MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 11 Oct 11

  • Afghanistan  Promoting education in Afghanistan is a struggle many Canadians see as being far removed from themselves. But thanks to the work of a Nobel-nominated Afghan woman and her friends in Saskatchewan, that struggle has hit home soil. A group of four Afghan teacher trainers is touring the province for the next few weeks learning about Saskatchewan’s health and education systems. They’re on a mission to learn everything they can and bring it back to train teachers at the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), a non-profit group founded by renowned Afghan educator Sakena Yacoobi to train teachers in Afghanistan. Yacoobi has taught more than 19,000 educators in Afghanistan through AIL. Efforts to bring Afghan teacher trainers in to be mentored by Saskatchewan educators and health-care providers started two years ago when Betty-Ann Heggie, former senior vice-president of Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc., met Yacoobi at a women’s equity conference in Italy. After facing many obstacles, Heggie got the project off the ground and the four Afghan women landed in Canada last week ….”
  • Speculation about where info on Challenger flights may be coming from.  “Theories abound as to why personal flights on Canadian Forces aircrafts by Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Chief of Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk were the subject of a series of leaks last month. While there are competing theories circulating as to the motivation for the leaks, military experts say it goes back to Andrew Leslie’s transformation report, which was the subject of leaks over the summer ….”
  • Speaking of cuts and reorganization, a new carrot for senior officials making the cuts. “Axe-wielding executives in the public service stand to earn big bonuses based on how much they cut in the run-up to the 2012 federal budget. Treasury Board President Tony Clement says 40 per cent of “at risk” pay for senior managers will be based on how much they contribute to the Conservatives’ target of finding at least $4-billion a year in permanent savings. This is the first year the performance-based incentive has ever been tied to government cuts, and Mr. Clement says the 2012 budget – likely to be tabled in February or March – will be the ultimate yardstick for doling out the rewards ….”
  • What’s Canada Buying?  Body armour plate carriers and duffels for delivery to Ottawa – a bit more from an excerpt from the bid document here (1 page PDF).
  • On shipbuilding, history and politics“Twenty-five years ago this month, the federal government brokered one of the ugliest procurement deals in Canadian history. In October 1986, Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative administration awarded a maintenance contract for CF-18 fighter jets. The $100-million project went to a firm in Quebec. However, internal documents showed a Winnipegbased company should have won the competition. Bristol Aerospace submitted a cheaper, better-supported bid. But Quebec had some thing to offer that Manitoba did not. The province boasted 60 Tory MPs – almost a third of Mulroney’s caucus. Although Ottawa promised to keep politics out of the decision, the fix was in from the start. A quarter of a century later, B.C. shipbuilders must be wondering if history is about to repeat itself. The Department of Public Works and Government Services is preparing to award several packages of contracts for naval and non-combat vessels. And once again, Quebec is flexing its political muscles ….”
  • Ensuring vets get a meal at the Canadian War Museum“Paul Kavanagh had an epiphany in the cafeteria lineup. It was Remembrance Day, 2008, and Kavanagh and his wife had taken their four sons to Ottawa to attend ceremonies before heading over to the new Canadian War Museum. Standing in line for lunch, Kavanagh noticed a Second World War veteran just ahead. Medals gleamed on the older man’s navy blue blazer and his grey flannel pants were neatly pressed. On his tray was a cup of coffee and a bowl of soup. “His bill was $7.15. He opened his wallet and placed a $5 bill on the counter. It was all the money in his wallet. The cashier clapped his hands together and told this veteran to hurry up and pay the difference,” Kavanagh recalls. “This proud veteran went beet red and his hands began to shake.” Kavanagh, a Laval periodontist, waved at the cashier and picked up the rest of the man’s tab. “I remember thinking, ‘This is wrong. We spent tens of millions building this beautiful museum and we forgot the veterans.’ ” ….”  More here.
  • Few Canadians think of their country as forged in blood and conflict, but Ottawa is unveiling a War of 1812 commemoration plan that should correct that impression. The Harper government is casting the 200th anniversary of repelling a U.S. invasion as “the Fight for Canada” and is dedicating tens of millions of dollars to remembering battles it says determined this country’s destiny ….”  More on the coming celebrations here.

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 30 Sept 11

  • Pile On the Defence Minister About The Planes/Choppers! (1a)  PM Stephen Harper continues to back his man (the Minister, anyway) “…. Mr. Harper, however, said all Mr. MacKay’s flights were legitimate. “When he has used them, they’ve been for important government business,” the Prime Minister told the Commons. He invoked fallen soldiers in defending his minister, saying half of Mr. MacKay’s flights were to attend repatriation ceremonies where the remains of dead troopers were returned to Canada. “Half of those flights are for repatriation ceremonies so that he can meet the families of those who have lost their loved ones in the service of this country. He goes there to show that we understand their sacrifice, we share their pain and we care about them,” the Prime Minister said ….”  And this was so different from the CDS’s work before the much-maligned, and un-PM-supported, trip to rejoin his family how?  More from the guys who started the pile on here.
  • Pile On the Defence Minister About The Planes/Choppers! (1b)  Here’s Hansard’s version of what the PM said in the House of Commons yesterday“…. the Minister of National Defence has participated in some 55 repatriation ceremonies for over 80 lost Canadian service personnel …. This minister uses government aircraft 70% less than his predecessors. Half the time, he does so to attend repatriation ceremonies for soldiers who gave their lives for our country. That is why we have such great respect for the Minister of National Defence on this side of the House of Commons …. When this minister pays his respects to the families of our fallen soldiers I expect the official opposition to support us and the minister by showing respect for these families.”
  • On the CDS and plane trips.  “…. Tradition suggests Gen. Natynczyk is heading into the final months of his term as Chief of the Defence Staff. He led our Canadian Forces through the successful completion of our combat mission in Afghanistan — one that elevated Canada’s military reputation around the world. We should allow him to bask in the afterglow that follows a job well done.”
  • Afghanistan (1)  Columnist Joe O’Connor seems underwhelmed at how Canada handled fast-tracking Afghan translators to move to Canada.  “…. Interpreters, or ’terps, in the dusty lingo of life in the Afghan war theatre, were vital to our mission as translators, cultural guides — and as Afghans — who understood what Afghanistan was all about. One imagines that these Afghans thought they knew what Canada was all about after Mr. Kenney launched the program: a land of opportunity, of safety — and a just reward for a job well done. It is a pity that isn’t true.”  Not exactly – it was only true for 1 out of 3 who applied (glass half empty version), or it was true for more than 500 terps (glass half full version).
  • Afghanistan (2)  NDP MP Anne-Marie Day congratulates ROTO 10 in the House of Commons“I am deeply honoured today to draw attention to the difficult commitment undertaken by our Canadian troops on Afghan soil during Rotation 10 of Joint Task Force Afghanistan, which took place from October 2010 to July 2011. We ought to commend and applaud the sacrifices and efforts made during this mission. In 2001, when Canada became involved in this mission, Canadians already suspected that our involvement would be long and arduous. In total, 10 years went by before we considered our work to be done. Tomorrow there will be a ceremony at Valcartier to mark our soldiers’ return. They lived up to the Canadian promise. We can all celebrate their work, be proud of it and honoured by it as well.”
  • Afghanistan (3)  U.S. blogger Michael Yon continues to make no friends – this time, assessing Canada’s impact in Kandahar.  “…. the history of the Canadian troops is softly being rewritten as successful in Afghanistan. Reality differs. The Canadians troops have an excellent reputation and they served with distinction, but after nearly being swallowed whole, they were ordered to abandon their battlespace. There were many causes. The Canadian combat forces could have prevailed, but Ottawa is weak. The prime cause for the Canadian defeat was that tough men in mud homes without electricity defeated comfortable politicians in Ottawa, who seem to think that manufactured history will make them victorious ….”
  • Afghanistan (4)  Detainee probe by Military Police Complaints Commission plods on, slowly“The Federal Court has dismissed complaints from military police officers over hearings conducted by the Military Police Complaints Commission into issues relating to the treatment of Afghan detainees. Eight current and former officers with the Canadian military police had argued they were being denied the right to a fair hearing with regard to whether they were at fault in their transfer of detainees to Afghan authorities or for not investigating how they were treated once transferred, given accounts about abuse of such prisoners at the hands of Afghan authorities ….”  Federal Court decision here, decision summary here and more media coverage here and here.
  • Paeta Derek Hess-Von Kruedener, 1962-2006, R.I.P.  Remembering, five years later.  “…. On 25 July 2011, the fifth anniversary of the attack on Patrol Base KHIAM, the fourth annual memorial service was held in El Khiam, led this year by New Zealand Army Lieutenant-Colonel Helen Cooper, the current chief of Observer Group Lebanon (OGL) ….”
  • On how much veteran families get for funerals:  “Mr. Sean Casey (Charlottetown, Lib.):  Mr. Speaker, a Canadian Forces member receives $13,000 for funeral costs. A veteran receives $3,600. Nineteen months ago we raised this issue. The answer we received was that it was under review. Last year we asked the minister again to fix this problem. Even though his own officials raised it with him, he told a Senate hearing that it was not the time to talk about the matter. Yesterday we received another non-answer. Our veterans have done their job. They served and defended Canada. Why will the minister not do his and fix the situation now?  Hon. Steven Blaney (Minister of Veterans Affairs, CPC):  Mr. Speaker, I am glad to say that on this side of the House we not only speak for veterans, but we act for veterans. As I told the member yesterday, this program is managed by the Last Post Fund. It is doing an outstanding job. We fund the Last Post Fund. We are making sure that every military member who is killed or injured during service, whatever his or her rank, is well-served and will be treated with respect until the last moment of his or her life.”
  • What’s Canada Buying?  Remember the “rent a UAV” bid request A new Statement of Work and Evaluation Criteria document is out (via Army.ca).
  • What’s the U.S. Buying?  A Canadian company is getting more work from additions to this big job“Canadian Commercial Corp., General Dynamics Land Systems – Canada, Ontario, Canada, is being awarded an $87,335,007 firm-fixed-priced modification under previously awarded contract (M67854-07-D-5028) for procurement of 425 of the following engineering change proposal upgrades: upgraded transfer case kit; hood/bonnet assembly kit; exhaust system kit; central tire inflation system upgrade kit; skydex flooring material kit; electrical harness kit; route clearance digirack kit; remote weapon station joystick kit; front door assist kit; wheel and tire upgrade kit; and independent suspension axel system kit. Work will be performed in Benoni, South Africa (70 percent); Trenton, N.J. (20 percent); Chandler, Ariz. (6 percent); and Halifax, Canada (4 percent) ….”
  • Associate Minister of National Defence Julian Fantino chats up defence industry reps at the Canadian Association of Defence and Securities Industries about buying stuff.
  • Whazzup with the General who wrote the transformation/reorganization report that all the reporters got“CGI Group Inc., a leading provider of information technology and business process services, today announced the opening of a new Canadian Defence, Public Safety and Intelligence business unit based in Ottawa with capabilities to serve the Canadian Armed Forces around the globe. In addition, the Company also announced the appointment of Lieutenant General Andrew Leslie to lead the new Defence, Public Safety and Intelligence unit. The offering will build on the corporation’s global expertise to develop and implement innovative, world-class solutions tailored to specific knowledge and requirements of Canada’s modern-day defence and security challenges ….”  A bit more here.
  • An interesting idea from the Royal Canadian Legion as an alternative to recognizing Afghanistan’s war dead on the national cenotaph in Ottawa.  “…. some veterans argue that singling out those who died in Afghanistan for special recognition on the memorial does a disservice to the more than 100 Canadian peacekeepers who have lost their lives in various other conflicts. For that reason, the Royal Canadian Legion said Thursday that, instead of specifically acknowledging the toll in Afghanistan, the monument should be dedicated to all of those who died “In the Service of Canada.” That’s the same inscription that is found in the Seventh Book of Remembrance, which records the names of all of the Canadians who died in military action since the Korean War. “We think that an inscription that covers the sacrifice made in all wars or missions would be acceptable to most people instead of etching the individual wars or missions,” said Patricia Varga, the Legion’s dominion president ….”
  • The World Socialists’ take on “royalizing” the branches:  “…. Though the rose of the Canadian military will smell no sweeter under its new designation, the name change exemplifies the ideological shift pursued by the new Conservative majority government. As the Canadian capitalist class has ever more vigorously asserted its imperialist interests abroad, and employed increasingly anti-democratic methods of rule to enforce its agenda of austerity domestically, its servants in the Harper government have contemptuously discarded the “peaceful” and “liberal- social democratic” Canadian nationalism promoted by the Liberal governments of the 1960s and 1970s and sought to promote the military and the Crown as sacrosanct elements of “what it means to be Canadian.” ….”
  • They’re not “war resisters”, they’re volunteers who ran away and aren’t brave enough to face the music – this from the House of Commons yesterday“Mr. Speaker, decorated Iraq war veteran Rodney Watson has lived in limbo for two years in sanctuary at an East Vancouver church with his wife Natasha and young son Jordan, both Canadian citizens. I have come to know Rodney and know him to be strong in his conviction for peace and justice, and brave in his commitment to go up against an illegal war. It has been a tough two years, and the strong support from the war resisters support campaign has been enormously important. If Rodney were to return to the U.S., he would likely be charged, which would make his return to Canada inadmissible, tearing him apart from his family. As many as 40 other war resisters like Rodney are currently fighting to stay in Canada. This Parliament has passed two motions in support of war resisters, yet the government is still trying to deport them. I encourage Canadians to write to the immigration minister and their MPs about Rodney and all war resisters to support the call for their permanent residence in Canada.”
  • Fence along the Canada-U.S. border?  Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?  “The United States has distanced itself from its own report that suggested it is considering beefing up its security at the Canadian border — possibly through the construction of “selective fencing” and trenches as well as enhanced electronic surveillance. The proposed options are contained in a detailed draft report released Aug. 31 in Washington, D.C., by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency. The proposals will be aired at public meetings in American cities this fall, before the U.S. government considers how to further tighten the border to keep out terrorists and other criminals. But late Thursday afternoon, after reports about the possible fence hit the Canadian media, the U.S. agency released a carefully worded statement. “A border fence along the northern border is not being considered at this time,” it said ….”  A summary of the report (PDF) is available here, the news release linked to the report here, and more in the Globe & Mail here.
  • Meanwhile, the UAV’s drone on looking for bad guys and bad stuff going from Canada to the U.S.  “The unmanned planes look north toward the long, lightly defended and admittedly porous Canada-U.S. border – the best route many Americans believe for jihadists seeking to attack the United States to sneak across. Like their missile-carrying military cousins prowling Pakistan’s skies targeting al-Qaeda suspects, the unarmed Predator aircraft that have patrolled the 49th parallel since 2009 are high-tech, sophisticated and little understood. And they are part of the same diffuse and determined effort the Unites States is making to secure its borders and defend itself. “We’re here to protect the nation from bad people doing bad things,” says John Priddy, U.S. National Air Security Operations director for the Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Air and Marine. He heads the Predator operation guarding American’s northern airspace. “This is the equivalent of the Cold War in terms of a new type of vigilance,” says Mr. Priddy, who has flown everything from Boeing 747 cargo jets to Apache helicopters ….”
  • Former U.S. VP Dick Cheney’s in Canada, worried about a biological or nuclear terrorist attack.

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 24 Sept 11

  • Libya Mission  Motion tabled in House of Commons for Monday vote on on three month mission extension – another motion condemns the bad guys and supports the troops hereMedia version here, here and here.
  • MCPL Nicole Stacey, R.I.P. “Soldiers and members of the Army reserve community across Alberta and Yellowknife are grieving the loss of a much loved member of 41 Canadian Brigade Group who died suddenly in the tragic aircraft accident which occurred in Yellowknife on September 22nd, 2011. Master Corporal Nicole Stacey served most recently with the Yellowknife Company (C Company Loyal Edmonton Regiment), a unit within 41 Canadian Brigade Group ….” – downloadable PDF of statement here, condolence thread at Army.ca here and media coverage (via Google News) here.
  • Afghanistan (1)  Recent Canadian firefight in Kabul comes up in Question Period“Mr. Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre, NDP):  Mr. Speaker, today, Canadians learned that our military trainers in Afghanistan were involved in active combat last week when a NATO compound in Kabul came under attack. The Prime Minister and the Minister of National Defence repeatedly told Canadians that this would be a non-combat mission. Clearly, that is not the case. This training mission is a combat mission that continues to put Canadian troops at risk. Will the government now acknowledge that there is no non-combat military role in a war?  Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of National Defence, CPC):  Mr. Speaker, as the member knows, the combat mission in Afghanistan has now come to an end. We have transitioned to training. That training is taking place in and around Kabul. However, I do not think the member is naive enough to suggest that Canadian Forces are not going to protect themselves when in a volatile city like Kabul. They will return fire and protect themselves. That is what happened in this instance. The member and Canadians would expect no less ….”  Reminder to Mr. Dewar:  I guess you missed the PM’s warnings from April of this year here, here and here.
  • Afghanistan (2)  A senior member of the military says the Afghan army is well on the road to self-sufficiency thanks in part to Canada’s newly established training mission in Kabul.  But the upbeat assessment from Brig.-Gen. Craig King stands in contrast to a warning from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which said in a report earlier this week that allied nations have no plan in place to sustain Afghan troops and cops once they’re trained.  King, who sits on the military’s strategic joint staff, appeared before a House of Commons committee Thursday, where he faced a number of questions about how sustainable both the military and political situation is in Afghanistan.  “We have made some real, significant, systemic institutional progress to get them to the point where (Afghan security forces) will be self-sufficient,” said King, who served nine months at NATO’s southern Afghan headquarters in Kandahar.  But Matthew Kellway, an Ontario New Democrat MP, said the army being raised in Afghanistan far exceeds the country’s ability to support it.  “Afghanistan itself will not be able to take over funding the military and security forces that we’re attempting to build here,” he said. “So, is this financially sustainable?”  The U.S. study, released Tuesday, shows the U.S. paid 90 per cent of Afghanistan’s security bills between 2006 and 2010. According the stark review, Washington covered 62 per cent of the Karzai government’s overall $14-billion annual budget, other donors picked up 28 per cent of the tab ….”
  • Pile On the Defence Minister About The Planes/Choppers! (1)  This from Question Period yesterday“Hon. Wayne Easter (Malpeque, Lib.):  Mr. Speaker, whether it is a tony royal gazebo, fake lakes, G20 spending or now fishing trips on search and rescue aircraft, the government’s ministers think taxpayers’ money is their personal reserve. No one is buying the defence minister’s excuse that his lift from a fishing camp was a preplanned training demo. Training demonstrations are day-long exercises. Could the minister confirm that his office overrode the local base, which initially denied his demand for vital rescue equipment to give him a lift to the airport?  Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of National Defence, CPC):  Mr. Speaker, as I said yesterday, I was on a trip to the beautiful province of Newfoundland and Labrador, a trip I paid for myself. As a result of pressing government business, I was called back from that vacation. I left the vacation early to come back to work. As the member might know, the government has reduced the use of government aircraft by over 80%. We take the use of government aircraft very seriously. It is used for government business. That is the line we will follow ….”  More from Question Period here, and the media here, here and here.
  • Pile On the Defence Minister About The Planes/Choppers! (2)  This from the National Citizens Coalition (the group the PM used to be president of):  “With new information surfacing about Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s misuse of public funds for personal transportation, the federal government has a lot to answer for. Minister MacKay’s recent use of a military search-and-rescue helicopter for transportation following a holiday carried a price-tag of nearly $32,000 for less than an hour of flying time. “Let’s be clear,” says Peter Coleman, President and CEO of the National Citizens Coalition, “we are not talking about taxi receipts here – this is exactly the kind of wasteful spending this government has promised to eliminate.” ….”
  • Pile On the Defence Minister About The Planes/Choppers! (3)  This editorial from the National Post“…. Minister MacKay has been a strong champion of Canada’s military, and is understandably popular among the troops. Canada’s military will need such a strong, passionate champion in the lean years ahead. Mr. MacKay owes it to himself, the troops and the Prime Minister to avoid any further acts that give others fair cause to question his judgment and commitment to living within his government’s limited means.”
  • Calgary Stampede board member backs CDS’s fly-in work appearances at the Stampede.
  • More media regurgitation of the same flight logs.  The majority of flights on the government-owned Challenger jets in the month of June were taken by defence officials who could have used commercial aircraft, according to documents obtained by CBC News ….”
  • This columnist asks a very different question on the CDS-Challenger non-fracas:  “…. Natynczyk says the Challengers are often being flown empty on training flights that are needed for to maintain the certification of the aircraft and pilots. That being the case, he argues he is only making use of flights that would have taken place anyway, but without a meaningful destination. After all, the added costs of actually using the jets, after deducting the fixed costs of ownership, is reported to be only about $2,600 an hour, a pittance compared to the $2.4 million an hour we spend on the armed forces that Natynczyk leads. Yet here’s my question. Why are we looking for make-work projects for such expensive aircraft? Three are equipped for medical flights. Why don’t we sell them if there isn’t enough cost-effective work? ….”  Along the same lines:  “…. Perhaps the key is not to expand the VIP list but the VIT (very important task) list.  Three of the fleet of six Challengers are occasionally used for medevacs. What other secondary roles might they be able to perform that could be of value to ordinary Canadians or Armed Forces members with important needs — subject, of course, to the planes’ availability?”
  • The Defence Department says HMCS Chicoutimi will be ready for action by 2013 but a former crew member who was on the sub the day it caught fire seven years ago believes it will never sail again. In an email Tuesday, a department official said Chicoutimi began a refit in July 2010 and work is expected to be finished by late next year. Vice-Admiral Paul Maddison, the head of Maritime Command, welcomed the news on Wednesday. “We are looking forward to getting Chicoutimi back to sea where she is needed,” he said in a separate email.  But a former submariner, who had to leave the navy because of health complications from the 2004 Chicoutimi fire, laughed at the idea the submarine would be ready for 2013. Chicoutimi has been cannibalized,” said the man, who did not want his name used because he still has friends in the navy …. “Chicoutimi will be nothing more than a harbour training sub,” the former crew member predicted.  Still, the sub’s former skipper, Cmdr. Luc Pelletier, is more optimistic about Chicoutimi’s future. “It will be a significant milestone for me personally and for many, I am certain, when Chicoutimi returns to the operational fleet,” Pelletier said. “A lot of effort, dedication and sacrifice was made by the initial Canadian crew during her U.K. reactivation and repatriation to Canada. So her return to the fleet means our plight was not in vain and Chicoutimi can now shape her future in the defence and security of Canada.” Pelletier’s response was emailed to The Chronicle Herald by a Defence Department spokeswoman ….”
  • Way Up North  “Just days after Gen. Walt Natynczyk, Canada’s chief of defence staff, left Moscow after meeting his counterpart last weekend, a Russian official announced that the country would be increasing its Arctic military presence, a move that could increase tensions in the resource-rich area. Anton Vasilev, a special ambassador for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was quoted this week by the Interfax news agency as saying his country would be beefing up its presence in the Arctic, and that NATO was not welcome there ….”  In case this looks familiar, check bullet # 13 here from Tuesday’s MILNEWS.ca summary.
  • Commander of Canada Command, Lieutenant General Walter Semianiw speaks to Washington D.C. university think tank – highlights of his speech via Twitter here (PDF of Twitter feed of speech also downloadable here if link doesn’t work)..
  • Canada, UK issue “Joint Declaration” – here’s some of the security bits:  “…. We will continue to work with Afghan and international partners to help build a more viable country that is better governed, more stable and secure, and never again a safe haven for terrorists. Through the training of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), regional diplomacy, and development assistance, we are working to help enable the transition of security in Afghanistan to the ANSF by the end of 2014. We will create greater interoperability between our defence forces and deepen cooperation on procurement and capabilities, to be enabled in part by a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Defence Material Cooperation, existing MoUs and the “Partners in Defence” dialogue, which will draw on the lessons of current and recent national and NATO-led operations. We will strengthen our counter-terrorism collaboration, in particular in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel and South Asia, including our efforts to tackle terrorist finance activity in third countries ….”

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 23 Sept 11

  • Afghanistan (1a)  Why is at least one media outlet surprised that Canadian troops remain in danger even if they’re training Afghan troops?  “Canadian military trainers helped defend a NATO compound in Kabul last week when Taliban insurgents launched a dramatic attack against the U.S. Embassy and surrounding neighbourhood that killed 16 Afghans and wounded dozens more. This revelation, combined with assertions from a senior military official on Thursday that the Canadian Forces considers the Afghan capital an “extremely violent” environment, has raised fresh questions about the risks Canadian soldiers are facing in what was originally billed a low-risk, “behind the wire” training mission. According to a Defence Department spokesman, a small number of Canadian soldiers tasked with training Afghan counterparts were arriving at NATO headquarters in Kabul when the camp was attacked by insurgents. Capt. Mark Peebles said that during the ensuing battle, the Canadians helped Afghan security personnel and other NATO forces beat back the attack, including returning fire against insurgents in a building located nearby …. ”  Re:  the bit in red above, I guess this outlet missed the PM’s warnings from April of this year here, here and here.
  • Afghanistan (1b)  I guess there were no reporters with said Canadian troops fighting in Kabul during the attack in question.  Meanwhile, here’s what the CF InfoMachine is sharing with the public right now.
  • MacKay’s Helicopter Ride (1)  The latest“Defence Minister Peter MacKay used one of only three search-and-rescue helicopters available in Newfoundland to transport him from a vacation spot last year, CTV News has learned. MacKay was picked up at a private salmon fishing lodge along the Gander River last July by a Canadian Forces Cormorant helicopter. Military sources said the order to collect MacKay came from the defence minister’s own office. “This is not a common practice . . . this is the only time a search-and-rescue asset was used as shuttle service,” a source told CTV News. The Department of National Defence has three Cormorant helicopters based out of Gander, N.L., which are expected to cover a massive region of eastern Canada 24 hours a day. According to the National Defence website: “9 Wing Gander is responsible for providing search and rescue services throughout Newfoundland and Labrador as well as northeastern Quebec,” which the military calls “one of the busiest search and rescue regions in Canada.” MacKay’s office defended the move, saying it was an opportunity for the defence minister to see the helicopters’ search-and-rescue abilities up close. “After cancelling previous efforts to demonstrate their search-and-rescue capabilities to Minister MacKay over the course of three years, the opportunity for a simulated search and rescue exercise finally presented itself in July of 2010,” a statement from MacKay’s office said. “As such, Minister MacKay cut his personal trip to the area short to participate in this Cormorant exercise.” However, military sources say no search-and-rescue demonstration was planned until the very day MacKay’s office made the request to pick him up ….”
  • MacKay’s Helicopter Ride (2a)  “Defence Minister Peter MacKay defended his use of a federal military search and rescue helicopter, saying it was for work, rather than for personal use while vacationing in central Newfoundland. Speaking during Question Period in the House of Commons Thursday, MacKay said that he was on one of the three military choppers based in Gander, central Newfoundland, during the summer of 2010 but it was for work, not pleasure.. “I was in fact in Gander in July of 2010 on a personal visit with friends that I paid for. Three days into the visit I participated in a search and rescue demonstration with 103 squadron 9 Wing Gander. I shortened my stay by a day to take part in that demonstration,” he said ….”  More on this here and here.
  • MacKay’s Helicopter Ride (2b)  MacKay’s set of answers in Question Period yesterday“Mr. Speaker, with respect to the question from the hon. member, I was in fact in Gander in July of 2010, on a personal visit with friends for which I paid. Three days into the visit I participated in a search and rescue demonstration with 103 Squadron of 9 Wing Gander. I shortened my stay by a day to take part in that demonstration and later flew on to do government business in Ontario …. I think I just explained that I shortened a personal visit to take part in a search and rescue demonstration in Gander.  Had any emergency requirement arisen that would have required search and rescue assets, they would have of course been immediately diverted.  As the member would know, having participated in the parliamentary program with the Canadian Forces, members of Parliament, in fact 20 including himself, took part in search and rescue activities in the past. I am very proud of the work of the Canadian Forces, particularly those who take part in search and rescue.  Canada has a rescue area of responsibility of over 18 million square kilometres of land and sea, the size of continental Europe. Our Canadian Forces and Coast Guard partners respond to more than 8,000 incidents every year, tasking military aircraft for over 1,100 cases, and in fact save on average 1,200 lives each and every year.  I think that as Minister of National Defence I should familiarize myself at every opportunity with the important work of those who perform these daily heroics …. I am very proud of the work of the Canadian Forces. I have observed the work they do in Operation Nanook in the Arctic. I have observed search and rescue activities. I have observed live fire operations, as have members of the opposition who take part in the parliamentary Canadian Forces program.  I can confirm that all government departments are looking at their departments for efficiencies, as Canadians would expect them to do, as Canadians and businesses themselves are doing …. the parliamentary program put on by the Canadian Forces every year has the enthusiastic participation of members of Parliament, including members of the opposition.  I note that the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue took part this year in the program that was put on by the air force. I suspect she may have availed herself of a Canadian Forces asset at that time.  This is a great opportunity for members of Parliament to see first-hand the important, critical, life-saving work that the men and women in uniform perform each and every day on behalf of our country.”
  • MORE on use of Military Planes!  A retired major general and an Ontario Conservative MP successfully lobbied National Defence last year for the use of a C-17 heavy-lift transport plane to move a donated fire truck to the Dominican Republic over the objections of the air force. Both Defence Minister Peter MacKay and the country’s top military commander, Gen. Walt Natynczyk, signed off on the charity request, even though senior staff warned most transport flights were stuffed full with war supplies for Afghanistan and no training flights were slated to go the Caribbean resort island. Critics said Thursday that it adds to the growing list of questions about the use of government aircraft, including revelations that MacKay was picked up by a search and rescue helicopter following a vacation. In objecting to the charity request, air force planners noted there are exceptions that allow for specific aid flights. “The airlift of a fire truck to the Dominican Republic does not fit the definition of a humanitarian effort as there is no immediate life-saving or relief of suffering attributable to its provision,” said a Nov. 19, 2009 briefing note prepared for Natynczyk, obtained by The Canadian Press. The report went on to say that the Defence Department had to be careful not to set a precedent ….”
  • No signs in the window on Parliament Hill for YOU!  “Ottawa-Orleans Conservative MP Royal Galipeau says he was told take down two “Support Our Troops” stickers from the windows of his Parliament Hill office. Galipeau says he removed the large ribbon-shaped decals on instructions from Conservative Whip Gordon O’Connor, the former defence minister who was once a brigadier-general in the Canadian Forces. Galipeau complied with the order and instead hung up a flag with the same Support Our Troops logo, just inside his office but clearly visible through the window. “I’m still making my statement,” Galipeau said on his way into the House of Commons on Wednesday. His riding is known to some as CFB Orleans because of the large number of military personnel living there. But on Thursday, Galipeau wouldn’t comment further and complained that the Ottawa Citizen didn’t run a letter he wrote in response to an earlier story about the stickers. He hung up when asked on the phone for more information. A spokesperson for O’Connor said the message behind the stickers was not the problem. “A memo was sent to all Conservative MPs in August reminding them that no signs, regardless of message, are permitted to be displayed in the windows of their parliamentary office,” Andrea Walasek said in an email ….”
  • Some of what the CDS has to say about Canada’s Reserves (via Milnet.ca):  “…. My vision for the Primary Reserve is a force that consists of predominately part-time professional CF members, located throughout Canada, ready with reasonable notice to conduct or contribute to domestic and international operations to safeguard the defence and security of Canada. This force is fully integrated into the CF chain of command …. To support my vision, I will communicate more specific guidance in the future outlining the strategic environment, policy, management, and employment principles concerning the P RES. We will continue to develop relevant and sustainable missions and tasks which reflect the reserve culture in which the majority of pres members serve part-time as an integral part of the CF. As a priority, I will strive to align programs and benefits so that they effectively support all CF members ….”
  • F-35 Tug o’ War (1)  “Liberal inquiry to DND inadvertently sheds light on F-35 procurement – more here from Mark Collins on (alleged?) transparency in the process.
  • F-35 Tug o’ War (2)  What Associate Minister of National Defence Julian Fantino had to say during Question Period yesterday:   “Mr. Frank Valeriote (Guelph, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government has been caught, yet again, unable to justify sole sourcing its contract for new jet fighters. Despite repeated assertions that Canada needs a fifth generation fighter and that the F-35 is the only jet to meet those specifications, the government did not bother waiting to review complete F-18 Super Hornet specs. Fifth generation is merely a U.S. trademark of Lockheed Martin, not a guarantee of suitability. Why will the Conservative government not serve both our forces and taxpayers by holding an open competition for the best fighter jet?  Hon. Julian Fantino (Associate Minister of National Defence, CPC): Mr. Speaker, in 2001 Canada participated in the extensive and rigorous U.S.-led competition process where the two bidders developed and completed prototype aircraft. Partner nations were engaged during the competitive process. This led to the selection of Lockheed Martin as its partner at the joint strike fighter manufacturing of our F-35.  Hon. John McKay (Scarborough—Guildwood, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, for months now the government has been saying that the price per plane for the F-35 is $75 million. In light of statements made yesterday, the cost must have gone up to at least $125 million per plane. This leaves less than $1 billion for engines, spare parts, training, maintenance, initial suite of weapons, and everything else. The numbers just do not add up. In light of these new figures, would the Minister of National Defence now agree that the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Congressional budget officer were right all along?  Hon. Julian Fantino (Associate Minister of National Defence, CPC): Mr. Speaker, Canada needs military aircraft in order to protect our sovereignty. The current CF-18s must be replaced. We have budgeted $9 billion to purchase F-35s. Let me be clear. In the last election, Canadians gave our government a strong mandate to ensure that the brave men and women of the Canadian armed forces have the tools they need to do their job, and come home safe and sound at the end of their ….”
  • What’s Canada Buying? (1)  The bidding process for a controversial billion dollar relocation contract for Canada’s military, RCMP and federal employees wasn’t perfect, but it was fair, a lawyer representing the government told an Ottawa judge Thursday. Derek Rasmussen said allegations by Envoy Relocation Services that senior officials in Public Works had a conflict of interest and rigged the competition so Royal LePage Relocation Services would twice be awarded the contract in 2002 and 2004 were not supported by the evidence. There was also a question as to whether Envoy’s bid was adequate to handle the massive contract that involved the coast-to-coast management of relocating Canada’s federal employees, Rasmussen suggested. Envoy’s allegations that senior officials involved in the procurement process accepted gifts and hospitality from Royal LePage and were therefore biased were unsubstantiated, Rasmussen said ….”
  • What’s Canada Buying? (2)  Wanted:  training ammo to train Jamaican counter-terrorist forces (more details in extract from bid documents here (6 page PDF)) and lots of “leather, cattlehide”.
  • What’s Canada Buying:  Big Honkin’ Ships  “On a billboard one block south of Parliament Hill in Ottawa, amidst a row of trendy bars and coffee shops, a hand holds up a dime with the caption Ships Start Here. But the ad for Halifax’s bid for national shipbuilding contracts, paid for by the Irvings themselves, is an anomaly. The real public relations war is taking place thousands of kilometres away. Many shipbuilding watchers agree the Ships Start Here campaign is not about convincing Ottawa power brokers but leveraging as much political capital as Nova Scotia can muster. On first blush, the lobbying campaign makes little sense. The federal government has promised the $35 billion in contracts will be awarded purely on merit. A committee of top bureaucrats will make the call. Consultants from Knowles Consultancy Services and Hill International have been brought in to ensure there is no political interference. When Premier Darrell Dexter travelled to Ottawa, he couldn’t even speak to the committee without independent watchdogs watching from the corner. But few insiders seem to buy it. Of about a dozen MPs, political staffers and industry watchers contacted by The Chronicle Herald, only the Tories expressed confidence that politics will not be a factor ….”
  • Brazil’s military is hoping to soak up some “how to secure big events” expertise from the Canadian Forces (via the Army News InfoMachine).
  • Canada is among the founding members of a new international organization dedicated to fighting terrorism, announced Thursday. The new group will become “a counterterrorism network that is as nimble and adaptive as our adversaries,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at the inaugural meeting of the Global Counterterrorism Forum. “Let us pledge to learn as much as we can from one another.” Canada is a founding member of the group, whose 30 members include Britain, China, the European Union, Japan, Australia, developing countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, as well as leading Muslim nations including Egypt, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The U.S. and Turkey will co-chair the group. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney welcomed the initiative, noting a good friend in Pakistan was assassinated by extremists. Over the last few years, he’s met twice with Pakistan’s prime minister on the subject and in those conversations, Kenney said he expressed a desire for support from countries like Canada ….”
  • The public face of the Milice patriotique québécoise said Tuesday “everything we do is 100 per cent legal.”  The self-styled militia favours Quebec political independence, provides firearms training at gun clubs and recruits using social media. “If we were doing anything even faintly criminal or wrong, we would have been arrested long ago,” Serge Provost said. “We’re not hiding anything.” Provost said the 10-year-old group has about 800 active members and has been growing. The Sûreté du Québec refused to say whether it is probing the group’s activities. “We can’t confirm whether or not an investigation into this group is under way,” SQ Sgt. Ronald McInnis said. Montreal police referred all queries to the SQ. “I’m sure we are under surveillance pretty well 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” said Provost, a 42-year-old carpenter. “If we do something wrong, we’re dead.” The group has grown by “between 75 and 100″ during the past year, Provost said, and its Facebook site lists 728 friends ….”  Meanwhile, in the opinion pages, “…. It is not surprising that the shop Mr. Provost opened last November in east-end Montreal to sell militia-related gear has been refused a licence to sell firearms. Instead there are boots, balaclavas, radical books and paintball rifles. On an online message board run by the militia, one participant offered a bulletproof vest for sale. When another participant noted that the “problem with the vest is it offers no protection to the neck,” he received the message, “Thank you for your advice, patriot” from a militia member. Mr. Provost told the Journal de Montréal this week that he is “proud not to receive any subsidies,” although it is hard to imagine under what program the militia would qualify for aid. In addition to charging members a $100 membership fee, the militia makes ends meet by running a garbage recycling business, MPQ Recyclage. In June, Mr. Provost issued an appeal on Facebook for the donation of a used pickup truck to collect recyclables. “The vehicle … will serve the national defence as part of our logistics unit when operations require,” he wrote.”
  • What’s Canada’s Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney doing about homeless vets in the streets?  This from Question Period yesterday:  “Mr. Speaker, not only are we working with our partners, but we are taking decisive action to reduce homelessness in our country and among veterans. That is why we have established outreach initiatives in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver to provide assistance to homeless veterans, and also in all our district offices. I was in Toronto this summer and I could see the action of the Good Shepherd Ministries on the ground in downtown Toronto, and of our officials working hand in hand in the refuge with those people. We are helping our veterans to transition to civilian life in a seamless manner and we will keep up that work.”
  • Billy Bishop – please, step aside. Canada’s most celebrated fighter pilot is about to share the podium with another, much less heralded First World War hero – Lieutenant-Colonel William G. Barker, VC. According to the wording on a plaque being unveiled Thursday in Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery, it is Mr. Barker, not Mr. Bishop, who stands as “most decorated war hero in the history of Canada, the British Empire, and the Commonwealth of Nations.” ….”  More from the CF InfoMachine here.

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 22 Sept 11

  • Libya Mission  NATO goes for three month extension – more from the SecGen here.
  • Afghanistan (1)  A new ROTO is training and getting ready in Edmonton.
  • Afghanistan (2)  Terry Glavin on negotiating with the Taliban“…. In Washington, London and Brussels, the whole point now is to convince “war-weary” electorates that capitulation is compromise, that the whole nightmare was brought about by stupid neo-conservatives, and that the problem is an incorrigibly violent and uncivilized Afghan people in whom we need not see the basic human rights we ordinarily recognize in our fairer-skinned selves. In the world’s rich and comfortable countries, and perhaps especially in Canada, this is what it means nowadays to be on the side of the angels.”  More here.
  • MacKay’s Helicopter Ride  New Target:  the Defence Minister“Defence Minister Peter MacKay used one of only three search-and-rescue helicopters available in Newfoundland to transport him from a vacation spot last year, CTV News has learned. MacKay was picked up at a private salmon fishing lodge along the Gander River last July by a Canadian Forces Cormorant helicopter. Military sources said the order to collect MacKay came from the defence minister’s own office. “This is not a common practice . . . this is the only time a search-and-rescue asset was used as shuttle service,” a source told CTV News ….”
  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (1)  Opinion, from former RCAF officer: “…. Any use of military aircraft by the chief, to my mind, is justifiable if he as the head of Canada’s military makes a decision to use them. Come on folks, the general is not out for a joyride on a Challenger aircraft ….”
  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (2)  Opinion, from a blogger“…. While Robert Fife should not be criticized for bringing the issue forward for debate, he should be taken to task by not providing a more through analysis of the Chief of the Defence Staff’s travelling costs, especially since they were pre-authorized or incurred to satisfy the obligations of his position as head of the military ….”
  • The old adage that good advice is certain to be ignored is given new meaning in a study that concludes Canada’s Defence Department pays almost no attention to what experts and parliamentarians say. The report, “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie,” argues that mountains of studies and recommendations from academics and even House of Commons and Senate committees almost never find their way into government policy. The advice is allowed to collect dust, according to the study being released this week by the defence management institute at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. Researchers Douglas Bland and Richard Shimooka paint a picture of combative defence bureaucrats and advisers who pay lip service to suggestions and then stuff reports into filing cabinets once the media has lost interest ….”
  • Why was a Canadian military with 65,000 men and women on active duty and 25,000 reservists sorely tested by the task of keeping 1,500 soldiers in the field in Afghanistan? Why are Arctic sovereignty patrols a strain on the same military? The way Andrew Leslie sees it, it’s because the Canadian Forces’ tail has grown bigger than its teeth ….”
  • More on what one former officer says Canada’s Reserves should be looking like – the report here (PDF), and some more media coverage of the report here and here.
  • A bit of editorial comment on “what should be done with the Reserves” report:  “…. The army likes a big standing army because it wants regular soldiers it can order around full-time, not part-timers who come and go. The smaller the standing army, after all, the less justification there is for a bloated bureaucracy. (Not that there’s ever a good justification for bureaucratic bloat, but it’s easier to dismiss for a large organization than for a small one). So they just didn’t do it ….”
  • What’s Canada Buying? (1)  Nasty allegations over the contract to provide moving services to the CF and rest of the public service “The losing bidder for a billion-dollar contract to relocate Canada’s military, RC-MP and public servants levelled allegations of bid-rigging and an ensuing attempt at a coverup against the federal government on the first day of a civil trial Wednesday. Bruce Atyeo, president of Envoy Relocation Services, is seeking $62 million in damages and is accusing Public Works of having a conflict of interest when it twice awarded a competitor, Royal LePage Relocation Services, the contract to provide the services in 2002 and again in 2004. The awarding of the contracts has been mired in controversy, internal probes and several investigations by the Canadian International Trade Tribunal ….”
  • What’s Canada Buying? (2)  “The Canadian Space Agency in collaboration with Environment Canada, the Department of National Defence, Natural Resources Canada and the Communications Research Center (hereinafter referred to as the clients) is examining the potential for a communications and weather services satellite system referred to as the Polar Communications and Weather (PCW) Mission, a Mission which will in its operations, contribute to resolving some of the challenges and at the same time, leverage opportunities in the Arctic. This Mission is currently in Phase A (Concept study) of development with a launch date targeted for 2017. PCW will provide high capacity, continuous communication services throughout the Canadian Arctic as well as meteorological Earth observations leading to improved weather forecasting …. The purpose of this Request for Proposal is to …. perform a study that will quantify and delineate the socio economic benefits resulting from the proposed Polar Communications and Weather (PCW) Mission, in terms of the projected improvement in the quality of weather forecasts, including those associated with space weather events, and in terms of the benefits accruing from filling the gap in communications over the Canadian high Arctic region ….”  More on the study and the PCW mission here (14 page PDF).
  • What’s Canada Buying? (3)  Wanted:  slick new live fire target system with robotic figures “running” around on their own for research at CFB Suffield.
  • What’s Canada Buying? (4)  Wanted:  someone to “build and install a new monument on Tilley Avenue, Gagetown, New Brunswick”.
  • What’s Canada Buying? (5)  Wanted:  “Support to analytical, numerical and experimental investigations in flight mechanics” various projectiles, mini-UAVs or missiles – more in the tech documents here (6 page PDF).
  • What’s Canada Buying? (6) Wanted: “Suspenders, Trousers, overall cotton, elastic and webbing color: average green, adjustable length; leather six-point button straps”, quantity: up to 24,600 sets – more technical details on what the CF specifically seeks in a set of suspenders here (11 page PDF).
  • Letter to the editor writer seeks “balance” in submarine coverage “…. The point is, these are not like the Chevy sitting in your driveway. Submarines are incredibly complex machines and require huge amounts of maintenance. The Royal Canadian Navy has four submarines. At the moment, none is operational, but one will be next year, followed by another the year after. With only four hulls, that is to be expected. When you talk of the submarines being laid up longer than expected, you also have to remember the huge expenditures (and rightly so) on military equipment acquired due to the war in Afghanistan, which obviously took funds away from the work on the boats ….”
  • A chunk of Canada’s aviation history to be paved over to make a hockey rink“Second World War pilot Philip Gray says it is “immoral” that Downsview Park is evicting the Canadian Air and Space Museum. “This is a terrible way to repay young 21-year-old boys who went to war and never turned 22. I am disgusted that their heritage can be just wiped out,” the 89-year-old Gray said Tuesday as the museum was packing up artifacts. “I got the shock of my life when I heard this. We could lose all this history. It makes you wonder what these boys died for … a government that doesn’t care about heritage.” Downsview Park — which gave the eviction notice on Tuesday — is a federal park. There was no notice given for the eviction, museum CEO Robert Cohen said ….”

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 21 Sept 11

  • Libya Mission (1a)  Three more months?  “Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he believes that the Canadian Forces will be able to wrap up their mission in Libya “well before” their next three-month mandate is over. Mr. Harper will ask the House of Commons this week to approve a three-month extension after NATO countries agreed to stay with the mission beyond the Sept. 27 deadline, but he said Canada’s goal is to wipe out the remaining threat of pro-Gadhadi forces and it should be over sooner ….” More from CBC.ca here and The Canadian Press here.  The PM’s officialese statements here and here.
  • Libya Mission (1b)  Here’s how the PM’s official statement put it:  “Canada has been at the forefront of international efforts to protect civilians in Libya against the oppressive Gaddafi regime and provide them with humanitarian assistance …. Canada will continue to support the people of Libya, standing ready to promote effective governance and institutions, a secure environment founded on the rule of law, economic development and prosperity, and respect for human rights.”  More in the “Lookit everything we’ve done” bit here.
  • Libya Mission (1c)  Softball question from the Conservative backbenches to the Parliamentary Secretary Deepak Obhrai, with a well-messaged response:  Mr. Peter Braid (Kitchener—Waterloo, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the situation in Libya this past summer has seen the toppling of the Gadhafi regime and the emergence of a real democratic hope. However, despite these gains we recognize that the situation does remain unstable. Could the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs please update the House on the situation in Libya?  Mr. Deepak Obhrai (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, CPC): Mr. Speaker, today the Prime Minister attended the high-level meeting on Libya at the United Nations chaired by the Secretary-General. Canada has been at the forefront of the international effort to protect civilians in Libya against the oppressive Gadhafi regime. Canada stands ready to support the new Libyan government through the UN coordinated efforts committed to helping the people of Libya.”  Far better than when he said Afghanistan wasn’t really a war, but more like “providing a secure environment in a country in which there was a complete loss of security.”
  • Afghanistan (1a)  Former president, head of the Afghanistan High Peace Council and, in some eyes, warlord hard man Burhanuddin Rabbani killed by a explosives-packed turban on a suicide bomber.  Here’s Postmedia News’ take on what the killing means, and here’s the PM’s condolences (noticeably longer than these condolences from Canada’s envoy to Afghanistan for an even tougher warlord).
  • Afghanistan (1b)  Here’s former OMLT-eer Bruce Ralston’s take on the Rabbani assassination“There’s no question the Taliban’s improvement in their pursuit of “high value targets” this year has mirrored, if not exceeded the coalition’s.”
  • Afghanistan (2)  The combat mission in Kandahar is over, but Force Protection Company is still keeping busy (via CF Info-Machine).
  • Afghanistan (3)  Canadian General bearing still-useful leftovers for the Afghan National Army (via CF Info-Machine).
  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (1)  Opinion, from a former subordinate George Petrolekas:  The CDS can’t get the work done on Air Canada that he can get done on a military executive jet.
  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (2)  Opinion, from Senator Colin Kenny“…. General Walter Natynczyk, Canada’s Chief of the Defence Staff, has been skewered by simplistic reporting this week. He is right to be indignant, wrong to be surprised, and out of luck if he thinks many in the media are going to stop and put everything in perspective ….”
  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (3)  Opinion, from QMI/Sun Media columnist Joe Warmington “Only in Canada would you see our top soldier sucker-punched in this way. Gen. Walter Natynczyk has looked into the crying eyes of the parents of many of the 157 hero warriors killed in action in Afghanistan, and now the same people who condoned millions for a fake lake and a giant fence are worried about our top soldier’s travel expenses? Only coming out of NDP critics could such hypocrisy reign. It’s funny how we have taxpayers’ money for their leader’s state funeral but we must count every penny for the man leading our troops, not in peace time but in the middle of war ….”
  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (3)  Opinion, from QMI/Sun Media columnist Charles Adler “…. So what about this trip to the Caribbean? Natynczyk had spent the previous two Christmases with our troops serving in Afghanistan. He was about to miss a much-deserved holiday with his family in order to pay respects to more of our fallen soldiers at a repatriation ceremony. The minister of defence ordered him to join his family, and approved the use of the jet to get there. It was a classy move on Peter MacKay’s part, and was completely justifiable ….”
  • “No” to expanding the Mo’?  “Canada’s bloated military bureaucracy has consistently defied explicit orders from government ministers to increase the size of the army militia as directed. The accusation is made in a scorching but carefully documented report by pre-eminent military scholar Jack English for the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and obtained in advance of its release Wednesday by only a few media outlets, including Postmedia ….”
  • DND changing how it funds research. “The Department of National Defence is changing how it pays for public research on the military, cutting funding by 80 per cent and moving to a new “agile” model that would mimic private consulting, according to scholars involved. By doing so, many of them charge that the department is squeezing the lifeblood out of almost three-quarters of research centres across Canada that are supported by the program, known as the Security and Defence Forum. DND, however, says it is only acting in the best interests of taxpayers. It says the move will transform the way it interacts with military experts, ultimately providing better value. Directors of the SDF, a decades-long effort by the government to link the military and universities to foster debate and research on security and defence issues, were disappointed to learn in July that their $2.5-million program would be shut down and replaced with a $0.5-million successor. They say DND will likely forge the new program into a system where it can commission work quickly, drawing in expert analysis on current affairs, or on subjects that immediately interest the government ….”
  • Somalia’s PM, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, is in Canada, asking for help (including military help)  “(Q) You spoke of the need for more military and police trainers in Somalia, and suggested this is an area where Canada could specifically contribute. Aren’t there already such trainers in Somalia? (A) No, we don’t have those. Not inside Somalia. The European Union is providing some training for the Somali national army. They are training outside the country but we don’t have American, British or Canadian trainers. We need these because security institutions are essential to law and order. We also need logistical support – communication, transportation, even providing salary in the short term – so that once we have a bigger, broader tax base we will be able to provide salaries for our soldiers. We need a lot of financial help.”  More from the Toronto Star here, and Agence France-Presse here.  Given Canada’s military track record in the country (let’s also remember this was a case a small number of very, very, very bad apples making the whole group look bad), this might be hard for the government to sell and message – we’ll have to wait and see what unfolds and how.
  • What’s Canada Buying: Big Honkin’ Ships Edition  Getting ready for mo’ shipbuilding work on the east coast.  “A baker’s dozen of employers and the Dexter government have contributed more than $400,000 in cash and equipment to double the number of metal fabrication students at the Nova Scotia Community College this fall. An Irving Shipbuilding official said he couldn’t say whether a further expansion would be needed if Irving Shipbuilding wins one of the huge federal government contracts for new combat and non-combat ships, to be announced within weeks. “It’s difficult to say,” Mike Roberts, Irving’s vice-president of corporate development, said after an announcement in Dartmouth ….”

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.” ….”

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 19 Sept 11

  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (1)  CDS gives his side of the story to CTV, mentioning he had the Minister of Defence’s permission to rejoin his family after cancelling a flight in order to attend the return of 4 dead Canadian soldiers and 1 dead Canadian journalist (video).
  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (2a)  Let the media’s herd coverage begin!  “Top soldier won’t apologize, repay for VIP flights” (CTV.ca)
  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (2b)  “Top soldier won’t reimburse public purse for flights” (QMI/Sun Media)
  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (2c)  “Defence chief says no need to pay back taxpayers for personal jet travel” (The Canadian Press)
  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (2d)  “Military chief sees no need to reimburse taxpayers for plane use” (Globe & Mail)
  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (3)  The best, most detailed explanation I’ve seen so far, from someone who knows WAAAAAAY more about the system than I do, on how the CDS’s flights, including one following the cancellation of his leave to attend the return of 4 dead Canadian soldiers and 1 dead Canadian journalist, didn’t really cost taxpayers any money (via Army.ca).
  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (4)  NDP’s Defence Critic Jack Harris criticizes“Allegations that Canada’s top military officer spent more than $1 million for personal flights on government aircraft since 2008 aren’t sitting well with St. John’s East MP Jack Harris. The reports indicate General Walt Natynczyk took the pricey flights to sporting events, fundraising dinners and to join family members on vacation in the Caribbean. Harris says that million dollars could have been better spent, especially in this region. He says that kind of spending is awful, especially when one considers that one million dollars is as much as it costs to operate the Marine Rescue Sub-Centre in St. John’s for one year.”  Note to critic:  maybe you should read the next bulleted link.
  • Libya Mission  Scott Taylor’s take:  “…. In support of the rebels, NATO provided the factions with a wealth of high-tech intelligence, including satellite and unmanned aerial vehicle imagery. In other words, far from simply “holding the ring” for six months, NATO actively blinded, deafened, starved and pummelled Gadhafi’s forces and supporters to enable the Libyan rebels to gain the upper hand. Only in Harper’s mind could that be construed as “the Libyans fought their own fight.” ….”
  • The Leslie Report/CF Reorg  Former OMLT-eer Bruce Ralston over at Flit raises an intersting point about how much of the Leslie report has been officially released.  “…. It’s clear from the main body of the report (here) that most of the heavy lifting, and all the parts anyone in the Canadian Forces would find controversial, are in the annexes and appendices to the main body, such as Annex M, with Gen. Leslie’s schematic diagram for a transformed military. I note that, in addition to still relying on the worst search engine on the web today, the DND website has, I’m sure entirely coincidentally, only posted the main report document so far, annexes-free. The fact that this leaves reporters and DND personnel wrestling only with what is essentially a large quantity of diplomatically phrased generalities and unsubstantiated recommendations is almost guaranteed to minimize any impact the report could have. PR genius, that.”
  • An editorial calls for another look at Canada’s sub purchase.  “…. at a time when the Harper government is looking at cost-saving proposals to trim at least five per cent from every departmental budget, it would seem that the submarine program would be a good place to start finding annual savings. Defence is supposed to come up with around $1 billion in cuts. At the very least, it’s time for a full review of the submarine program – including a full accounting of all additional costs that are expected as well as an analysis of the actual, if any, benefits that can now be expected from a fleet that’s nearly halfway through its expected 30 years of service.”
  • Globe & Mail calls for continuation (for a little while longer) of Canada’s anti-terror laws enacted post 9-11. “…. Now that 10 years have passed since September 11, 2001, people may wish, understandably, to move on. Regrettably, it’s too early for that, but the least Parliament can do is move on from the petty gamesmanship, in the interests of public protection.”
  • Army Run in Ottawa reportedly went well – well done to all participants. “Capt. Kim Fawcett of the Canadian Forces may have lost her leg in an accident in 2006, but it doesn’t slow her down. “I run for Canada. That’s what I do,” she said, as she smiled after crossing the finish line of the five kilometre Army Run Sunday morning. Fawcett was one of more than 16,000 people who came out to run in the event designed to show support for Canadian troups and to raise money for programs that support members of the military, including Soldier On and the Military Families Fund ….”

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 18 Sept 11

  • Here’s a bit more information and context behind at least one of the Challenger trips Chief of Defence Staff Walt Natynczyk in the media lately.
  • Afghanistan (1)  What the CF is doing about cleaning up the ground underneath what’s soon to be their former base in Kandahar.  “Master Corporal Ken Stewart has an important job. The water, fuel and environment technician (WFE tech) is responsible for soil remediation at Kandahar Airfield (KAF) as part of the Mission Transition Task Force (MTTF) working to close down Canadian operations there by the end of the year. Soil contamination from the daily activities of thousands of Canadian soldiers and hundreds of commercial and tactical vehicles is a major concern. Consequently, mitigation of soil degradation is a priority task for the MTTF, a responsibility being undertaken by a team of WFE techs, field engineers and infantry soldiers ….”
  • Afghanistan (2)  The Army Run’s not JUST in Ottawa today.  “More than 600 civilians and military personnel representing multiple allied nations are expected to run tomorrow in the heat, dust and altitude of Kandahar Air Field (KAF), Afghanistan in the KAF Canada Army Run ….”  Good luck to all the participants.
  • Afghanistan (3)  A bit of one Canadian Forces Info-Machine worker’s story in Kabul.  “…. It is a somewhat surreal experience to be standing here in Afghanistan. The hot barren mountains of the Hindu Kush which surround the city have been witness to a dramatic stream of human history. I am now part of that history. As I ride in a convoy through the streets of Kabul I am amazed at the differences, and the similarities between here and Canada. On a side street, for example, I see a young father holding the seat of a bicycle while his son learns to ride. The feeling that most consumes me is an overwhelming sense of responsibility. I have a responsibility to the Afghan people who smile and wave to me on the street. I have a responsibility to the mission, and I have an inherent responsibility to those Canadians who have preceded me here. It is their dedication and sacrifice that passes the torch to me. I do not accept it lightly ….”
  • The Royal Canadian Mint has donated $10,000 to the Military Families Fund, raised from sales of its 2010 25-cent poppy coin collector card. The Military Families Fund is a non-profit organization that assist military families who land on unforeseen needs resulted from conditions of service. When launching the 25-cent collector card last October, it was announced all profits would be donated ….”
  • Way Up North  Senator Colin Kenny on how Canada can show that the Arctic is important. “…. If Canadians want to maintain our sovereignty in the Arctic, we should start demonstrating that we give a damn about the Arctic. Imposing tough environmental regulations on drilling would signal that we are not only in control in our portion of the Arctic, but that we deserve to be.”
  • Historian Jack Granatstein on what REALLY drives Canadian foreign and defence policy:  “…. for the Harper government, the new reality is that Alberta attitudes drive defence policy, not Quebec opinions. Virtually every opinion poll over recent decades has shown attitudes in Alberta consistently more hawkish than quasi-pacifist opinion in French Canada. The Tories have little support in Quebec, and the last election confirmed that they don’t need Quebec M.P.s to create a parliamentary majority. The coming addition of some thirty more seats in the House of Commons for Ontario and the West will entrench this new reality. In the circumstances, the Conservatives have a free hand to build the defence and foreign policy that suits their view of the world. And they will ….”
  • Remembering the Battle of Britain, 71 years later, with a renewed name” “For the first time in more than 40 years, we will celebrate the Battle of Britain with the restored name of the Royal Canadian Air Force,” said the Honorable Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence …. The Battle of Britain, the first major campaign to be conducted entirely in the air, took place in the skies over south eastern Britain and the English Channel from July to October 1940. Vastly outnumbered by the German Luftwaffe, allied pilots and aircrews, including more than 100 Canadian pilots, held the enemy at bay and prevented Hitler’s planned invasion of Great Britain ….”

Natynczyk’s Trip to St. Maarten: The REST of the Story

There’s nothing wrong with scrutinizing how government spends its money.  However, in the case of Chief of Defence Staff Walt Natynczyk’s highlighted flight to St. Maarten via government jet to join his family on vacation, there’s some unreported or under-reported information that might offer some context.

1)  Folks who know how these things work say the pilots of the Challenger jets in question have to fly a certain amount of hours per year in order to stay current.  If there’s nobody to fly in the planes, the planes will be flown nonetheless – flying hours and associated costs are budgeted.  In other words, if the plane in question wasn’t flying the General to his family, it would have been flying someplace else with nobody in the back.

2)  CTV says the flight took place January 4, 2010.  CBC.ca says the Chief of Defence Staff was pulled off of his vacation to attend a repatriation ceremony.  Which repatriation ceremony?  One for four Canadian soldiers and reporter Michelle Lang, killed in an IED attack December 30, 2009.  If the media are really concerned about how tax dollars are spent, I dare any editorial writer to say this:

“Even though Canada’s only journalist killed with Canadian troops in Afghanistan was coming home, it would have been better if Canada’s top soldier did not attend the ceremony if it meant spending extra taxpayers’ money.”

or this:

“It is only right that the CDS attend the repatriation ceremony of four fallen soldiers and Canada’s first journalist to die in Afghanistan, but the CDS should have paid for his trip to rejoin his family, even if he was already scheduled to be on leave.”

Also, I wonder if the media would have been all that forgiving if the CDS did NOT show up at this repatriation, given he’d attended all the others before and since.  Imagine the headline:

“CDS No Show at Journalist’s Repatriation:  Cost Savings Cited”

He did the right thing attending the repatriation, and I have no problem with a plane that was already being paid for to fly brought him to rejoin his family.

Update (1):  For the moment, you have a chance to fill in a survey and/or post comments on a CBC.ca page asking if you think it was OK.

Update (2):  The CDS defends himself, and the best, most detailed explanation I’ve seen so far about how the flight time for such flights is already paid for, and would happen even if the planes are empty (via Army.ca).