War (what is it good for)
The world was racked by war in the summer of 1940 when Prime Minister Mackenzie King motored down from Ottawa to meet Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Ogdensburg, N.Y. In President Roosevelt’s private railway car, the two leaders established the Permanent Joint Board on Defence, an advisory body on continental military defence that still exists today.
At the time, both countries were bereft of war implements. When the two leaders inspected local troops and lethal weaponry, Roosevelt was embarrassed to discover that what seemed to be cannon were, in fact, peeled logs painted black. Elsewhere, soldiers were busy assembling and disassembling tanks from the First World War. For his part, such was Canada’s state of readiness that King was forced to ask Roosevelt to supply some lengths of chain, there being only one such chain for the mouth of Halifax harbour to prevent hostile attack by warships.
In the years since, the two countries have maintained a close relationship. There have been defence production agreements and the integration of air defences through the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD). But the relationship has been largely one-sided. Canadians have never shirked their wartime duty, but between wars, our defence capacity tends to diminish. In advance of a meeting between Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney, then Secretary of Defense Cap Weinberger told a briefing: “The good news is that Canada has surged past Luxembourg in spending.”
There has been scant improvement since. With Russia’s attack on Ukraine, Canada’s help has been limited to monetary loans and what few transportable arms we could muster. Our contribution to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has been paltry. Our CF-18 aircraft are ancient and our few submarines are often in dry dock for repair.
Efforts to improve our arsenal have largely gone nowhere. After saying in 2015 he would never acquire F-35 jets, Justin Trudeau has now begun negotiations to buy eighty-eight for $19 billion. In 2010 Prime Minister Stephen Harper similarly announced he would buy 65 F-35s but the plan was beaten back by the auditor-general and the parliamentary budget office who doubted there had been enough scrutiny of what else was available.
If past is prologue, the acquisition of a fleet of F-35s by the current government seems unlikely. I’m no warmonger but we do need to be able to carry our weight in the world. I wonder if we even have a good supply of chain.