In my head, I’m writing the press releases already.
As I pointed out in a recent post on the botched purchase of new medium-weight trucks for the military, the supposedly militarist Harper government is long on praise for the Canadian Forces, but very decidedly short on getting the military the equipment they need to do their jobs (rightly or wrongly). Mark Collins, whose blog makes for highly recommended reading on this subject, makes the point much more directly:
This government has been in office for well over six years, longer than Canada’s participation in World War II. It did purchase urgently required equipments [sic] for the Army’s Afghanistan combat mission… [and] two other major procurements now in service: the RCAF’s C-17 and C-130J transports…
Otherwise: zip, zilch, nichts, nada, nista, rien de flipping tout. No fixed-wing SAR aircraft; no U(C)AVs; no new Maritime Helicopter in service (previous Liberal governments have a lot to answer for on that one also); no contracts for new RCN ships; no contract for the Army’s Close Combat Vehicle; and a botched Army truck (!?!) order. I may have omitted something.
Sixth Estate’s position on the military is probably a lot more hostile than Collins’s, but there is an important point to be made here. Whether Canada should have a large and internationally active military is essentially an ideological question. But the question here isnot ideological. Since entering office, the Conservatives have made quite clear that they are the military party: they are the party that will stand by the Canadian Forces and do right by them, where Liberal budget-cutters and NDP anti-war activists wouldn’t. And by their own measure, the present government is failing spectacularly to do its duty.
We should expect, however, that over the next few years the government will attempt to turn this incompetence into a virtue. It looks unlikely so far, but sooner or later, these projects are going to be completed. It’s hard to imagine it’s taken them six years to buy a standard truck, and they’re still at square one on that despite publicly billing it as “urgent.” It’s hard to imagine Peter MacKay, in particular, working any managerial magic on this file after failing to do so for the better part of a decade now.
But on the other hand, presumably even MacKay’s minimal competence will allow the completion of a few projects eventually. If the Conservatives begin to lag seriously in the polls in the run-up to the next general election (something they seem well on their way to doing now), we should expect them to expedite the contracts, even if it means cutting a lot of corners. And because the bureaucracy has been so thoroughly cowed by their political masters, we should expect little resistance to these procedural shenanigans. So by 2015 a lot of these lagging projects will almost certainly be nearing completion.
Which means that despite the Conservatives’ rather pathetic record on defence procurement, I expect that during the 2015 election — assuming there is one — there will be much talk to the effect that several major military procurements have just been completed, which would not have been completed by the dastardly Liberals or the pacifist NDP. “We needed time to make sure we did the job right,” the Conservatives will say. “We have purchased materiel that the military will need and use for a generation — something the Liberals didn’t and wouldn’t do during their decade in office.” And so on and so forth.
When that PR nonsense begins, it’s not the short memories of “the general public” that I worry about. It’s the short memories of the media. At that time, I fully expect a legion of columnists and newspaper editors, especially the overwhelming majority who explicitly support the Conservative Party of Canada in their work, to nod along and agree that this, surely, is proof that the Conservatives were running a responsibe military policy all along and that it is further proof that we should trust them with another majority, rather than risk the military blundering of the Liberals or the fiscal insanity of the NDP. Adscam! Sea Kings! And so on, ad nauseam.
Note that I’m not accusing the Conservatives of having a grand conspiracy to delay defence projects for years until their announcements are most politically useful. If that was their plan, there are much better ways of delaying than the sort of hamfisted nonsense going on right now. But I do expect that the timing, coupled with the idiocy of the professional punditry, will work in their favour on this score.
Incidentally, an 18-year-old casting her vote in 2015 wouldn’t even have been born when the Liberals cancelled the Sea Kings, and was still in elementary school when the Gomery Report was published. Eventually we’re going to have to let those things go, yes?
Sixth Estate now has a new Defence tab to track procurement projects which I write about as they meander through the government.