11 March 2016, Vancouver, CA

by Stewart Webb

In a recent op-ed in Embassy News, James Bezan stated that the Conservative Party still stands by their 2008 Canada First Defence Strategy (CFDS). But a mere four years after the CFDS was published, criticisms were already apparent. One report stated: “In addition to being outdated and too expensive, the CFDS also lacks clear priorities for our military.” This quote might ring a bell with Mr. Bezan as it comes from “The State of Readiness of the Canadian Forces” report from the Standing Committee on National Defence in December 2012, which Mr. Bezan chaired.

James Bezan, MP - Official Opposition Critic for National Defence
James Bezan, MP – Official Opposition Critic for National Defence

Problems with a lack of procurement visions and the evolving geo-security situation, over those four years, has meant that the “CFDS left Canada with an unsustainable set of defence programs and policies.” Again, from the 2012 report which he chaired.

The CFDS was an economic action plan. It set out what procurement projects would be planned, its positive economic impact on Canada and glanced over the changing geo-security situation. Mr. Bezan’s concern appears to be that the government “will launch an open and transparent process to review defence capabilities, and will invest in building a leaner, more agile, better equipped military.” Failed procurement messes, under the Harper government would seem to counter the argument that the CFDS is the perfect document to go from.

To recap the situation, a replacement fleet for the Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue aircraft is still not determined. The aircraft are well past their original service life. In fact, our procurement officials had to welcome the moving trucks’ worth of supporting materials for the bids. Then there is the over-budget and much delayed National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy which bring doubts that when the new Canadian Surface Combatant-class will be ready that our Halifax-class frigates will still be operational.

The CFDS was not a White Paper, which outlines the challenges in the world and how Canada will tackle them either through the Department of National Defence or with a whole government approach. Instead, the whole of the government’s approach was only alluded to in the CFDS: “today‘s deployments are far more dangerous, complex and challenging than in the past, and they require more than a purely military solution.”

The engagements today are, indeed, far more complex. In fact, the world in 2016 is not that of 2008 . In 2008, the Taliban had yet to begin their resurgence in Afghanistan, and ISIS’ evolution into what it is now was occurring in the shadows. Now we are facing an organization that has flashy media savviness, attracted thousands of foreign fighters, both well armed and supplied, and are battle-hardened.

The hybrid conflict in Ukraine, however, did exist which gave Mr. Bezan the opportunity to personally deliver aid to the country, which provided a nice photo-op but did very little to actually help the Ukrainians. The NATO air campaign over Libya set off the catalyst for the Tuareg rebellion which Islamic insurgent elements, including al-Qaeda, were collaborative in Mali. In fact, we are now discussing another Libyan operation which will be more complex because of years of civil war.

In 2010 the Tory commitment to eroding Canada’s peacekeeping capabilities was in full swing with the closing of the Lester B. Pearson Peacekeeping Centre. A centre which could have passed on the hard fought counterinsurgency lessons we learned in Afghanistan. In 2016, peacekeeping operations have changed and new missions are more about counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency operations than traditional Pearsonian peacekeeping.

UN Secterary General for Peacekeeping Operations inspects UAV that will be used in DRC, c. 2011
UN Secterary General for Peacekeeping Operations inspects UAV that will be used in DRC, c. 2011

The current peacekeeping mission in Mali has been the deadliest peacekeeping mission to date with IEDs and insurgents operating in a country with woeful socio-economic conditions in the north. Our training and presence in UN missions could have assisted the UN peacekeeping force in Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2010, the force had not begun counter-terrorism operations against M23 and other terrorist/insurgent organizations, but they are now. In fact, even operating UAV for surveillance.

Mr. Bezan stated in his op-ed that: “The men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces require the best and most modern equipment in order to carry out the tasks assigned to them. For these reasons our party fully supports the Canada First Defence Strategy.” Does this mean that the Conservatives stand behind an outdated, expensive, unsustainable document for national defence policies? Probably not, but it is the only documents that the Conservatives can point at. The CFDS was the only document that the Harper government produced that aimed to tackle defence issues. Unfortunately, the issue at hand for the Tories was procurement and not the ever-changing global situation.

But only four years later, the CFDS was deemed outdated in a report by a committee that Mr. Bezan chaired. That was 4 years ago and a lot has happened since then. So why are the Conservatives standing behind it again, Mr. Bezan?


*Stewart also wrote Adrift at Sea: Defence policy after Afghanistan in the CCPA’s book: The Harper Record: 2008-2015.

Feature Photo: CF-18 flying over Pearl Harbour, 2006 – Wikimedia , 2016

Inset Photo: James Bezan, MP – Wikimedia Commons, 2016

Inset Photo: UN Secterary General for Peacekeeping Operations inspects UAV that will be used in DRC, c. 2011 – Wikimedia Commons, 2016

DefenceReport’s Analysis is a multi-format blog that is based on opinions, insights and dedicated research from DefRep editorial staff and writers. The analysis expressed here are the author’s own and are separate from DefRep reports, which are based on independent and objective reporting.

By Stewart Webb

The editor of DefenceReport and Senior Analyst, Stewart Webb holds a MScEcon in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and a BA in Political Science from Acadia University. A frequent guest on defence issues for CTV National News, and other Canadian media outlets, his specialities include commentary on terrorist/insurgent activity and Canadian defence issues. Stewart can be contacted at: [email protected]