Exiting the world stage?

Liberal MP John McKay’s comments about defence spending are misguided

Ayame Ulrich

On Feb. 25, the CBC reported on an internal Defence Department report showing a potential drop in spending on foreign deployments - from $470 million now to just $5 million in 2014-2015.

If the projection turns out to be accurate, it would most likely signal the end of all remaining Afghanistan operations.

One might think this is cause for celebration.

However, Liberal MP and Liberal defence critic John McKay responded with puzzling comments, which were at odds with comments he made less than a year ago.

Responding to the report, he stated, “All of this means Canada will be a diminished presence on the world stage.”

After 11 years in Afghanistan, does McKay want it to continue?

Is he thinking that for Canada to remain on the world stage, we must be involved in some sort of military deployment?

Does this extraordinary budget cut not bode well for us, given that we may finally be ending our operation in Afghanistan?

Less than a year ago, in April 2012, McKay stated that he thought the mission should end in 2014.

The comments came after Prime Minister Stephen Harper had been mulling another possible extension.

“Who knows when this will end?” McKay quipped at the PM’s uncertainty.

To recap, McKay wants the mission to end in 2014 and Harper’s indecision was unacceptable, and now that it is ostensibly ending, stopping the money flow is also unacceptable.

McKay is arguing that he knows the mission is winding down, but that the $5 million shows an absence of planning or anticipation of future missions.

With a nation tired of being overseas, it will not be a popular move to oppose this in any way.

Nationwide support has tanked since the initial response following 9-11.

An Environics poll in 2002 showed that over 70 per cent of Canadians were in support of the Afghanistan combat mission.

Predictably, that support has not lasted.

Even in 2008, the first mission extension was unpopular; Angus Reid showed 58 per cent disapproved of the extension.

In 2010, Angus Reid showed that 53 per cent opposed the mission. By 2012, 58 per cent disapproved of the extension to 2014 and furthermore, 69 per cent believed the mission was not worth the human or financial toll.

Does the Liberal Party want Canada to be a country that is continuously in a foreign military operation, just to maintain an image of having a “presence” on the world stage?

Where did this sentiment come from?

Canada should not be in the habit of budgeting for future, unseen operations that might suddenly appear. Such costs are impossible to predict and better left to debate in Parliament.

Expecting to adhere to such a budget is highly unrealistic, and budget adherence is something McKay likes to hammer on in the House of Commons.

Indeed the Defence Department has a problem with hiding the true cost of things.

The F-35 budget was originally $9 billion; only after an audit did the true cost of $45 billion surface.

Likewise Canadians were told the mission in Libya cost $50 million, when it actually cost $347 million.

McKay would do well spend his energy addressing the culture of poor transparency that naturally resides inside the Department.

The indications that Harper is decreasing the defence budget should not be attacked so wantonly.

Since 9-11, defence spending has risen from approximately $15 billion per year in 2001 to approximately $24 billion today, placing us comfortably in the top 15 military spenders in the world.

It is safe to say our ability to have “presence” on the world stage will not be adversely affected by the loss of $470 million from a foreign operation budget.

Only if we as a nation decide we like the new status quo - acting as a global military force helping combat blowback from American-led choice wars - should we view this internal defence report as a bad thing.

The way things stand right now, the Liberal Party will hardly win the hearts or minds of Canadians trumpeting a message well at odds with how the nation feels about overseas operations.

As for MP John McKay, a bit of a re-focus is in order.

Opposing for opposition’s sake does not an effective opposition make.

Graham Hnatiuk is a political writer and artist. He is the author of the Progressive Winnipeg blog, focusing on local citizen journalism and foreign policy commentary.

Published in Volume 67, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 6, 2013)

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