Ignored and Ignited: lack of discussion about defence ‘surprising and disappointing’

Click to play video: 'Ignored & Ignited: Military, defence issues missing in election campaign'
Ignored & Ignited: Military, defence issues missing in election campaign
Voters, members of the military, and experts say the federal political party leaders aren't focusing enough on Canada's defence policy. – Oct 16, 2019

If you’re finding this campaign doesn’t have much debate around defence and foreign policy, you’re not alone.

Global News put out a call asking the public for issues they feel are being ignored in this election campaign, and several Canadians lamented that the military isn’t getting much attention. As it turns out, experts feel the same way.

“It’s surprising and disappointing that the parties haven’t devoted much airtime or bandwidth to discussing the things they want to do in defence,” says Dave Perry, a senior analyst with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

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Perry says there is less of a conversation about defence than four years ago, despite escalating international tensions. China and Russia are bigger threats, while the U.S. shifts away from the Cold War doctrine and its role as a global policeman.

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Canada has benefited from its relationship with the U.S. and its defensive umbrella, but that dynamic is changing.

“We should be having a conversation about some of these issues,” Perry says. “There’s a wider movement in the United States to see them not want to bear the burden on defensive alliances they have in the past.”

Click to play video: 'China and Russia pose new threats for Canada, the world'
China and Russia pose new threats for Canada, the world

Matthew Fisher, a veteran international affairs columnist, has the same warning. He says Canadians can put off the debate until an election down the road, but it’s a debate the country is going to be forced to have eventually.

“Canadians are going to have to pay more for their defence than ever before,” Fisher says. “That is coming.”

READ MORE: With billions at risk, federal parties promise to fix defence, procurement

One of the big issues facing Canada is the Arctic. While Russia is opening bases and stationing troops in the north, China is making rumblings it wants to be involved as well.

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While it’s not an Arctic country, China’s bidding to join the Arctic Council. Chinese leaders argue the Arctic should be seen as a global resource.

“They say they have only peaceful intentions, but they said the same thing about the South China Sea,” Fisher says. “And then they built all those artificial islands and put military bases on them.”

Four years ago when Canadians last went to the polls, there was more of a debate around defence. Replacing the Canadian Armed Forces’ ageing fighter jets was a big issue. In this campaign, it’s been almost completely ignored despite the fact the problem still hasn’t been resolved.

“The F-35 is still out there as a question — it was huge in the election four years ago,” Fisher says. “And now it’s a complete non-issue.”

There was a debate on foreign policy during the 2015 election campaign. It was hosted by the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. But plans to hold a foreign policy debate in this election were cancelled when Liberal leader Justin Trudeau said he wouldn’t take part.

There were two general debates in French, and another in English, but defence and national security were barely discussed.

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Click to play video: 'Foreign policy missing from election campaign'
Foreign policy missing from election campaign

“The fact the parties aren’t giving any airtime to this is really kind of crazy,” Perry says. “If ever there was an election to have a debate on foreign policy, this was it. And it didn’t happen.”

READ MORE: Leaders drawing the blinds on foreign policy during election campaign, experts say

What the parties are promising

The Conservative Party is promising a spending spree if elected. It says it will have a replacement for Canada’s ageing CF-18s in service by 2025. It’s also pledging to build a new supply ship for the Royal Canadian Navy, as well as beginning the process of replacing Canada’s submarines.

The NDP says it will select a replacement for the CF-18s based on a “free and fair competition.” If elected, it will also oppose the privatization of services on Canadian Armed Forces bases.

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The Liberal Party platform lays out a promise to expand Canada’s role with NATO and the United Nations. It would also work to protect Canada’s rights and sovereignty in the Arctic. The party is also promising to create a new body to oversee defence procurement.

The Green Party says it would expand the roles of the military. It says it would “normalize the deployment of military personnel” to protect Canadians from forest fires, flooding and storms caused by climate change. It promises an investment to ensure the army, navy and coast guard have the equipment and training for this new mandate.

Click to play video: 'Ignored and Ignited: your federal election issues'
Ignored and Ignited: your federal election issues

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