Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Conservatives support massive Liberal defence reform (updated)

I love finding things by accident. Below is an excerpt from Airshow's response to a petition to restore the "Royal" designation to the Canadian Navy and Air Force. Emphasis mine.

Regarding the potential restoration of the "Royal" title, this matter has been reviewed on many occasions with the interest and morale of serving members of the Canadian Forces (CF) constantly in mind. Although the CF has returned to environmentally distinctive uniforms to foster a greater sense of identity among its members, the Government intends to preserve the very real benefits of unification by retaining the current organization. The re-introduction of the titles of the former single services amalgamated to form the CF would be inappropriate, as it would not reflect the true character of the CF.
These distinctive designations were lost when the Pearson and Trudeau Liberals with Paul Hellyer being the minister most often blamed, eliminated the Canadian Army, Royal Canadian Air Force, and Royal Canadian Navy as discrete services, and unified the armed forces into what we know as the Canadian Forces. While we still refer to the Navy, Army and Air Force, these titles are vernacular. The actual official names are now and have been for sometime Maritime Command, Land Force Command (well, this was something called Mobile Command for a while and had a funny little badge with arrows and a maple leaf), and Air Command.

Unification was at the time was, and still is, a highly contentious issue as it was claimed, not without merit, to rupture and destroy the war-forged institutional heritage, memory, and traditions of the armed forces, and thus morale and unit cohesion and effectiveness. Initially, the distinctive environmental uniforms, each a representation of history in their own right, we're eliminated and green uniforms and common, simplified high-vis yellow (some apparently call it "gold") rank insignia were given to the single service. The Conservative party, in Opposition at the time, vigorously opposed unification, claiming it would destroy the armed forces. Generals, Admirals, and Air Marshals walked out the door throughout the process.

Since then, rightly or wrongly, Unification has been blamed as the organisational causal factor for just about every crisis to hit the armed forces and is likely where the Conservative "Liberals hate the troops!" mantra has its origins.

It's so interesting to see that the substantive foundation of all that anti-Liberal rhetoric has disappeared. The Conservatives, according to MacKay, now appear to think that what is often understood as the most toxic organisational reform in Canadian defence history, the apparently BIG BAD THING that Trudeau Liberals did (well, one of them at least), was in fact a staggeringly good idea.

I suppose we shouldn't be surprised. From Russian bombers and Canadian air space to Unification, the Harper Conservatives are demonstrably full of shit.

Conservatives: You've come a long way baby!

There might be a latent element to Airshow's rationale, if by "true character" the minister means "controlability by the PMO". The Minister's comment "environmentally distinctive uniforms [the ones he loves to don]...to foster a greater sense of identity" suggest that the move was merely symbolic, and not meant to change the institutionalisation of unification. There are traditional distinctions between uniform styles, ranks and such that were not included in the reintroduction of elemental uniforms. However, MGen Gosselin argues here that empirically, the Canadian Forces has either substantively de-unified, or never unified in the ways which unification intended. Independent service identities and roles still remain through environmental commands and smaller unit distinctions. There is then perhaps an argument for formalising this distinction through the restoration of the retired service titles, possibly even ranks and other designations. There is nothing to say that this has to impact the actual operational structure of the CF.

But then again, a control-freak government with a penchant for using the armed forces as a political propoganda tool and private army might well resist any measure that would highlight that armed forces' independence. This would help those formations resist politicisation by the Party. A Royal Canadian Navy, Royal Canadian Air Force, and Canadian Army are not merely commands. Those old titles reflect the place where the institutional loyalty ultimately rests: With the Crown, not the Prime Minister.

But then again, unification is 42 years old now and perhaps the idea of a reincarnation of another history is too far removed from the present. There are two major challenges emerging for the armed forces as it is. The first is the post-Afghanistan fallout. That mission has consumed the CF at the same time it was undergoing major transformation. The absence of that mission might mean the loss of a clearly defined role for the institution and prompt something of another existential crisis for it. Second, we might soon feel the impacts of a massive loss of strategic power by our biggest ally as their re/depression extends itself and its political system unhinges under Preznit Palin just as oil prices and climate change begin to rear themselves again. But that's another post, and I've left the tinfoil on my head again...

Any thoughts?

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