Restoring Canada’s military and peace-keeping ability to historic levels, replacing aging equipment, and improving compensation to injured veterans are among the priorities raised at a public forum in Cloverdale on national defence policy moderated by MP John Aldag.
The June 10 session at the Cloverdale Legion drew about 25 people, many with a connection to the military – from veterans and family members of service men and women, to those with contemporary service at home and abroad.
The federal government has launched public consultation sessions as it develops a new defence policy.
Aldag, who represents Cloverdale-Langley City, said the federal government is looking to develop a modern defence policy that will advance Canada’s interests at home and abroad.
The session was designed to elicit dialogue on the main challenges to Canada’s security role, such as current threats abroad and defence issues at home, along with exploring what Canada’s military mandate should be.
“As Canadians, we know there’s probably more we can do,” Aldag said.
He asked participants to weigh in on the main challenges to Canada’s security, what role the Canadian Armed Forces should play in addressing current threats and challenges, and the resources and capabilities needed to carry out its mandate.
For instance, Aldag asked attendees if having the military respond to national disasters such as floods or fires is an appropriate use of the armed forces.
“Because of climate change, we’re probably going to have more tanker traffic,” raising the possibility of a petro chemical spill, along with more floods and wildfires, he said.
Kurtis Peardon, who served in Afghanistan, said disaster readiness offers welcome opportunities for military training that otherwise might not be available.
“Rebuilding the military is a good thing,” he said, describing what in his view is an under-resourced military where service men and women don’t always find uniforms in their correct sizing, and of aging military hardware that makes it challenging for Canada to fulfill its mandate at home or abroad.
“We need new subs, planes,” he said. “We don’t have the equipment to be able to support [allies]. It’s bad enough that you can’t get a uniform in the right size.”
Aldag said the national defence program currently represents just under $20 billion of the annual federal budget, a figure some told the forum is too low.
There was also discussion on international peace-keeping and current and emerging threats such as Afghanistan, Ukraine, defending the arctic, and even worries about what a possible Donald Trump presidency in the U.S. might bring.
The use of drones in military capacity and the reach of the military technology into space were also touched on.
Some said they were concerned about rising threats in Europe, particularly Russian aggression in crimea and Ukraine.
“I refuse to be scared,” said a woman from Langley. “In the U.S. every day 99 people are shot. To me that’s a civil war below us.”
“I think we should bring the peace movement back into our thinking,” she added.
NATO guidelines say member countries should spend at least 2 per cent of their GDP on defence, but Canada spends less than that, which puts it behind its U.S. and UK allies. Canada also lags behind countries like Turkey, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands.
One participant said having a larger military would give Canada a greater influence in the world, and greater choices in the event of conflict.
“It’s a great point,” Aldag said. “We’re not there.”
A number of people said they felt its time to rebuild the military.
One participant, Jim King, lamented the federal Liberals’ axing of a contract to spend billions on new helicopters signed by the Mulroney-era Progressive Conservatives.
“That was a sin we Liberals committed,” said Jim King. “I think we should bring in a more bi-partisan approach to the future.”
The forum heard that there is a desire that Canada’s military be strong enough to help allies.
“We should decide what we are going to be and invest in it,” said Marc Buchell, who stressed it’s important not to just stretch the budget.
“Clearly, we haven’t allocated enough to our armed forces to begin with,” Buchell said. “We do play a major role.”
Ken Dennis said the lifetime pension should be reinstated for veterans, a point echoed by Sandi Wright, a member of the Maple Ridge Royal Canadian Legion. Her husband served in the Korean War.
“[MPs] They have no idea what they are going through,” Wright said.
“They risk their lives and we’re taking their pension away from them.”
To July 31, Canadians can also participate online at canada.ca/defence-consultations, where they can read a public consultation paper and submit comments.
There will also be six, cross-country, round-table meetings leading up to that date.