As a 32-year veteran of the Canadian Forces and a private sector observer, Gordon O’Connor says successive governments “let down” the military. In mid February, the new Minister of National Defence outlined to the Canadian Defence Associations Institute annual conference what a Conservative government will do differently.

The Conservative ‘Canada First’ strategy focuses on strengthening Canada’s sovereignty along three traditional lines: throughout our nation, in cooperation with the United States for the defence of North America, and within Canada’s longstanding global role.

The primary responsibility of the federal government is to preserve our sovereignty at home.
Defending Canada means that the Canadian Forces must fulfill essential national responsibilities, such as the surveillance and protection of our territory and approaches. Our military must be able to assist civilian authorities in responding to natural disasters or major emergencies.

Together with the United States, we share a responsibility to defend North America. It’s in our national interest to continue to work closely with them to defend our continent.

This government will move ahead in strengthening our bilateral defence cooperation. We will begin with the North American Aerospace Defence Command. For close to 50 years, NORAD has been a key element of the Canada-US defence relationship. The current NORAD agreement will expire in May, and this government is committed to renewing and strengthening it — notably by giving NORAD a role to play in maritime surveillance and early warning.

Through the new Canada Command, we will also enhance our ability to work with the US Northern Command. This will help us exercise our sovereignty, and allow us to strengthen cooperation with the United States, as partners, dedicated to North American security.

Beyond North America, Canada’s defence is also tied to stability in the rest of the world.
Canada must squarely address threats to our sovereignty and security before they reach our shores. This is what generations of Canadian veterans did when they put on the uniform and went overseas to defend our interests, our values, and our way of life.

Not only is our deployment to Afghanistan the largest and most important Canadian Forces operation at the moment, it’s also quite representative of the type of missions that our military will be called on to perform in the future.

To succeed in Afghanistan, and in any other operation, we’ll need to revitalize and expand the Canadian Forces.

I’m taking over an institution that has been under significant pressure for a number of years. The concept of Canadian Forces Transformation [has] laid a good foundation. But I believe that more needs to be done.

We made a number of commitments in our platform, and we have every intention of meeting them.

Increasing the strength of the Canadian Forces to at least 75,000 Regular force personnel is a clear priority. We also intend to increase the Reserve force personnel by 10,000.

To meet this requirement, we’ll expand the existing recruitment and training system, as well as look at alternate ways to increase personnel levels.

An expanded Canadian Forces needs to be adequately equipped. Our armed forces can no longer afford to take years and years to obtain major pieces of equipment. Over the last 20 years, it’s taken an average of nearly nine years to get from identifying an operational deficiency to awarding a contract.

Our acquisition process needs to be fair. It needs to be transparent. And most of all, it needs to give the Canadian Forces the equipment they need when they need it. Our government also intends to create new capabilities for the armed forces, as well as expand and transform existing ones.

The Canadian Forces are not only about operations and equipment. They’re also about people. We need to support our troops when they’re deployed. But we also need to be at their side after they’ve returned. And we need to support their families.

Last year, I travelled up North. I was able to see first hand the resources we have to keep watch over in this immense part of our territory. What I saw worried me. Canada does not have the necessary capabilities to fully exercise its Arctic sovereignty responsibilities.

This is unacceptable, particularly when we consider that Canadian territorial waters in the Arctic could be more accessible to shipping within 10 to 20 years, and when we consider the significant natural resources wealth in the North.

International law and diplomacy are important instruments in the protection of our sovereignty. However, our claims must also be backed by strong military capabilities. It’s our intention to devote more people, more equipment and more money to the defence of our great Northern areas.

The Conservative government will provide new funding for National Defence in the upcoming federal budget.

I can summarize this government’s defence vision quite succinctly: it’s about having a three-ocean navy, a robust army, and a revitalized air force. They would all operate as part of an integrated and effective Canadian Forces team anywhere in the world.