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Monday, August 06, 2007

Is Harper Breaking Another Promise in Atlantic Canada?

According to recent reports Prime Minister Stephen Harper, after weeks of waffling, has finally made the decision to remove Gordon O’Connor from his post as Minister of Defense. The move comes after many months of inaction, ineptness and inconsistency in the way O’Connor has handled the controversial Afghan mission.

There’s little doubt O’Connor needs to be fired from his portfolio but the move has people in Newfoundland and Labrador wondering what it will mean for Harper’s promise’s for CFB 5 Wing Goose Bay?

After 18 months in office the self described “new” conservative government still hasn’t made any move to live up to its promises for the base and as far as anyone can tell they don’t intend to. O’Connor himself appeared cool to the idea in recent public statements.

During the last election Stephen Harper promised a new life for 5 Wing in the now infamous letter to Premier Danny Williams, the same letter that also promised to remove 100% of non-renewable resource revenue from equalization. At the time Harper promised a rapid reaction army battalion of 650 personnel along with a new long-range aerial squadron (UAV) for 5 Wing Goose Bay and a new territorial defense battalion for St. John’s to include 100 regular and 400 reserve personnel.

Today, just like the conservative’s promises over equalization, the Harper team is backing away from these commitments.

Recently Canada’s “New” government announced enhancements to CFB Baggotville Quebec including 550 new personnel and $300 million in new spending. At the time Minister O’Connor said the announcement marked a new era for the Air Force and that the announcement would help ensure the long-term life of CFB Bagotville. “Today’s announcement once again demonstrates this government’s commitment to further strengthening Canadian Forces units in Quebec, to make up for the previous government’s years of neglect,” said O’Connor.

The announcement, and statements made since then by both the Minister and by General Rick Hillier, have people wondering why nothing is being done to live up to their commitments in Labrador or to “make up for the previous government’s years of neglect” at the base there.

With thousands of miles of coastline and hundreds of miles of eastern Canada largely unprotected and dependent on forces staged further inland, the only possible reason for opting to increase the military presence in Quebec and not in Labrador is a political one. Simply put, Quebec has more voters and more federal ridings. In a nutshell, votes trump security.

According to a recent article by Rob Antle of the St. John’s Telegram, General Rick Hillier appeared to have confirmed the province’s worst fears recently when he said, “We’re not in the business of creating new units. We have sufficient units.”

In the same article Antle reported that an internal Defense Department analysis uncovered by the Telegram was cool to the idea of a new battalion for Goose Bay. That analysis cited problems ranging from a lack of housing in Labrador to worries about native land claims and possible morale problems for soldiers transferred to such an isolated setting.

The analysis, though very telling, contains nothing more than convenient rationalizations and excuses. First of all Goose Bay, while not exactly a thriving metropolis, is not as remote as the pencil pushers in Ottawa might think. Since when has the military shied away from posting personnel in remote locations anyway? When it comes to protecting a nation only the government of Canada would try to do it by posting everyone in the middle of the Country rather than on its borders.

When did the military become so concerned about having to build or renovate new housing units for its service men and women? They’ve done it at every base in Canada.

Finally, why would native land claims have any impact on their decision? 5 Wing is an established base that’s been in existence for decades. It’s just a matter of using it.

With their excuses in place and with Rick Hillier making the statements he has the outlook for Goose Bay, once again, is a dark one. Some are wondering if anything will change with O’Connor being shuttled out of his position but the answer is likely no. The strings on this file, like so many others, are clearly being pulled from inside the PMO and nothing is going to change that.

As things stand Harper is rightfully being held to task for his sell out of Newfoundland and Labrador over equalization and the Atlantic Accord. In this atmosphere he’s not about to do anything to improve the situation in the province unless his hand is forced.

It’s unfortunate that Mr. Harper’s narrow view of the world doesn’t allow him see that by living up to his promises, including those for Goose Bay, he has a much better chance of gaining public support in Atlantic Canada than he does by acting like a spoiled child who continues to hide from anyone who disagrees with him and pretend everything is just fine.

If the most recent polls are any indication things are not fine at all. Mr. Harper is now 2 points behind where he was when his minority government was elected. He may believe pouring more money into Quebec will solve the problem for him but he’s wrong. Voters throughout Canada are tired of politics as usual and the payoffs that go along with it. Mr. Harper would be much better off simply living up to his promises instead of walking away from them at the first opportunity.


Anonymous said...

lol Wince - I win!!!

J.D. Ripper said...

The new soldiers in Quebec will protect our precious fluids in the event of disaster.

You should read the news.

Anonymous said...


Wince said...

Anonymous said...

lol Wince - I win!!!


You may have won the battle... but you have not won the war!

Anonymous said...

The Canadian military is welcoming the prime minister's projects for the high arctic. Stephen Harper travelled to Nunavut yesterday to make several announcements aimed at boosting Canadian sovereignty and security in the North. Money will be spent on a military training centre in Resolute Bay, a deepwater military port in Nanisivik and the expansion of the Canadian Rangers Program in all, more than 100-million dollars.

Brigadier-General Chris Whitecross is in charge of Joint Task Force North. She says naval vessels now have to travel to places such as Greenland, or all the way down to Newfoundland and Labrador to refuel. Whitecross says having a port located in the high arctic will be a big improvement.