Opinion: Trudeau government is lapsing on prioritizing national defence

OpEd by James Bezan, originally published in the Hill Times on November 23, 2022.

Today, we can watch in real time Russia’s barbaric war in Ukraine, Beijing’s aggression against Taiwan, North Korean missile tests, and Iran’s brutal crackdown on peaceful protestors. That sobering news should have served as the biggest wake-up call ever.

But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Defence Minister Anita Anand continue to massively underspend on defence, dither on buying new fighter jets, ignore the urgency of upgrading our critical NORAD infrastructure, and are forcing their Liberal political agenda on our Canadian Armed Forces, all the while demoralizing our forces and allowing our troop strength to crash to historic lows. If the plan was to chase away as many Canadians as possible from recruiting offices, the Liberals’ plan is working.

Since the Liberal defence plan, Strong, Secure, Engaged, began, Trudeau has racked up billions in lapsed defence spending. In the last year alone, a whopping $2.5-billion went unspent in our defence budgetIn fact, the Liberals have lapsed defence spending every single year since 2017, despite their 2015 platform promise to quit short-changing national defence.

The result of this irresponsible gouging is now clear. We have a catastrophic personnel crisis at a time when war has returned to Europe with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s illegal and bloody invasion of neighbouring Ukraine. At least one retired general has gone on the record saying our troop deficit is close to 50 per cent. And yet, the Liberals refuse to cut the red tape to fast track recruiting and drop policies that divide and alienate those meant to fight together for Canada.

Putin’s expansionist ambitions won’t stop at Ukraine’s borders. Our adversaries have the capability to strike any city in Canada in minutes of launch, and yet Canada has no ballistic missile defence, and our ability to detect threats coming over our Arctic is diminishing with archaic equipment.

According to the federal auditor general’s Nov. 15 report, our maritime domain awareness is wholly insufficient to detect potential threats until they are close enough to shore for Canadian Rangers to spot them visually.

Our NORAD North Warning System (NWS) is antiquated and in dire need of replacing with an all-domain awareness system, which the United States is eager to work with us on for our collective security.

Unfortunately, the Liberals haven’t prioritized national defence or supplied the political leadership to get money out the door. Trudeau’s disinterest in modernizing NORAD, upgrading our NWS, and investing in our northern capabilities in a reasonable time does not bode well for when our Arctic sovereignty is challenged.

The chief of defence staff, General Wayne Eyre, recently told the House of Commons Defence Committee that Canada’s ability to defend our sovereignty at the extremities of the North is questionable. It is only a matter of years before adversaries begin to poke around to work out just how weak our defences truly are.

In fact, this is likely happening already in the sea. However, we can’t say for certain because underwater sensors to detect foreign submarines and maritime drones infringing on our territory is not something Trudeau thinks we need to worry about.

Even if we had these sensors, we have no under-ice capable submarines, and the submarines we do have can’t do the jobThe Victoria Class fleet spends more days in dry dock for repairs than in the water. Over the last five years, our subs spent an average of 16 days annually per ship in the water. That is a pathetically small number for a country with three coasts to defendBut we shouldn’t be surprised.

Trudeau and his Liberal elites like sticking their heads in the sand when it comes to new and emerging threats to CanadaThey are living on a peace dividend that has already evaporated, and not even war in Europe is enough to convince them of it.

I’m proud to serve as shadow minister for national defence under Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre. He is a leader who is not afraid to fire the gatekeepers insisting big defence projects can’t get done on time and on budget, and understands our allies depend on us as much as we do on them.

Canada is facing growing threats, and the very existence of our forces are being threatened by the Trudeau government. It’s time for a new government.