since post-war demobilization. This year, also for the first time, the Canadian Armed Forces will be paying more in various pension plans than they will spend on equipment. Pension costs will go up by fifty million dollars and equipment expenditures will go down by one hundred million. In their new green uniforms, with their big pay cheques, the Canadian servicemen are one of the country's biggest luxuries. This is not their fault. It is because the Canadian defence policy is really a lack of policy. The country maintains its armed forces with little or no idea of what to do with them. The tragedy is that in the none too distant future there may well be plenty for them to do, possibly right on Canadian soil. But they will have neither the equipment, the organization, nor the know-how to function properly. The blame will be mainly on the shoulders of the politicians, but the military themselves will not be guiltless. As one observer said recently, the big questions to be answered in the defence field are two in number: first, What have two successive Liberal governments done to the armed forces? Second, What has armed forces leadership been doing at the same time?

It could be, that with a change of Government there will have to be a post-election "purge" among the top posts of the Canadian Armed Forces, process which less than eight years ago would have been quite unthinkable. When Defence Minister Paul Hellyer began his pilgrimage along the path to unification, one of his big points was that unification would provide the men in uniform with more satisfying careers. Evidence concerning the failure of unification to satisfy this aim is damning. The fact Of the matter is that 40 per cent of the Service College graduates who join the Canadian Armed Forces these days elect to quit after the minimum service demanded of them. And, even with high unemployment, great difficulty is being experienced in filling the ranks.

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When Prime Minister Trudeau switched the defence priorities in 1969 he undid four years of planning and hard work by the military. He also jettisoned millions of dollars of equipment, much of it still on the production line. Today, the priorities for the Canadian Armed Forces are; surveillance of Canadian territory and coastlines to protect sovereignty; defence of North America in cooperation with the U.S.; N.A.T.O. commitments, and international peacekeeping roles.

The first statement the new Defence Minister, Edgar Benson, made on assuming office included the sentence, "We're going to have to be attached to the U.S. in defence of North America and we're going to have to continue our efforts to defend it." Few people would disagree with Benson's remark. What worries the critics is that it is unlikely these words will ever be translated into deeds. Even the Militia, the locally based reserve forces, are at their lowest strength in over 60 years—20,000. This is so negligible a figure, when it is realized it is spread across four million square miles, that it can be readily seen the Militia would be hard put to defend even their own messes and drill halls in the event of minor civil riots. Furthermore, as Colonel Merritt pointed out in his White Paper review in the Canadian Defence Quarterly,

Our present regular forces, by reason of their small numbers and despite their high standard of training could neither "stop the bomb," nor keep civil order in our large territory under the shock of nuclear attack. We would be left with nothing with which our Canadian Government could exercise its sovereignty in the face of civil panic.

So much for the Trudeau cliché about the protection of Canada's sovereignty.

The story is just as disillusioning when North American defence is looked into. Canada's contribution in this field is a fractional amount of the NORAD system, the North American Air Defence based in Colorado Springs. It is a token contribution costing the Canadian taxpayer 138 million dollars a year. In comparison with the overall cost of NORAD, this amount is so small that the U.S. could bear this small additional burden without thinking about it, and Canada's money could be better spent on "putting some men on the ground" to at least ensure that its vital points need not be protected from enemy agents and saboteurs by the "Yankees to the south of us." At the moment, many people consider Canada should withdraw from NORAD, since the U.S. dare not abandon any sector of it and hope to survive a Sino-American or a Soviet-American war.

When it comes to Canada's diminished N.A.T.O. stature both the military and the populace at large are inclined to weep bitter tears. Traditionally, Canadians have always fought beside their British cousins. This was true in the Boer War, two world wars and in Korea. The same would have been true had N.A.T.O. Europe become a theatre of war between 1951-70. It was not that Canadians always agreed with British methods, but they were (and still are) "Soldiers of the Queen"; regimental affiliations meant something and their tactics, organization and equipment were to most intents and purposes identical. The decision to quit the British sector, to change shape and to place themselves under American command was by no means a popular one.

Meshed in with this move was the decision to reduce the land force by 50 per cent, restructure it into a lightly equipped mobile reconnaissance force, and with this organization to retire the battle tank, thus depriving the troops of their mailed fist and substituting bare knuckles. The White Paper explained this decision this way: "The Government has decided that the land force should be reconfigured to give it the high degree of mobility needed for tactical reconnaissance missions in the Central Region reserve role." This role, apparently, was suggested by Canada as a means of allowing the land force to be halved, and not solicited by N.A.T.O. The paper then went on to say,

The Centurion medium tank will be retired since this vehicle is not compatible with Canada-based forces and does not possess adequate mobility. The result will enhance compatibility of Canadian- and European-based forces and provide a lighter, more mobile land force capable of a wide range of missions.

In General Amy's view, it also means this mini-force will be "incapable of an equally wide range of missions." And he comments that, "The Government is guilty of unnecessary, unwarranted, unsolicited and untried innovation with our military organizations … and has paid very little attention to the potential enemy when it made the decision." To these remarks of the doughty general, experienced officers and men say a loud, "Amen."

The last defence priority, originally the first, and because of which the whole fantastic unification programme was developed, is peacekeeping. The only place where Canadian troops are engaged in this endeavour is on Cyprus. They have been there since 1964, and are rotated in undersized battalion strength every six months. Trooping takes more than two weeks, even though it is done by air, which indicates the degree of world-wide air mobility actually achieved. The capability which was vaunted as Canada's answer to the maintenance of peace in the world was 48-hour arrival at any trouble spot!

Finally, the White Paper soft-pedals such matters as concern the erstwhile navy and air force. This is just as well, when it is realized that the country has 215 million dollars worth of (CF-5 aircraft for which there is now no role, and that 17 million dollars was spent on refurbishing the aircraft carrier Bonaventure one year before it was sold for scrap!

There is no doubt but that Donald S. Macdonald's White Paper is an abject confession that, from a defence standpoint, Canada is not only naked unto her enemies, but a liability to her allies as well. There are those among the military who cannot escape blame for this situation. But, as the editor of Independent Research Associates' paper, The Continuing Search for a Realistic Canadian Defence Policy, says,

Any detailed examination of the defence establishment will confirm that the mismanagement and waste so evident today is of Government rather than military creation. For far too long defence policy has been required to satisfy primarily political and economic needs, with only secondary consideration being given to truly military commitments.

Let the lesson be heeded elsewhere.