MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 20 Sept 11

  • 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.” ….”

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