Canada only thinks about revamping its defence policy when there’s a catastrophe, and it’s basically a non-issue in federal elections, says a political studies professor. He adds that the status quo likely won’t change, despite its shortcomings, following the election.
James Fergusson, who is also deputy director of the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba, told The Epoch Times that the Liberals’ long-term “Strong, Secure, Engaged” (SSE) defence policy, introduced in 2017, was outdated from the moment it was released.
“The rise of China and the resurgence of Russia are two primary threats to North Americans,” he said. “The world has changed.”
SSE also lacks details on North American defence modernization, projected to be a costly undertaking that needs to be tackled soon, Fergusson says.
The Conference of Defence Associations Institute (CDAI), a registered charity that conducts research and education on defence and security policy, holds a similar view that SSE is due for a review and update.
It “lacks a broader analysis extending into national security and foreign policy,” the CDAI said in an election campaign primer on defence policy.
The institute pointed out that it takes years or decades to build defence capabilities and that future governments will have their options limited by the current policy.
Fergusson added that no re-elected government has ever gone back to undertake an overall defence policy review, and that a newly elected minority government is unlikely to change things much.
In addition, the government’s financial position has significantly weakened from fighting the pandemic and supporting the economy, and defence spending tends to be among the leading candidates for cutbacks.
No matter which party is elected, “the question becomes to what extent under the current economic situation relative to the impact of COVID-19 … and debt and deficit problems … they’re going to start pushing things off to the future, simply because of a money problem,” Fergusson said.
The political parties’ campaign platforms tend to lump cyber crime in with defence and public safety responsibilities as it relates to hacks and foreign interference, even though cyber falls under the domain of public safety.
Canada has been the victim of communist China’s state-backed cyberattacks on multiple occasions. The feds believe the attacks aim to steal intellectual property and large amounts of personally identifiable information.
Global Affairs, National Defence, and Public Security said in a joint statement on July 19 that they were confident China’s Ministry of State Security was responsible for the hacking of Microsoft exchange servers in early March.
Fergusson says cyber is a much bigger threat for the United States than it is for Canada but suggests that Canada consider how to deal with the problem through better coordination between its different government departments.
“Maybe what we need is to think about … how to improve relations between the different bureaucratic levels, to break out of our silos, to think about what we need to do in cybersecurity. … Those all make sense to me,” he said.
“The probability is it’s not reality. It’s not going to change,” Fergusson said, however.
Canada’s Communications Security Establishment (CSE), which focuses on cyber operations as one of the country’s key security and intelligence organizations, says Russia, China, and Iran are very likely responsible for most foreign state-sponsored cyberattacks against democratic processes worldwide.
“We judge it very likely that Canadian voters will encounter some form of foreign cyber interference (i.e., cyber threat activity by foreign actors or online foreign influence) ahead of, and during, the next federal election,” the CSE said in its July 2021 update.
Conservatives Most Comprehensive
The platform of the Conservatives, under leader Erin O’Toole who served 12 years in the military, provides the most detailed strategies for addressing a number of areas of defence and national security.
Some of the Conservatives’ initiatives include defending Arctic sovereignty, protecting against cyberattacks, modernizing NORAD, and taking aim at disinformation and foreign interference. Canada is a Pacific nation and the Conservatives would have it take a tougher approach against China’s aggression in the Indo-Pacific.
One of Canada’s national defence challenges has been military procurement—fighter jets, in particular. The Conservatives are the only party to address procurement bottlenecks. They aim to streamline the process and “take politics out of procurement” to expedite acquisition of equipment needed by the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), with a priority on fighter jets.
The incumbent Liberals championed SSE and reiterated that they will ensure the military has the resources it needs to deal with a host of threats including environmental ones. They did not address procurement specifically as it relates to defence. Like the NDP and Greens, they discussed the issue in their campaign platform only in terms of green initiatives.
The NDP touched on national defence on page 109 of its 115-page platform and prioritized a multilateral approach to peacekeeping around the world. The New Democrats also added the Indigenous dimension to green factors as a guide for procurement decisions.
The People’s Party of Canada doesn’t specifically address national defence and security in its platform. Like the other parties, it touches on veterans’ issues such as recognizing their unique sacrifices, supporting them, and providing for a fair disability pension.
The Greens want to re-tool the military to prioritize disaster preparedness, while maintaining combat readiness. They also want to engage with a more diverse set of international partners and centre defence policy on disarmament.
Party leaders should be expected to provide comprehensive positions on national defence issues, said the Conference of Defence Associations (CDA) and the CDAI in an Aug. 23 statement.
“Canadians deserve to be informed of the threats we face as a nation and what commitments we have made to our allies,” according to the statement.
The two organizations called on the parties to debate and explore issues of defence policy, resources for national defence, Canada-U.S. collaboration on North American territorial defence, NORAD modernization, and sexual misconduct within the CAF.