Posts Tagged ‘Oral Questions’
- Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (1) Busy Monday for the CDS – he spoke to the Prime Minister and he spoke to the defence critics. Here’s the newest story line: “Canada’s chief of defence staff says he takes full responsibility for the travel expenses he has incurred and will reimburse the government if he is found to have broken any rules ….” Variations on that theme here, here, here and from the outlet that broke the story here. My read of this: if he says this after meeting the PM and the defence critics, I’m going to guess he’s pretty sure the rules have been followed.
- Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (2) And who decides if the rules have been followed? This, from the CDS, quoted by the Globe & Mail: “Canada’s top soldier now says he will cut a cheque to defray the cost of taking a government jet to a Caribbean vacation last year if the Prime Minister’s Office requests it. ….“If the government, as the Prime Minister indicated, his office looks at that trip … if the interpretation of the Treasury Board guidelines on this regard is incorrect, then I will reimburse as required,” he said ….” Similar wording from CTV.ca here. We’ll just have to see what the PM’s Office has to say about Treasury Board’s rules and if they apply here (which is different from hearing what the Treasury Board has to say).
- Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (3a) The CDS is appointed by the PM. And how was the PM’s defence of his choice of CDS in the House of Commons during Question Period? According to the Globe & Mail, “…. On the current controversy surrounding Gen. Natynczyk, NDP defence critic Jack Harris asked why the general had been allowed to take flights worth more than $1-million in the nearly four years he had headed the military – many of them on Challenger jets reserved for government VIPs. Mr. Harper, who met with Gen. Natynczyk on Monday, said the military chief understands the rules for taking government jets “and is certainly prepared to live according to those rules. The Chief of the Defence Staff does fly very frequently on government business, but obviously where there are alternatives, we will look into that usage.” ….”
- Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (3b) Here’s what a transcript of the exchange in the House of Commons says was said: “Mr. Jack Harris (St. John’s East, NDP): Mr. Speaker, the cost of the Chief of the Defence Staff’s recent taxpayer-funded trips to events such as football games, hockey games and the Calgary Stampede have shocked Canadians. The government is now planning significant cuts to the Canadian Forces. Will the Conservative austerity plan only apply to soldiers, sailors and airmen and women and not to the brass? Why did the Minister of National Defence approve over $1 million of flights to be taken by the Chief of the Defence Staff? Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the Minister of National Defence has outlined the rules under which ministers use government aircraft. I have spoken to the Chief of the Defence Staff. He understands what those expectations are and is certainly prepared to live according to those rules. As members know, the Chief of the Defence Staff does fly very frequently on government business, but obviously where there are alternatives we will look into that usage.“
- Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (3c) Here’s how Defence Minister Peter MacKay handled a similar question earlier: “Mr. Mathieu Ravignat (Pontiac, NDP): Mr. Speaker, Conservative ministers are developing quite a passion for the use of high-flying government jets. The Minister of Finance and the Minister of National Defence make particular liberal use of the jets. The Prime Minister says that everything is fine because he pays the paltry equivalent of a commercial airline ticket. Why have the Conservatives abandoned their commitment to respect taxpayers dollars when it comes to jetting around the country? Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of National Defence, CPC): Mr. Speaker, just to throw a few facts into the mix, the policy for the Prime Minister and all ministers requires that commercial travel be utilized for public business, the government aircraft being used when commercial travel is not available. I would remind the member opposite that when it comes to the liberal use of this aircraft, the Conservative government has reduced the average annual spending of the ministers’ Challenger flights by approximately 80% over the previous Liberal government.”
- Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (4) I really have to give credit where it’s due – CBC.ca is offering more information (including an intriguing tidbit), and not just from those aching for a “gotcha” story. Good show for not JUST following the pack. “…. Last week’s news reports indicated that it costs about $10,000 an hour to fly a Challenger, including pilot salaries, training costs and the cost of the planes’ depreciation. The actual flying cost is $2,630 an hour, according to numbers provided by the Department of National Defence. “These aircraft — these Challengers — are not used very much,” CBC’s James Cudmore reported. Natynczyk said military Challengers are flown an additional 170 hours a year with no passengers on board so that pilots can maintain their proficiency. “So these hours are paid for, they’re all paid for — there’s no incremental cost to the Crown,” he said. “That’s why, especially when I travel and I have the team with me, it’s less expensive to the government of Canada to get into that Challenger than it is to put them into an aircraft, in a commercial aircraft.” Natynczyk travels with up to six or seven people, sometimes including a close protection team with automatic weapons. He also needs the secure communication lines provided on government aircraft that allow him to work while he’s in the air. Cudmore said sources told CBC News that the story about Natynczyk may have been leaked by someone, perhaps in a bid to see the general replaced ….”
- Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (5) We’ve gone from a Saturday Calgary Herald editorial headlined “Jet-setting general” to this commentary from the National Post: “…. Defence Minister Peter MacKay offered him use of the Challenger to join his family on vacation after he spent Christmas in Kandahar, and then attended a repatriation ceremony for five Canadians killed in Afghanistan, forcing him to miss his scheduled flight. Was he supposed to hang around Pearson airport waiting for a cancellation instead? ….”
- Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (6) One letter to the editor (bottom of page) sums it up for me: “…. If the Chief of Defence Staff had done what the average Canadian would have done, said, “sorry I cannot be there to honour a Canadian hero, I have a holiday booked,” then the headline would have been something like “Top General Too Busy On A Cruise To Honour Our Dead.” ….”
- In other news in case you’ve been distracted by the shiny bright thing that is the CDS’s jet story…. “An internal government investigation has concluded that Conservative MP Bob Dechert did not breach national security despite exchanging emails with a Chinese reporter, insiders say. CTV News has learned the RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service have found no evidence Dechert compromised national security as a result of his relationship with Shi Rong, a reporter with the Xinhua News Agency in Toronto. Senior CSIS and RCMP officers confirmed to CTV that the Chinese news agency functions as an intelligence arm of China ….”
- Libya Mission The House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence prepares to hear about and discuss the Libyan misison today.
- A reminder that not ALL of Canada’s troops overseas are in Afghanistan. “On 27 August 2011, the nine members of Task Force Freetown were guests of honour at the jubilant opening of the rebuilt Grafton Scout Camp near Freetown, Sierra Leone. Guests and Scouts joined together in a heartfelt ceremony with gifts, singing and outbursts of rhythmic clapping to thank Scouts Canada, the members of Task Force Freetown and the people of Canada for their generosity and compassion. Task Force Freetown, the Canadian Forces team deployed in Sierra Leone with the International Military Advisory and Training Team, got involved with the local branch of the Scouting movement through a civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) project. With a budget of Cdn$90,000, it turned into the most ambitious CIMIC effort ever undertaken by the tiny task force in its 11 years of existence ….”
- Afghanistan Door Gunner 101 courtesy of the CF Info-Machine. “Door gunners are combat arms soldiers whose job is all about protecting soldiers. During the Task Force Freedom combat mission in Afghanistan, door gunners ranging in rank from private to sergeant flew aboard CH 146 Griffon and CH-147 Chinook helicopters. On the Chinooks, they used their weapons strictly for local protection and close defence; on the Griffons, they were called upon to protect ground troops and ensure the security of the Chinooks they were escorting ….”
- Way Up North Russia: If you’re not an Arctic country, keep your nose outta the Arctic. “Russia will increase its military presence in the Arctic – a region NATO should stay out of, a senior Kremlin official said Tuesday. ‘Our northern border used to be closed because of ice and a severe climate,’ said Anton Vasilev, a special ambassador for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. ‘But the ice is going away we cannot leave 20,000 kilometres unwatched. We can’t leave ourselves in a position where we are undefended,’ Vasilev said, in an interview with the Interfax news agency. Global warming and demand for new energy sources make necessary new and clearer international agreements on the division of Arctic region’s resources and usage he said. Only Arctic Council nations – and not outside agencies like NATO or the European Union – should set the groundwork, he said ….”
- I’m shocked, SHOCKED to hear someone from the Rideau Institute object to a British nuclear sub visiting Canada. “A British nuclear submarine will visit the Port of Halifax next month, CBC News has learned, and that has at least one military critic worried about the risk of a nuclear accident. The British nuclear submarine fleet has been plagued by accidents in recent years, including a fatal explosion and fire, an onboard shooting and an underwater collision with a French sub.There have also been multiple leaks of low-level radiation. And while the risk of a major accident is small, Steve Staples of the Rideau Institute in Ottawa said, the consequences for Nova Scotians would be dire if the worst should occur. “If a fire spread to a nuclear reactor and even any of the potential nuclear weapons that could be on board, you could see the release of radiation like we had in Fukushima,” Staples said ….”
- Now that the branches have been “Royalized”, more calls for unit re-namings are coming out of the woodwork. “Made up mostly of farmers, fishermen and blue collar workers from northeastern New Brunswick, they became one of the most decorated military units in Canadian history as the North Shore Regiment. They were one of the first Canadian units to fight in the Great War. Before the regiment was merged with others in New Brunswick, it was among the first to breach Adolph Hitler’s Fortress Europe on Juno Beach in Normandy, France on D-Day during the Second World War. And while the “royal” title has been restored to many Armed Forces veterans delight, a growing chorus of voices wants to see New Brunswick’s second battalion of the Royal New Brunswick Regiment drop the colonial throwback for its original name. Proponents now say they are closer than ever to seeing the North Shore Regiment return after meeting with both provincial and federal officials this month. “We lost our identity,” said Graham Wiseman, president of the North Shore Veteran’s Association, whose father, Sprague Wiseman, is the only surviving member of the original regiment from Bathurst. “It has been a long wait to get it back, but there is a feeling that it will now happen.” ….”
- Guess what? Canada’s keeping 950 military trainers and support staff (as well as about four dozen cops) in Afghanistan until 2014: “…. The Canadian Forces (CF) will support ANSF training by providing up to 950 trainers to the NATO Training Mission–Afghanistan (NTM-A). This training mission will build upon the CF’s established expertise in training the ANSF, thereby contributing to the goal of preparing Afghans to assume responsibility for their own security …. Through the deployment of up to 45 civilian police officers, Canada will continue its involvement in police reform by leading training programs, promoting the establishment of accountability and civilian oversight mechanisms, and advancing institutional reform and capacity building ….” Surprising, eh? More on that from QMI/Sun Media, the New York Times, Reuters, Agence France-Presse and BBC.
- What does this mean for the Canadian-led and run Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team (PDF copy of page here if link doesn’t work? This from the Globe & Mail: “Canada is slashing aid to Afghanistan and abandoning any presence in Kandahar by withdrawing not only troops but civilian aid officials next year. Despite the approval of a new training mission, the moves mark a turning point where Canada is significantly disengaging from Afghanistan: dramatically reducing the outlay of cash, reducing the risk to troops, and quitting the war-scarred southern province where Canada has led military and civilian efforts. There will be a deep cut to aid for Afghanistan. International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda said Canada will provide $100-million a year in development assistance for Afghanistan over the next three years, less than half the $205-million the government reported spending last year ….”
- According to Postmedia News, late decision on new mission = rush to get ready for it.
- Notice who’s name is listed first on the news release? Not Canada’s Defence Minister Peter MacKay but Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon. Also, while Cannon got to answer questions in the House of Commons on the mission this week (Hansard transcripts here, here and here), Peter MacKay took a question on the F-35 fighter plane buy. Yesterday, the PM fielded two questions (here and here) on Afghanistan, while McKay fiielded one question from a fellow Conservative party member (here). Some see this as further proof that Peter MacKay may be on his way out (he says not so), but the government has been trying to civilianize the feel of the mission for at least the past couple of years – more on that theme here, here and here.
- The Foreign Affairs Minister reminds us of the obvious, via CTV.ca: “…. Cannon said the “non-combat” troops will be based in the Kabul area. However, Cannon admitted that soldiers would still be in danger, despite the relative security in Kabul compared to the current operation in Kandahar. “I am not going to hide the fact that there is a risk factor,” Cannon told CTV’s Power Play. “(But) our people will not be mentoring in the field, they will be in classrooms.” ….”
- Who’s happy? “The White House and the NATO military alliance applauded Canada’s plan for a military training mission in Afghanistan Tuesday as Prime Minister Stephen Harper assured opposition parties that the armed forces will work safely “in classrooms behind the wire on bases.” ….” Here’s what NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen had to say: “I warmly welcome Prime Minister Harper’s announcement that Canada will deploy a substantial number of trainers to the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan. Canada has contributed substantially, over many years, to the operation in Afghanistan. Canadian forces have made a real difference in the lives of the Afghan people, often at a high cost ….” More from the Canadian Press on that.
- Who’s unhappy? The usual suspects: “…. The NDP again accused the Conservatives of lying, saying it was “inevitable” that the 950-strong training contingent that will be in Afghanistan until 2014 would be drawn into combat because the whole of Afghanistan is a “war zone.” ….” The rabble.ca brigade has already come up with the rhyming chant: “Activism Communiqué: The war in Af’stan, demand – Don’t Extend It. End It!” Ceasefire.ca pipes in, too, comparing Afghanistan to Vietnam: “Unaddressed by the ministers is whether the government really believes in the training mission it has committed Canadian troops to fulfill. No one seriously expects Afghanistan’s army and police forces to be ready to hold off the Taliban on their own in four years’ time. But it is still unclear whether NATO’s efforts to Vietnamize Afghanize the war are intended merely to provide a face-saving way for foreign forces to withdraw from a dead-end war or remain based on the illusory prospect of creating an ARVN ANA that can hold the field against the Taliban even in the south of Afghanistan ….”
- It didn’t take long for the “Survey Says” crowd to get its numbers out there – this from Harris-Decima: “Canadians Wary of Extension to Afghanistan Mission: The latest Canadian Press/Harris Decima survey asked about the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. According to Senior Vice-President Doug Anderson “At this point in time, Canadians are split over whether to leave troops in Afghanistan beyond the end of the combat mission. While few feel that the combat mission should be extended, there is clearly some support for Canadian troops continuing to play some role.” ….” More on that from the Canadian Press.
- Blog Watch: Congrats from Mark Collins at Unambiguously Ambidextrous for those rating it here, while Terry Glavin at Transmontanus shares his words of wisdom this way: “…. The two-year paralysis that so utterly enfeebled Canada in the matter of this country’s post-2011 re-dedication to Afghanistan is now officially over. Ottawa has come out of its coma, and now rejoins the company of the grown-ups in the 43-member International Security Assistance Force. With today’s announcement, we take our place once again as a leader in the international cause of a sovereign and democratic Afghan republic ….”
- Meanwhile, the transition continues on the ground in Afghanistan: “A scouting party from the NATO unit that could replace Canadian troops in Kandahar will be touring the area over the next few days. Planning for the departure of Task Force Kandahar is underway and a proposal on how the transition will take place is still being finalized, a senior U.S. officer with the alliance’s southern headquarters said Tuesday. The Canadians “are in a critical location,” said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was authorized to discuss the situation on background only. “We’ve got to make sure that area is still covered, and covered well.” ….”
- The CF is working towards setting up a research institute devoted to studying military medicine. More from the Kingston-Whig Standard on a conference under way this week: “…. That the military is taking the initiative seriously can be seen by the list of people attending, including Gen. Walt Natynczyk, the chief of the defence staff, senators Romeo Dallaire and Pamela Wallin, veterans affairs ombudsman Guy Parent, and (Commodore Hans) Jung, the military’s top medical officer. “We are the only nation amongst our major allies that does not have such a national institute,” (former CFB Kingston base commander and Kingston General Hospital chairman Bill) Richard said, a fact lamented by many of the high-profile attendees. The military would love universities to dig through its wealth of data — it has comprehensive medical records on everyone who ever served from the day they enlisted to the day they discharged and keeps the records 99 years, but Jung said only 5% of that data has been analyzed because it doesn’t have enough people to do it ….”
- Taliban Propaganda Watch: The Taliaban’s main English-language site appears to be down, so there’s the Taliban’s Lies o’ the Day via theunjustmedia.com.
Canada’s Post-2011 Mission in AFG: The Official Message Still Stands, and On Training “Inside the Wire”
Item: The latest expression of the “official” position of the government on what we’re doing in Afghanistan post-2011, notwithstanding some message teasing from the PM, from Peter Kent, Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas) during Question Period Friday:
There is absolutely no confusion on this side of the House about our position in Afghanistan. We have made it eminently clear that this government will respect the parliamentary resolution of 2008 and cease our military mission to Afghanistan in 2011. It will become a civilian and a development mission …. For the past several months, despite foot dragging by members of the Afghan committee, we have been putting forward motions to consider the post-2011 mission in Afghanistan. We urge opposition members of the committee to participate and to forward their suggestions to Parliament.
On that bit in red: have I missed something? What “motions” have the government put forward to consider re: the post-2011 mission in Afghanistan? Have I been in a cave? Or did things come up that were drowned out/swamped by that other thing the Committee was doing instead of considering the future mission? If you’re reading this, and can share a link or any proof of any such offer via the comments, go for it.
Item: The CF’s mission at this point remains clear: keep packing – this from the Chief of Defence Staff via CBC.ca:
“We have got very clear instructions from the government of Canada to move out on the withdrawal and that is what we’re going to continue to plan on.”
What this story doesn’t include is an interesting point in the CDS’s description of his task. CTV.ca’s story on the same issue quotes General Natynczyk talking about the March 2008 Parliamentary motion:
“From the Government of Canada through to the minister to me, it’s clearly a focus on enabling the motion as it stands today and that is the withdrawal from Kandahar in 2011 and the end of the military mission,” Natynczyk told reporters in Ottawa.
Compare and contrast this to Peter Kent’s statement in the House of Commons:
This government will respect the parliamentary resolution of 2008 and cease our military mission to Afghanistan in 2011.
General Natynczyk also mentioned who’s going to be staying (via CanWest/National Post):
He noted the institutions that will continue a non-military mission for Canada in Afghanistan include Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the Canadian International Development Agency, the RCMP and the correctional services.
Item: I’m all for keeping a Canadian military element behind to keep helping out, even with training. That said, former OMLT-eer Bruce R at the Flit blog reminds us that training “inside the wire” may not be easy, and has its hazards:
Afghan police and soldiers are trained on their own bases, obviously, but those are not “inside” coalition military facilities in any real sense. Afghans of any kind aren’t normally allowed free run of ISAF military facilities, so the two have to remain physically distinct. So really what you’re talking about is “inside the Afghan wire,” at least part of the time: in other words, either cohabiting with Afghans, or failing that, “commuting” from a nearby ISAF base.
Which can be fine, of course, given some sensible precautions: I always felt quite safe in those sorts of situations. But in this context it might be worth noting today’s news from Afghanistan.
…an American contractor died in a suicide attack against the police training center in Kandahar city, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said… The American contractor, who was not identified, and another person were killed when a team of three suicide bombers attacked the gates of the police training center….
I guess this still means we’re going, yes?