Flamborough Review: David Sweet hosts roundtable talks on national defence policy

July 14, 2016

“Interested members of the Flamborough community got to provide their input into the future of the Canadian Armed Forces during a roundtable discussion July 6 hosted by Flamborough-Glanbrook MP David Sweet.

The meeting, which was attended by 15 people at the Waterdown Legion, was hosted as part of a nationwide series of defence policy review consultations. The Flamborough-Glanbrook MP also hosted a roundtable earlier in the day in Mount Hope.

Sweet said the event was meant to provide feedback, as the Opposition will be creating a report to be made public, as well as to be submitted to the Minister of Defence.

“The Minister of Defence has launched a consultation process,” he said. “We’ll be getting real feedback from everyday Canadians of differing backgrounds on how they feel about the Canadian Forces…both presently as well as the plans going forward.”

The wide-ranging discussion touched on everything from if Canada should increase its defence budget and the defence of Canadian sovereignty in the North, to how Canada should deal with global and domestic threats, and if Canadians feel a sense of complacency.

Retired Canadian Forces member Ben Roth said while Canadians may feel complacency, that’s likely because Canadians have never had a modern conflict on home soil.

“Arguably Canadians have been complacent before any major conflict,” he said.

Roth added that traditionally, homegrown threats are the realm of police, not the military.

“Are we talking of more of a domestic police role for the Canadian Forces?” he said. “That would be a complete rewrite of the National Defence Act and a fundamental rethink of what the Canadian Forces does.”

Liz Young, a third-generation Canadian Forces member, whose daughter is a fourth-generation Canadian Forces member, said she’s concerned about complacency in terms Russian encroachment in the North.

She argued the North is not too far away that Russia could not decide to take over some of the resource-rich northern areas.

Meanwhile, Bob Ankrett, a branch executive member of the Burlington Legion, said he’s concerned about the lack of information about Canadian Forces operations.

“I’d love to know how many ships we have in the Arctic,” he said. “The problem with asking these questions is we have no data – you need to give us data, you need to tell us what’s going on.”

Roth noted the Arctic Ocean, on Canada’s northern border has changed dramatically over the last decade.

He said it is now navigable and that causes issues in terms of Canada’s northern sovereignty. “What does that look like in terms of defence capability?” he said of asserting Arctic sovereignty. “What type of capability do we need and is that necessarily a military capability?”

He noted it could be a Coast Guard or police role, rather than a military one.

Evan Gillis said he was concerned about the country’s aging military infrastructure – including fighter jets that will need to be replaced to meet NORAD commitments.

Young said the Canadian Forces has been using well used and second-rate equipment for years. “It’s an embarrassment,” she said. “I think enough money has to be found that even if you have a smaller army, that they are equipped as well as they possibly can.”

Waterdown’s Steve Oliver agreed, adding he would like to see the Canadian Forces budget increased to 2 per cent of Canada’s GDP. He added he would like to see he would like to see Canada take a more proactive military stance.

“I was ashamed when we withdrew our airforce from Syria and became just a trainer,” he said of the decision to end Canada’s combat role in the conflict. “I think we need to pull our weight in NATO affairs.

Roth said he felt it was important reach a consensus on what Canada’s interests are before deciding on defence policy. “Before we start talking about how much we should be spending on new jets, maybe we should first talk about if we need jets,” he said, noting a pilotless drone could be an option.

Ankrett noted while it’s one thing to say the military should have more money, the most important question is where is the money going.

“Where do we put it?” he said of the potential increased funding. “Do I put it in new rifles, new Kevlar, new helmets? What do I put it in?

“Don’t just sit back and say to (Sweet), ‘I want more money.’ It’s what are we going to do with it?”

Anyone with input on the future of the Canadian military can email Sweet at david.sweet@parl.gc.ca”

Mac Christie is a reporter with the Flamborough Review. He can be reached at mchristie@flamboroughreview.com. Follow him on Twitter and the Review on Facebook.