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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Canada considering international bases - Peter MacKay

According to recent comments from Defense Minister, Peter MacKay, Canada is reviewing possible sites for setting up bases around the world in an effort to better position the military to respond to international missions.

The Canadian Forces does "prudent planning," MacKay told reporters recently, taking into account its ability to participate in international missions.

"As we look out into the future what we obviously try to do is anticipate where and when we will be needed, but it's difficult with any certainty, to make those plans, without talking to other countries, without doing internal examinations," Mackay said.

I’m sure Mr. MacKay is correct when he says it’s difficult to say with certainty where the Canadian Forces will be needed but one place they are guaranteed to be needed going forward is right here at home. That’s not something that’s in question.

According to the Montreal newspaper Le Devoir the Canadian Forces is in the process of negotiating to set up bases under a program known as the Operational Support Hubs Network. They've reportedly already completed negotiations with Germany and Jamaica, and are in talks with Kuwait, Senegal, Kenya or Tanzania, Singapore and South Korea.

Meanwhile a fully capable and existing Canadian airbase in Labrador, 5-Wing Goose Bay, has been lying practically dormant for years. In spite of repeated promises over the past several election cycles to staff the base with a 650 person rapid response battalion and other services the airfield remains largely an unused appendage of DND.

Prior to the last election MacKay said that the Harper government is still behind its now 5 year old promise but with so much attention focused on Afghanistan he could not commit to when it would happen.

Mr. MacKay would have voters believe that with so much of government’s current focus directed at external military interventions in recent times little thought has been given to the need for the Defense Department to actually defend Canada itself, a position that rings hollow in Newfoundland & Labrador.

The refusal to provide military capacity at the base has left
a gaping hole in the nation’s defenses along the Eastern seaboard and at the Northern approaches.

As things now stand, any unidentified aircraft entering Canadian airspace from over the North Atlantic must be intercepted and investigated by aircraft scrambled from CFB Bagotville in Quebec. The additional flying time and distance required to perform that duty means Canadian jets must first touchdown at the idled Labrador base to refuel before they can complete their mission. An inefficient activity results in a loss of valuable response time to any potential threat.

Even with the less than stellar location of Bagotville, when it comes to coastal defense, in the summer of 2007, just over a year after Harper’s commitment to station 650 personnel at Goose Bay, then Minister of Defense, Gordon O’Connor announced 550 new personnel and spending of an additional $300 million dollars at the Bagotville base.

In his presentation O’Connor said, “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.”

Nothing was announced for Goose Bay and it hasn’t been since then.

For years the people of Newfoundland & Labrador have been lobbying successive federal governments to make use of the valuable airbase with nothing to show for their efforts.

With the election of the Harper Conservatives in 2006 and in light of the PM’s public position on Arctic sovereignty it was hoped that the base would once again provide the sort of service its location allows. This has not been the case.

In successive elections the Conservative government has promised to ensure an integral role for Goose Bay only to back away from those promises once elected.
In the months preceding the most recent federal election one of Mr. Harper’s Ministers went so far as to tell the people of Newfoundland & Labrador that he was not aware of the province’s concerns for the status of the base. How that could even be possible he did not say although the question was asked.

While the people of Newfoundland & Labrador have pushed hard on the issue for longer than most care to remember it’s not clear where most Canadians stand on the status of the Labrador military base. After years of inaction at the site most probably don’t even know the asset exists, but they should.

If Prime Minister Harper is truly as concerned with Arctic sovereignty as he is telling Canadians then the public should be asking why he would continue to leave a perfectly serviceable airbase, at the gateway to the Eastern Arctic, mothballed for so long.

Most Canadians fully support our Armed forces and many can even get behind the actions the Canadian government has taken in foreign lands recently but perhaps it’s time for the government of Canada to realize that our armed forces are managed by the Department of Defense, not the Department of Offense.

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