9 May 2023
The 2023 Liberal Party convention has come and gone. Delegations from the provinces and the young Liberal party members descended upon Ottawa. Debauchery usually ensues. I remember going to a Young Liberal Annual General Meeting in Halifax during my bachelor’s degree. We were given a large freezer Ziploc bag of red condoms that had “Young Liberal Party of Canada” embossed on each of the wrappers. Definitely reminiscent of what Jack Layton once told me while playing the now-closed Blackburn Golf Course on Salt Spring Island: “Young Liberals get laid; young Conservatives get drunk; and Young NDPers [New Democrat Party] get pamphlets.” There was no mention of the Bloc Quebecois nor the Greens. But for a few pints afterwards, the discussion was mostly about the energy used to transport water for toilets and sinks in skyscraper buildings as well as some more personal stories.
Massive correction. The party now tells me that what they explained to me
Thursday is wrong and they have reinterpreted the rules to make all
24 resolutions that were passed this morning at plenary official party policy. (So there was no point to the vote today on policy.) https://t.co/mpPlx60DNE
— Althia Raj (@althiaraj) May 6, 2023
But apparently, the 2023 convention ended with a bang, but not showing the result of the policy vote. In fact, there seemed to be some confusion as 15 policy resolutions were agreed upon and then that number grew to twenty-four.
Policy Resolution Number 3 set out the party’s commitment to defence.
BE IT RESOLVED that the Liberal Party of Canada urges the Government of Canada to:
● Increase its defence budget to 32 billion dollars and massively invest in renovating
● Establish and invest in private industry and university partnerships to adapt and
modernize Canada’s academic defence and security programs via innovations.
● Modernize and adapt its defence and security strategy and policy by accounting
for recent events and threats in the northern regions and on the international
● Invest in and strengthen Canadian defence and security in the Pacific Ocean and
the Great North.
● Inspire young people to view the army as an innovative, inclusive workplace where
they can pursue a specialized, multidisciplinary career.
The Canadian Armed Forces are facing a severe personnel shortage as they are missing 16,500 personnel from their authorized combined strength of 105,000 personnel. The Royal Canadian Navy just launched a recruitment drive offering a one-year trial contract. Some commentators already pointed out the potential problems with this idea. Even with the lack of personnel, the RCN submitted a request to purchase twelve new submarines for $60 billion. This would be a massive expansion from the four Victoria-class submarines that have spent more time on land than in the sea. Moreover, the RCN is planning on fifteen Canadian Surface Combatant class ships. Even with a possible expansion in recruitment, the RCN is aiming for woefully ambitious targets. Inflation has eaten up military procurement budgets already so the proposed fleet of twelve may be reduced to eight and then maybe six.
The Harper government (2006-2015) also prioritized defence for the north — at least they did in press releases. The funding for the refuelling base at Nanisivik was tied with the Harry Dewolf-class Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS) and was eaten away by inflation. The Harry Dewolf-class is a smaller, and less capable, version of the Norwegian Svalbard-class. It has an ice-strengthen hull and therefore is vulnerable to Growlers (chunks of multi-year glacial ice).
Canada only has two ports of safe harbour. One at Tuktoyaktuk and that is well within Hudson’s Bay at Churchill, Manitoba. By comparison, Russia has thirteen and is expanding its Arctic presence. That does not mean that Russia will invade Canada’s Arctic, however, there are consequences. Arctic shipping may become more viable once the Ukraine War is over, and climate change melts the Arctic ice more. For a commercial tanker to leave China and sail to Europe, it would be safer to go through Russian waters and Lloyds of London Insurance would have to insist on it. COVID-19 demonstrated how vulnerable our supply chains are. Now just imagine a situation where Western commerce is traversing Russian waters and suddenly, a Russian president, Putin or not, decides to close off commercial shipping.
Peacekeeping Pledges & Other Stuff
Peacekeeping is not part of the Liberal defence policy resolution. However, it is a great case concerning the Trudeau government. In 2016 before the UN Peacekeeping Ministerial in London, the Trudeau government pledged that it would provide 600 troops and 150 police. Two hundred of these troops were offered as a quick-reaction peacekeeping force. In 2017, the Trudeau government hosted the follow-on Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial in Vancouver and Trudeau stated that “Canada was back” as peacekeeping contribution numbers had been flatlining for decades. It is not up to the Trudeau government to announce that Canada is back on the international stage; in fact, it is up to the international stage to sing our praises and not us. And disappointingly, in 2023, the Trudeau government gave itself another three years to meet the 200-soldier quick-reaction peacekeeping force.
The first signal that Prime Minister Trudeau gave was who he nominated as Minister of National Defence when first elected. Trudeau had the choice of assigning the Minister of National Defence to Lt. General Andrew Leslie. It would have been a courageous move. Lt. General Leslie wrote his Transformation Report, which aimed to do more with the Canadian Forces on a limited budget – making them more efficient and ensuring dollars were spent wisely. But if one watched the BBC Political Comedy “Yes, Minister/Prime Minister”, one would know that if one were to describe a policy move as “courageous” it would send a bone-chilling effect in an MP’s skeletal structure. Lt. Colonel Harjit Sajjan seemed to be a safer choice. Sajjan was a retired officer who served in Afghanistan and was a detective in the Vancouver Police Department. But then he incorrectly boasted that he was the architect of Operation Medusa – Canada’s major military offensive in Afghanistan. Then there was a slew of other controversies such as the flimsy excuse that he did not check his e-mail during the fall of Afghanistan. Sajjan is now the Minister of International Development after being demoted within the cabinet.
Of course, the issue is that the policy resolutions made at the Liberal convention are just pledges that the governing body will attempt to implement in an ever-changing world, which means it won’t do that. It provides a pulse check on what the body politic is concerned about but definitely does not have to equate to a policy put forward. That is something that has to be remembered as it appears that the Trudeau Liberals are getting ready to announce a fall or spring election.
It was revealed in the recent Discord leaks that Trudeau stated that he has no intention of meeting the NATO threshold of two per cent of GDP for defence spending. It is really no surprise as Canada has not met this goal for decades, but no prime minister outright stated it as a fact.
Again, a party convention is more about gauging the pulse, reconnecting ties and firing up the supporters. Trudeau already has backed away from the electoral reform council after the party membership called for it. After writing over a thousand words on this, the summation I have is “Well, of course nothing is going to happen defence wise”. It is also a conclusion that the vast majority of Canadian defence experts, and military members would also have even before clicking this link.
Feature Photo: “A Canadian Armed Forces soldier clears debris where a fishing wharf once stood in Burnt Islands, Newfoundland during Operation LENTUS, October 2, 2022. Photo by: Corporal Braden Trudeau Canadian Armed Forces Imagery Technician”, Canadian Combat Cam, 2023