Defence ignored

Resident provides some thoughts on the state of the Canadian navy

Michael Olsen’s recent letter presented information which is in need of clarification.

Firstly, Mr. Olsen asks, “Where are the new helicopters that Harper keeps promising?”

It is perhaps worth noting that it was Jean Chretien’s Liberals who cancelled the naval helicopter replacement contract put in place by the Mulroney government in the 1980s. Stephen Harper had nothing to do with that costly cancellation, which led to many more delays. Harper inherited a procurement process that had been in existence for decades.

Then he refers to all eight of the 280 class destroyers being ordered and delivered in the 1970s under Pierre Trudeau.

There were only ever four of these ships, not eight, which were built from 1964 to 1973. Pierre Trudeau can, perhaps, take some credit for not cancelling them as they neared completion but certainly not for ordering them.

The letter writer goes on to state that, “The frigates, except three, are all tied up now.” To which the astute reader will respond, “and so what?”

Canada’s naval order of battle includes 12 frigates.

As a veteran, he should know that warships inevitably spend a significant portion of their operational lives in home port for a variety of very good reasons such as maintenance, and that having only three of 12 deployed at one time is by no means an unusually small proportion.

Mr. Olsen states that, “Under his reign, Harper has taken the once second largest navy in the world down to nothing.”

This is incorrect.

Canada has never had the second largest navy in the world by any measure. A fall 2009 article in the Canadian Naval Review questions if we could even claim status as the fourth largest at the end of the Second World War, when our navy had hundreds of ships and was as large as it ever was.

The vast majority of the reduction of Canada’s fleet occurred not under Stephen Harper’s regime, but rather in the 1950s and 1960s, including the scrapping of our last aircraft carrier HMCS Bonaventure in 1970 during the Trudeau years.

Mr. Olsen, himself, observes that Canada had a navy of only 22 vessels in 1984 when Pierre Trudeau left power. So I fail to understand on what grounds he points the finger at our current prime minister in particular, as opposed to all of his predecessors.

Furthermore, while our navy today is tiny, it is certainly not “nothing” as he writes.

In the last few years, we have seen Canadian warships in the Arabian Sea, off of Somalia and very recently in the Black Sea.

A cursory web search also turns up plenty of combat warships which are older than any of the warships in Canada’s tiny fleet, contravening Mr. Olsen’s claim that we have the “oldest active, military vessel in the world.”

It struck me as particularly ironic that he concluded his letter by noting that letter writers should “get their facts straight” and “do some research.”

I certainly agree with those sentiments.

Finally, let me conclude by stating that I do not intend to be an apologist for any party or government.

I am not letting Prime Minister Harper entirely off the hook. His government, without doubt, has had a part to play in the most recent delays and cutbacks.

But these are really nothing new or dramatic, just an extension of the steady decline that has been happening since 1945.

It seems evident that Canada’s defences have not been taken seriously by either of our governing parties since at least then.


The parlous state of our military in general can, in my opinion, be laid squarely at the feet of Canadian voters who prefer to turn a blind eye to the dangerous world in which we live and instead spend on social programs.

Just look at the tiny (one per cent) of our GDP allocated to defence, consistently near the lowest in all of NATO. Without ever acknowledging what we are doing, we rely by default on other powers (i.e. the U.S.) to ensure our national security.

I believe this is a fraught and short-sighted path to follow. Yet, that is what we have chosen.

Wynn Polnicky


Vernon Morning Star