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Maxed Out: Our own worst enemy?

'The likelihood Canada will rebuild itself into a lean, mean fighting machine is very slim'

Suppose you opened your fridge one day, looking for something to have for dinner, and found half or more of whatever was in there was inedible. I don’t mean, “Ugh, I don’t want to eat that!” I mean mouldy, foul-smelling chemistry experiments you should have gotten rid of a long time ago.

Being an accomplished cook—if lousy housekeeper—you go to your pantry for an alternative and find half of what’s there has turned rancid, shot full of things squirming or so far beyond its best-before date you can’t even remember what you were doing that year.

Decisions, decisions, decisions. Toss the bad stuff and go grocery shopping? Eat out? Takeout? Ignore it and have a delicious rancid peanut butter sandwich on only slightly mouldy bread?

Okay, let’s be honest for a moment. Not long, just a moment. Won’t hurt that much. Will hurt some.

With respect to all those who ever bravely donned Canadian Forces uniforms, Canada simply isn’t a player in the military universe. Never a leading man, the country has historically embraced supporting roles. King and country. Canada’s been the good-natured buddy who throws himself on a grenade to save everyone else, or the guy who rushes headlong toward certain death because someone has to. Canada doesn’t start wars, threaten others with nuclear annihilation, or overthrow unfriendly governments. Canada doesn’t have The Bomb, which puts us somewhere well below Pakistan in the Threat to Humanity race.

The thought of this country invading another country or actually starting a war seems as absurd as the idea of Talk—whoever that is—doing a tribute album of Neil Young covers. Okay, maybe not that absurd… but farfetched nonetheless. I mean, heck, simply getting around to buying military hardware has been an angst-ridden, unfulfilled exercise for successive Canadian governments as far back as most of us can remember.

Perhaps because of our profile, and our relative isolation, Canada doesn’t really have what you might call an external enemy. We don’t fear the terrorist boogeyman the way the U.S. or even Britain seems to. We lack the international skullduggery infrastructure to conjure up real threats to our national security. Our network of spies bears closer resemblance to the black-and-white duo who used to grace the pages of MAD magazine than a crack intelligence network. We largely “borrow” threats to appease the paranoid Americans rather than perceive any ourselves, the recent spat with India notwithstanding.

It’s inconceivable we would ever go to war with, say, France over Saint Pierre and Miquelon the way the English did with Argentina over the Falklands decades ago. It’s so… so unCanadian. We worry about the sovereignty of the Arctic, but we’ll never have a military infrastructure sufficient to “defend” it against frozen interlopers.

Truth be told, our continued existence relies on close ties with our southern neighbour, the rule of international law, good relations with most of the rest of the world, and a global profile resembling a prairie landscape. We are easily overlooked, and in the current geopolitical climate, that is a blessing.

Despite the occasional chest-beating coming out of Ottawa and the uncomfortable transition of the Canadian Forces from peacekeepers to combat troops to whatever they are now, Canada, for the most part, does everything it can to foster its Mr. Rogers-like good neighbour profile. We welcome immigrants and refugees, albeit forcing them to drive taxi instead of using their medical or engineering degrees. We cling stubbornly, if less proudly, to the tenets of multiculturalism. And our politicians tend not to harp on the shortcomings of other countries, thus depriving the leaders of those countries the reciprocal pleasure of harping on our own, China notwithstanding.

The problem with all this nicey-nicey complacency is this: It deprives us of an enemy. Enemies are more important than you may think. Aside from the obvious benefits of providing a focal point for worry, fear and hatred, enemies are to politicians what distractions are to magicians. They divert attention to the right hand while the left hand palms the coin. In the case of politicians, it is generally our coin being palmed while we wait for the rabbit to appear.

Traditional military enemies are simply too expensive and, thankfully, still not very appealing to Canadians.

By contrast, our southern neighbours have more enemies than they know what to do with. Successive governments have seen to that, none so successfully as the four-year blundering of the Orange Monster who even considers his “friends” enemies-in-waiting.

His bluster has brought the question of Canadian military readiness front and centre. His invitation to his bosom buddy Putin to feel free to invade any NATO country failing to spend two per cent of its Gross Domestic Product on defence has put the fear of dog into Canadians.

If you’ll forgive a brief segue into, ugh, math, the Canadian military budget in 2023 was $36.7 billion. Was that two per cent of GDP? It was not. It was 1.29 per cent. To get it up to the NATO threshold—itself established by agreement in 2014—Canada would have to spend an additional $20 billion... annually, until that number grew bigger in lockstep with GDP. Add that to the current $40-billion deficit and watch politicians and concerned Canadians set their hair afire.

To get back to your fridge and pantry, it was reported earlier this month about half of what the Canadian Armed Forces calls military equipment isn’t really equipment at all. It’s junk. More than half for the Navy and Air Force, just under half for the Army. Junk. Obsolete. Unserviceable.

The combination of Canada’s failure to meet the two-per-cent solution and the growing military junk pile have brought more than half the country to support spending the NATO target, 53 per cent according to an Angus Reid poll. That support jumps to 65 per cent when people are confronted with the unthinkable—a second Orange Monster presidency.

Of course, the poll doesn’t delve into where the funds come from or touch on the fact national defence is already the fourth-largest-spending ministry in the country. Canada currently spends $10 billion more on defence than, for example, health.

With half its equipment junk and a spending target that would add another 50 per cent to a deficit everyone in the country except the Prime Minister thinks is too high, the likelihood Canada will rebuild itself into a lean, mean fighting machine is very slim.

In the immortal words of Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Now we have to figure out how to stop being our own enemy.