Wednesday, October 03, 2007

If only he'd produced that Defence Review, I might have left this alone.

Some people believe that Gordon O'Connor, former Minister of National Defence got a raw deal and thus didn't get the credit due for having accomplished so many good works. Those people are entitled to their opinion, but it might help, if one is to list all those dandy accomplishments, to shed them in a proper light.

First and foremost is the role of the Minister of National Defence. That role is clear: establish and govern Canada's defence policy, both domestically and internationally. To do that requires consultation with various other departments and continuous communications with the defence staff to ensure proper force generation, preparation of plans and operational readiness of the forces generally.

The Minister of National Defence does not command the armed forces. As a member of government the minister sets policy, establishes defence requirements and sends them to the uniformed armed forces. The heads of each of the three services determines what resources are necessary to carry out the tasks assigned and what resources are necessary to maintain a force in being to respond to emergencies as set out in the defence policy. As force generators they are expected to speak truthfully as to the needs of their service and manage the funds allocated to them in a judicious and efficient manner getting, for lack of a more precise term, "the most bang for the buck". The Chief of Defence Staff provides the minister with a unified set of requirements including equipment, personnel, existing resources, future needs, plans, capabilities, operational readiness and training requirements. This also includes the ability to respond to contingency operations which may not have been forecast by government.

In short, the minister doesn't determine what equipment is needed for the armed forces. The minister determines what the role of the armed forces is or will be and the armed forces tell the minister what they need to do the job.

That's where all of O'Connor's supposed good work has gone off the rails.

Canada's defence policy is over a decade old. There hasn't been a White Paper issued since 1992 and the last Defence Review was conducted by the Liberals when Bill Graham was defence minister. Without a well-defined policy the commanders of the three services and the Chief of Defence Staff cannot determine what is necessary to fulfill the role. To make it completely clear, if you don't have a plan, you don't know how many people you'll need, nor what type of equipment they should be using.

O'Connor was supposed to have, during the time he held the MND chair, produced a comprehensive Defence Review. He left office without ever having offered such a review and left the Canadian Forces with a defence policy which now does not match the other side of Conservative defence activity. They're announcing all kinds of changes, purchases, equipment and the like without a plan. They are also announcing capital procurement without consulting the forces who would actually use them and, in the case of the C-17 III Globemaster, against the will of the Chief of Defence Staff who was working from the only live document available and saw medium-lift as a much more vital requirement than strategic lift.

Let's look at the list of things O'Connor supposedly did for which he is reportedly not receiving enough credit:
Announced up to 8 Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ships ($7.4B)
That price tag is low - very low. In fact it was rushed off by people who weren't even sure what the Conservatives planned to announce. The navy didn't ask for ice-resistant ships. That was a plan by the Harper government, it hasn't been properly formulated and nobody has any idea what they'll be able to do. Eight would be a high number and, so far, no one has said where the crews will come from and what price other parts of the navy's fleet will pay to keep these vessels. No surprize to anyone familiar with ships, ice and noise, the navy is saying, whatever form these ships take (since they were caught off guard with this silly idea), is that they will not have a sonar fit. In fact the navy has always maintained that the best vessel with which to patrol the Arctic are submarines. They still do and based on the last Defence Review, an under-ice patrol capability was considered the only workable option for Arctic sovereignty patrol. In any case, this announcement is not yet funded and to suggest that O'Connor is responsible for creating a three-ocean navy is patently foolish.
100 modern main battle tanks (Leopard 2) ($650M)
This was an emergency purchase after the Leopard C2s, lacking air-conditioning were found to be cooking the crews in Afghanistan. We don't have them yet and the bulk of them won't arrive for service until after the expiry date of the current Afghanistan mission. This looks like a back-door attempt to maintain a main-battle-tank capability which doesn't exist in the last Defence Review. I have no problem with keeping an inventory of main-battle tanks but the purpose for their existence needs to be laid out in a proper plan. This looks like a knee-jerk reaction to a temporary problem.
Announced the intention to acquire 17 tactical airlift aircraft (C-130J) ($4.9B)
Intention? The previous Liberal government had authorized a direct purchase of the same aircraft prior to the last election. Urgently needed to replace older C-130s, the Conservatives canceled that order pending a Defence Review.... which they have not yet produced. Announcements don't fly, float or move.
Announced the intention to acquire 16 medium-heavy lift helicopters (Chinooks) ($4.7B)
Only after the Chief of Defence Staff went ballistic. it was O'Connor's plan to ignore this requirement in favour of strategic lift C-17s. The CDS wasted few words making it clear that O'Connor clearly did not know the army's critical requirement for medium-lift "in theatre" helicopters. Is this funded yet?
Announced the intention to acquire 3 Joint Support ships (JSS) (2.9B)
Approved in principle by the previous Liberal government. O'Connor had very little to do with this decision save for nodding his head when the navy moved to the next phase of their planning. Planning which, by the way, was delayed while everyone waited for O'Connor's much-touted but conspicuously absent Defence Review.
Announced the modernization of 12 Halifax-Class Frigates ($3.1B)
Approved under the previous government, this is Frigate Life Extension Program which, again, O'Connor had nothing to do with. He, or more accurately, Harper announced this as the navy reached a scheduled benchmark in planning.
Announced the establishment of an Air Expeditionary Wing at Bagotville
So explain what that is. Can't? OK. It's no new aircraft. It's a command and personnel move. It was also done at a time when the Conservatives were taking a huge amount of flak in Quebec over the Afghanistan mission. Maybe I'm just being cynical, but this one smells of pandering. The cry, loud and long is, "Where are the people coming from?" Not to worry, this is not a rush job. It won't even begin operations until 2008 and there is no guarantee that it will ever be fully staffed with the requisite 550 plus people. It is nowhere to be found in any Defence Review or living policy document.
Announced the re-opening of the College Militaire Royal (CMR) St-Jean
Oh come now. The timing of this was so smelly that even the least cynical could see what it was about. What you aren't being told is that this is not the francophone version of Royal Military College. This is a college established under the Province of Quebec's CEGEP program which will prepare candidates from Quebec to attend RMC in Kingston. Essentially it allows candidates to leave school a year early, attend CMR for two years and then proceed to ROTP with everyone else in regular officer training - at Kingston. The new CMR, which O'Connor announced with great fanfare, does not offer university-level courses as it did prior to closing in 1995. The cadets will not be wearing RMC college uniforms until they arrive in Kingston.
Extension of Afghan mission until 2009
I'm not sure how that ranks in terms of accomplishments, but Parliament approved the extension of the Afghanistan mission - not the Minister of National Defence.
Extension of NORAD Agreement, incl. maritime surveillance
Which subordinates Canadian Forces to NORTHCOM. O'Connor never did explain the NORTHCOM/NORAD connection with respect to Canada, but we're getting a pretty clear picture without him.
Deployment of HMCS Ottawa to the Gulf under Operation ALTAIR
That operation has been in existence since 2003 and Ottawa's deployment was planned before the Conservatives formed government. O'Connor gets no credit. However, he might explain what caveats are attached to such deployments because Ottawa's 2006 deployment with a US Strike Group, which appeared to be purpose sent to intimidate Iran, left questions as to where the captain of a Canadian ship can refuse the orders of the Officer in Tactical Command.
·An infantry to protect the PRT
·A Leopard tank squadron to Kandahar
·Military engineers to PRT’s
·Counter-mortar capability
Is that a reference to this? O'Connor didn't do that. The CDS did that in response to an urgent request from the commander on the ground in Afghanistan. The pretty press release didn't include the fact that all of this was needed to protect troops and reconstruction teams. The engineers should have been sent way earlier.
·New Recruit Advertising Campaign Launched
·In 2006 the Total Paid Strength of the CF grew by over 2,000
·In October 2006, the recruiting process was streamlined
The new ads leave a great deal to be desired, but advertising is advertising. Paid strength is a really nice term, and grossly misleading. Now tell me how many of those 2000 are stalled in the training stream because of a shortage of trainers. And, as for the streamlining of the recruiting process, one might look here at an investigation into complaints about CF recruiting. Notice how many of the recommendations have been implemented. None. That's right. None.
Introduction of a modernized pension plan for CF reservists
Right on. O'Connor gets credit. He did however, completely and utterly ignore the demand from the retired regular force community that he address certain other problems which make the Canadian Forces Superannuation plan unfair and punitive to spouses of deceased members and retirees.
Clifton Wenzel receives compensation
This, I found extremely curious. When the CF Ombudsman reviewed Wenzel's case he found that Wenzel had indeed been treated unfairly and recommended compensation. Bill Graham apologized on behalf of the government and took his case under review just before the election call. O'Connor simply inherited that review. I'm not sure how O'Connor gets credit for this. On the other hand, after looking at this, maybe it's not so curious.

Do you want an accomplishment? Write, The Red Cross is monitoring our prisoner transfers and reporting any abuse to us directly.

O'Connor got what he deserved.

H/T CC via email.

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