In the weeks following the September 20 election, how many Liberal MPs, one wonders, got down on their knees at bedtime to offer this prayer to the Almighty:
“Dear Lord, I will do whatever you like, serve in any capacity you choose, but please, I beg you, don’t let him make me Minister of National Defense.”
Once a plum on the ministerial tree, classified in prestige with Finance and External Affairs (now foreign), Defense has experienced a miserable period. It has become Cabinet’s worst job, its major problems overtaking any cabinet minister trying to solve them. Defense is not only the crazy price when the Prime Minister shifts the portfolios, it is a landmine for any minister who dreams of one day being Prime Minister.
Last week, Justin Trudeau handed over the landmine to Anita Anand, a 54-year-old business lawyer from Oakville, who was first elected in 2019. She earned her “promotion” thanks to her performance in as Minister of Public Services and Supply. , in what capacity she was responsible for the supply of COVID-19 vaccines for Canada. She replaced Harjit Sajjan, who became the lightning rod of the opposition and moved on to international development.
Anand now faces the same assortment of issues that had frustrated Sajjan. The starting point is the absence of a clear mission or purpose for the Canadian Armed Forces, a mission that the men and women of the military, navy and air force can accept and be motivated to do. by, and that the public understands and supports.
For several decades after World War II, Canada was known for its international peacekeeping. Our âBlue Beretsâ have distinguished themselves for their service in Cyprus, Somalia, Rwanda, the Balkans, East Timor and Eritrea, among other global hot spots.
As the focus on peacekeeping operations fades, the Canadian Forces are asking themselves: is their primary objective to participate in relief missions in countries like Haiti, to support firefighters in British Columbia, patrolling Canada’s coasts and airlines, or cleaning up mess left in long-term care homes by incompetent managers and negligent provincial overseers?
Confusion or fragmentation of the mission is reflected in military procurement programs which are infamous for poor planning, stupid decision-making, endless delays, and huge cost overruns. Why, for heaven’s sake, did the Defense Department buy four rusty and obsolete diesel submarines from Britain? Destined for the scrapyard of the Royal Navy, they were of no use in Canada on the rare occasions when they were actually seaworthy.
The department paid $ 750 million for the four submarines. As one British MP exclaimed at the time, “Why were Canadians dumb enough to buy them?” … It’s either incompetence on the part of Canadians or simple MOD (Defense Department) salesmen here in Britain.
Then there is the saga of the ânewâ fighter planes. New, perhaps, in 1997, when the Liberal ChrÃ©tien government began the process of purchasing F-35 Lightning II âstealthâ fighters from Lockheed Martin, based in the United States. Still fairly new in 2010 when the Harper Conservative government ordered 65 of the controversial F-35s. Not new in 2021 when after 24 years of review, reassessment and re-examination by three administrations, one cancellation and now a reopened competition – with no final decision yet in sight.
Not the least and most immediate, Anand should deal with firmness and determination with the issue that has stuck his nine immediate predecessors (all male) since 1998, when the issue first surfaced – sexual misconduct seen in all. army ranks. Somehow, it must address the pervasive culture of boys who will be boys and establish a credible and effective procedure for handling complaints and administering discipline, a procedure that all stakeholders can agree to. .
Trudeau is betting that a strong, capable woman can succeed where male ministers have failed. Anand is betting that the potential career reward is worth the risk she takes.