Prime Minister Trudeau participates in wreath-laying ceremony at the Bergen Prime Minister Trudeau participates in wreath-laying ceremony at the Bergen Cemetery

29 March 2022

The news of the Russian invasion of Ukraine has garnered a fairly intense reaction in Canada, at least by Canadian standards as far as a foreign policy issue goes. Canada happens to have the second-largest Ukrainian diaspora population after Russia. As such Ukrainians and their issues are a particularly important voting bloc with considerable influence on Canada’s domestic politics. They represent a bloc that usually leans towards the Tories and is particularly strong in the West, a Tory favouring area, and can therefore make a serious impact on any federal election if properly roused.

Mélanie Joly posing with foreign ministers of the G7 nations in Munich, Germany, on February 19, 2022.

Those paying attention from other NATO countries, not aware of the above domestic considerations might otherwise be forgiven for feeling somewhat bewildered by the contradictory position the Trudeau Government has taken as late. That contradiction being that the Trudeau Government has shown itself as extremely disinterested in military matters but is now also beating the drum fairly hard for the cameras demanding a strong response to Russia from their NATO allies as opposed to Canada itself. This was demonstrated by the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Melanie Joly (Trudeau’s fifth in six years) who recently described Canada as not a military power but one whose strength lies in “convening” whatever the hell that was supposed to mean. I’m not sure even Joly knew what she meant, but this demonstrates clearly what the level of thinking around Defence is within the Trudeau Cabinet. The reality is that this bewilderment among NATO partners is rooted in a failure to appreciate the situation here in Canada. Quite simply: the Trudeau Government has zero clue what they are doing on Defence.

Why? Because they don’t care and are not interested in it. Their actions bear this out clear enough. The current Prime Minister is of the sort (moneyed, urban, ‘progressive,’ elitist) that cannot abide the military and looks at military spending as distasteful. He has gone out of his way to virtue signal this as often as possible. Trudeau made it an election issue that the military had strayed from its traditional peacekeeping role while clearly demonstrating a lack of understanding as to what those missions actually involve. He boldly claimed after his election that “Canada was back.” However, after two years of shamelessly shopping for a peacekeeping mission to his likening – nothing had materialised. As the Canadian Government prepared to host a peacekeeping conference at the time in Vancouver the UN had already ‘pretty much written off Canada.’ Indeed by 2018, six months after the conference in Vancouver, Canada’s contribution was only 56 uniformed personnel deployed, a far cry from the promised 600. There has been an increase since then as the latest data for January 2022 shows that a total of 59 uniformed personnel have been deployed.

Trudeau also made it an election promise that Canada would never buy the F-35. He has scaled back defence spending during a period of procurement while NATO has pressed hard for increased spending to the tune of that suggested 2% of GDP benchmark. Trudeau has also gone out of his way to make mountains out of cultural problems within the military concerning sexual harassment and gender bias to increase his social justice image, going so far as to impose a gender quota on the CAF Mali mission which doesn’t reflect the reality of the Force’s demographics.

What efforts the current Liberal Government has made towards signalling a commitment to the CAF, in true Trudeau fashion, have favoured symbolism over substance. The first sign came shortly after the election with the appointment of Harjit Sajjan as Minister of Defence over the former Chief of Land Staff Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie. Leslie literally wrote the book on reforming the bloated top-heavy Canadian Forces. Sajjan alternatively had served honourably as an intelligence officer but had no experience dealing with the organization aspects of the Forces at DND, having never been part of the ‘Brass.’ This is not to disparage Sajjan. In my personal opinion, given his policing experience, Sajjan could have been the best Minister of Public Safety Canada has seen in a generation, perhaps ever, and would have gone a long way to improving the RCMP, which is equally in desperate need of reform.

Canada’s Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 9 November 2017

Trudeau was never interested in rolling up his sleeves and improving the situation at these agencies that he doesn’t care about, that requires work and it’s a distraction. They are not part of his approach to politics, which focuses on domestic social issues and creating a general overall warm-and-fuzzy feeling. In keeping with this strategy Trudeau just wanted to give the feeling things were happening and a younger Sajjan, particularly given his visible Seikh heritage, painted a much stronger picture. It was quite frankly shameless exploitation, a hallmark of Trudeau who was quite ready to throw our first Indigenous Attorney General, who was of upstanding character, under the bus to save his own skin after being caught mucking about with the independence of the Judiciary on behalf of SNC-Lavalin. An act that should have ended the Prime Minister’s political career. Sajjan’s unfamiliarity with the situation at DND has been borne out by events and his inability to deal with scandals such as allegations of sexual harassment of the situation surrounding Vice-Admiral Mark Norman. To be fair to Sajjan these were not his doing, but they would undoubtedly have been better handled by Leslie’s more aggressive and informed approach. In fact, I would go so far as to say, as Sajjan would have likely made the best Minister of Public Safety Canada has seen in decades, the same would have held true for Leslie and Minister of Defence, he could have been one of the greats. This fundamental failure in terms of appointments speaks to Trudeau’s focus, priorities, and ultimately disinterest in Defence.

Minister Anand in October 2021

When it became apparent that the problems at DND had become a liability, Trudeau again threw a Minister of Colour under the bus instead of taking responsibility for the situation he had failed to take an adequate level of seriousness in confronting. With Sajjan unceremoniously removed, the Prime Minister’s next move was to appoint an inexperienced near rookie MP, first elected in 2019. Again Trudeau’s focus seemed to be on gender and background over qualifications. The task of our new Minister of Defence in keeping with Trudeau’s program was rooting out gender bias in the military, not rebuilding the fighting force, but imposing social reforms. This is explained simply enough, it’s quite literally the only aspect of the Defence portfolio the Trudeau Government has any competency or comfort in confronting. So again they make mountains out of it. To be fair to Trudeau these are issues in need of address, however, they are far from the only issue facing the CAF and as unpopular as it will be to say, I don’t believe they are even close to the most serious. With the Chief of the Defence Staff publicly admitting he is kept up at night over worries about the readiness of the Canadian military it might be fair to argue that there are other areas in more pressing need of the Minister of Defence’s attention. Even if I am wrong, certainly addressing the cultural problems surrounding gender and sexual harassment can not come at the cost of ignoring all else. With respect to our new Minister of Defence, Anita Anand, her only experience to justify her position has been her stint at Procurement as a first time MP from 2019-2021. This would hardly be something I would consider a positive on the resume given the state of procurement both before and after Anand.

It is worth discussing this ‘experience’ which is yet a further signal of Trudeau’s inability and disinterest in tackling Canada’s mounting Defence crisis. The Canadian Surface Combatant Program has been plagued with disorganisation and delay from the outset, it’s a disaster in the making. This started with the scandal plagued selection of Irving to build the Type 26, which only exists on paper it should be pointed out, versus the other three options which are all already in service within NATO. Then Irving demanded funds from the Government to build the facilities required to build the ship they just won the contract for because their facilities were not actually capable. After all this price rose, deadlines were pushed back. There was then the issue of the Government and Irving going after reporters for, you know, reporting the ongoing issues with the CSC program.

It should be pointed out these issues predate the Trudeau Government and indeed the Harper Government was aware from the outset, as myself and our Editor Stewart Webb reported in the Canadian Global Affairs Institute in January 2016. The Defence Acquisition Guide (DAG) clearly demonstrated the Government knew its own timeline was bunk and they would have to push the end of life date for the aging Halifax class frigate fleet well past what is advisable.

Artist rendering of the Type 26 frigate

With the Type 26 Frigate nowhere, the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS) launched over 11 years ago has nothing physical to show from it years of funding. Reports from the Parliamentary Budgetary Officer and the Auditor General of Canada suggest the ships are unlikely to ever get built. The Government projects deliverers will start in the early 2030s, twenty years after the program was initiated, (or an entire generation of sailors later), but even this seems naïvely optimistic. Meanwhile, the costs have ballooned from $26 Billion to $77 Billion. By contrast, the US Navy’s new equivalent Constellation-Class program was awarded in 2020 and ships are expected to be under construction this year, their cost is estimated to be a little over a billion each. On this point, it should be noted that the Constellation-Class is a made in US FREMM frigate, a ship that was in the running but rejected by Canada’s CSC. The FREMM also physically exists and is already in service with NATO members, unlike the Type 26 ‘design.’

The FREMM multipurpose frigate Carlo Margottini.

The Trudeau Government was then handed a golden lifeline by the French and Italian governments when they submitted a proposal on behalf of their shipbuilders, Fincantieri of Italy and Naval Group of France responsible for the FREMM. Prompted by industry observers’ realisation that the CSC was a total disaster, the offer was for the consortium to build Canada 15 FREMMs for the fixed price of $30 billion. The proposal was also to be a made in Canada one with the group offering to build in Canada at our only truly capable shipyard, Davies, which is excellent beyond the credit they are given.

Given the impact of inflation on projects such as this, even outside of pandemic levels, it is not only inexplicable but insane that the Trudeau Government didn’t jump on this only reinforcing suggestions that the procurement process was rigged in Lockeed/BAE’s favour. Nonetheless, the Trudeau Government and DND have shown themselves totally unwilling to even consider the possibility that something other than the Type-26 might be an option. Why?, because they don’t care if ships ever get built, they’re not interested in making decisions about Defence that get things done. They want enough to say they are doing something, the extra cost of delayed programs are worth it so long as they can insulate themselves from criticisms and say they are following the Tory introduced program. They can then go on ignoring it and focus on boutique social issues more to the PM’s fancy.

This brings us, rather belatedly to the main focus of this rant…

The first F-35A airframe constructed in Japan

Rumours are now circulating that the Canadian Government is in talks with Lockheed and ready to ink a previously rejected deal to purchase F-35s. In true Trudeau fashion, election promises have been ignored and exact opposite courses pursued (like his abandoned plan for proportional representation). Trudeau had previously made it ‘clear’ “Canada would never buy the F-35” a deeply unpopular purchase in Canada where it is realised this commitment would devour a huge chunk of the defence budget for dubious reasons and justified by needs likely accomplished by cheaper options. Indeed, the Harper Government had previously committed to buying the F-35 in 2012 until a scathing Auditor General’s report alleged the Harper Government had underestimated costs and ran an unfair competition. The Auditor General, Michael Ferguson, was blunt, accusing both “Public Works and National Defence of low-balling the cost and not doing their homework.” Others went further to suggest intentional deception had been involved in fudging the costs and that the Harper Government has knowingly lied to Parliament.

Trudeau therefore simply cancelled the whole show and started over. In the meantime they went ahead and bought aging Australian F-18s in order to put off fighter procurement as long as possible, again in classic Trudeau fashion kicking the can down the road. This is much the same thinking that keeps the Type 26 program on life support when everyone knows it’s almost certainly dead or at least a world-class boondoggle. Anything to avoid making a decision and taking action, which can then pinned on you. Now Trudeau is going back on another promise and making the easy choice to simply get Defence off his plate. He’s scrambling to look like he’s doing something and panic buying the closest thing at hand, whatever is easiest and doesn’t require thought or work.

Saab JAS-39 Gripen of the Czech Air Force taking off from AFB Čáslav.

The Trudeau Government is now likely to buy twenty more F35s than Harper had aimed for. Choosing the F-35 over the Super Hornet or the proven and affordable Gripen is just one more in a long series of examples of how Trudeau confronts, or more appropriately, avoids defence issues, demonstrating no leadership at all. Indeed, the Trudeau Government has repeatedly stated as much since the F-35 announcement leaked. Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi, has claimed that she had only just learned that Lockheed Martin was the top-ranked bidder in the fighter competition explaining that bureaucrats had deliberately withheld this from Ministers to keep politics out of this. The real question is at what point will the Trudeau Government recognise they have no idea what they’re doing on Defence or that this is in fact a problem? Clearly, the Canadian public doesn’t seem able to wake up to the fact.

CH-148 Cyclone Helicopter

Why has this been allowed to happen? Well for starters the Tories are, likewise, absolutely nowhere on Defence so there’s no real opposition to hold Trudeau’s failures to account. Besides talking a big game and banging the drum come election time the Tories have been nowhere. They talk shamelessly about supporting the CAF but their actions speak louder than words and their track record is revolting. The budget cuts which persist today were in a large part implemented by the Harper Government while Canada was still in Afghanistan and at the same time they started big-ticket procurements. Indeed many of the broken procurement programs currently in place, such as the CSC, were Tory initiatives. The panic purchase of the Cyclone helicopters (which only took 25 years) just in time for the election to show they had finally done something after 11 years of talk is proof enough of Tory’s incompetence on Defence. In an era of NATO seeking improved interoperability, instead of going to the US and buying ‘off-the-shelf,’ Canada, under Tory leadership, with their dear leader Harper at the helm, chose a helicopter used nowhere else in the world for military purposes by anyone, a completely bespoke helicopter…why?

Now we have our former Minister of Defence Peter McKay decrying not the purchase of the F-35 but the Liberals for doing it after years of attempting to stop the Tories from doing the same thing. This is the underlying issue in Canada, the goal is to use the military as a political football but not to score points. Politicians just whip it at one another satisfied with causing a small injury. The issue for politicians isn’t the F-35 and whether this is a viable purchase for Canada given its limited budget (spoiler alert, it’s not, it’s a terrible decision), nope, the only argument is about who said what when and who is being the bigger shithead. This leads to a long list of disastrous decisions to which the purchase of F-35s is about to be added. These in turn cost billions to the taxpayers and leave our folks in uniform under-equipped and living off of crumbs leftover from these mega procurements that eat the majority of the defence budget.

The NDP meanwhile have doubled down on new ‘left’ politics and refuse to acknowledge there is a need to spend on defence despite Russia (a neighbour of Canada in the north, it should be pointed out) having invaded a sovereign European democracy and engaged in war crimes. No, sadly the post-Layton NDP don’t think there’s a need and, disgustingly, had to be bribed by the Liberals to support military spending. Military spending increases the Liberals themselves don’t believe in and are only doing to avoid controversy and ‘buy’ moderate votes from the Tories. This increase might cover the cost of the F-35s, if we’re lucky, and will certainly leave the CAF very much in the same position it’s in. And the price of the NDP’s uncritical support was, laughably, programs the Liberals have already promised to them in the past more than once but continually fail to deliver. I don’t know why Jagmeet Singh and the NDP think they have scored a win.

CDS General Wayne Eyre, while serving as the deputy commander at the United Nations Command in South Korea

The CAF is starved for funds across the board. The Chief of the Defence Staff, General Wayne Eyre stated less than a month ago that he is concerned about the CAF’s state of readiness if Canada were to be drawn into a conflict. Indeed he said that “That is one of the things that keeps me awake at night”. A pretty shocking admission from the CDS. Given that this is the case I would think the last thing Canada needs is another gold plated boondoggle. Canada needs PROVEN and AFFORDABLE. That means the FREMM, not the Type 26 and the Gripen, not the F-35. Then Canada might actually have money to do things like buy new pistols for the army (after another 20 years of debate) or reopen recruitment offices that were inexplicably closed by the Tories even after they were warned this would lead to desperate shortages, particularly among reserves, which has now come to pass.

I personally know of a reservist who has been in for 7 months and is already a corporal despite having completed no occupation training components beyond basic infantry qualification because there are such shortages and these requirements (the BMG machine gun course and Basic Winter Warfare, I believe) have been eliminated for reservists, which incidentally means they are not comparable to reg force soldiers for who these requirements remain. He’s also already scheduled to head off PLQ/ISCC, the Mater-Corporal course next summer.

There is only one way to phrase this, forgive the spicy language but Canadian Defence is an absolute clusterfuck and the 3 big parties are all equally to blame. Not one of them seriously cares about Defence. The reality is that we’re throwing more money at it in the hope that it make us feel better but in true Trudeau fashion it won’t improve the situation because there is no follow-through from a Government that clearly doesn’t care about defence. To our NATO allies, this is the situation here in Canada and it’s likely time to give up on Canada entirely.


Feature Photo:  Prime Minister Trudeau participates in wreath-laying ceremony at the Bergen Cemetery. Amsterdam, Netherlands, 29 October 2021. Photo by Adam Scotti, The Office of the Prime Minister of Canada, 2022

Inset Photo: Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken poses for a family photo with foreign ministers of the G7 nations in Munich, Germany, on February 19, 2022. Wikimedia Commons, 2022

Inset Photo: Canada’s Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on 9 November 2017. Wikimedia Commons, 2022

Inset Photo: Minister Anand in October 2021. Wikimedia Commons, 2022

Inset Photo: Artist rendering of the Type 26 frigate, 23 July 2020. Wikimedia Commons, 2022

Inset Photo: The ship Carlo Margottini is the third unit of FREMM multipurpose frigate and the second as Anti Submarine Warfare configuration. The ship entered in service on February 27, 2014 with the 2nd Command Naval Group. Wikimedia Commons, 2022

Inset Photo: The first F-35A airframe constructed in Japan, 1 August 2017. Wikimedia Commons, 2022

Inset Photo: Saab JAS-39 Gripen of the Czech Air Force taking off from AFB Čáslav, 2 July 2010. Wikimedia Commons, 2022

Inset Photo: CH-148 Cyclone Helicopter, 4 April 2012. Wikimedia Commons, 2022

Inset Photo: Lieutenant-General Wayne D. Eyre, the deputy commander at the United Nations Command in South Korea, 24 July 2018. Wikimedia Commons, 2022


DefenceReport’s Recap 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 not necessarily reflective of any institutions or organisations which the author may be associated with. In addition, they are separate from DefRep reports, which are based on independent and objective reporting.

By Chris Murray

Chris is the Assistant Editor at DefenceReport and Senior Analyst. He holds a PhD is Defence Studies from King’s College London, an MA in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada, as well as both an Ba in Anthropology and an HBa in History from Lakehead University. He specialises in irregular conflicts, guerrilla insurgencies, and asymmetrical warfare. His areas of focus include the Caucasus, and Eastern Europe, but are primarily aimed at the Balkans. Chris is an Associate Member of the of The Corbett Centre for Maritime Policy Studies at King's College London, a Member of the Second World War Research Group at King’s College London, as well as an Associate of King’s College London. Chris has formally served as a defence and foreign policy advisor in the Canadian House of Commons to the office of a Member of Parliament. [email protected]