Democrat Debates II: Part I
OTTAWA — Federal opposition parties are accusing the Trudeau government of creating an unprecedented crisis inside the Canadian Armed Forces even as some have started to question the leadership of Canada’s top general.
The comments followed news of Lt.-Gen. Paul Wynnyk’s plan to step down abruptly as the military’s second-in-command, a decision he linked in a resignation letter to an aborted attempt to reinstate Vice-Admiral Mark Norman into the position.
Wynnyk’s departure as vice-chief of the defence staff, effective Aug. 9, is the latest blow to the Canadian military, whose top ranks have been in a perpetual state of upheaval since Norman was suspended as second-in-command.
Some analysts have pointed the finger at Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance, but Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer on Wednesday laid the blame squarely at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s feet.
In a statement, Scheer alleged the Liberals’ “political interference” in Norman’s breach-of-trust case, which was dropped in May, had “created unprecedented chaos” in military and ruined the careers of Norman and Wynnyk.
“In four years, (Trudeau) has destroyed the careers of two of our country’s most senior military officers and caused instability and turmoil at the highest levels of the military,” Scheer said.
Norman’s lawyers repeatedly accused the government of interfering in their client’s case by withholding key documents and information that they say could have helped demonstrate his innocence.
The Liberals have denied any wrongdoing in the case, which saw Norman suspended and later charged for allegedly leaking government secrets about a shipbuilding contract to a Quebec shipyard before the case was stayed in May.
But the allegation has been picked up by the Conservatives and New Democrats, who say the result is the loss of first Norman and now Wynnyk — and growing instability at the top of the Canadian military.
“I really hold the prime minister and the minister of defence responsible for the chaos that we’ve seen recently in their vendetta against Vice-Admiral Norman,” said NDP defence critic Randall Garrison.
“Without any evidence, they drove Vice-Admiral Norman out of his position. And we will never be privy between the chief of defence staff and the prime minister and the minister of defence over that, but I believe that direction came from the very top.”
Vance has taken sole responsibility for suspending Norman as vice-chief of defence staff in January 2017 after learning the RCMP was investigating him.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan did not respond to the opposition charges Wednesday, but thanked Wynnyk in a statement for his service and leadership during his 38 years in uniform, including his time as vice-chief, which “will fundamentally re-shape the Canadian Armed Forces for the better.”
Yet even as the Liberals faced opposition attacks on Wednesday, there was an emerging debate about Vance’s leadership of the military, which is entering its fifth year, making him one of the Canadian Forces’ longest-serving defence chiefs.
In his resignation letter, reportedly sent to more than two dozen generals, Wynnyk wrote that when he was appointed vice-chief of the defence staff on a permanent basis in July 2018, Vance insisted on a two-year commitment.
Before that, Wynnyk had been one in a series of fill-ins as the military waited for Norman’s breach-of-trust case to make its way through the courts. Wynnyk had planned to retire this summer.
However, according to the letter, Vance asked Wynnyk to make way for Norman by retiring after the breach-of-trust case was dropped — only to ask him again to stay after the government reached a still-undisclosed settlement with Norman in June that led to Norman’s retirement instead.
Wynnyk instead told Vance that he is pressing ahead with his retirement, leaving the vice-chief of the defence staff position empty and making him the latest in a string of senior officers to retire.
“The turnover rate amongst the senior officers in the military has been pretty extraordinary over the last couple of years,” said analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. “And it’s not a good dynamic to have that high a degree of turnover.”
While some, like Garrison, suggested the Liberals put Vance in a difficult position, others such as retired colonel Michel Drapeau said there had been a “failure in generalship” by the defence chief over the last number of years.
That includes his management of the Norman file, which Drapeau argued has divided the military’s officer corps, and grumbles about his domineering style and quickness to support controversial government decisions like the need for interim fighter jets.
Vance was not immediately available for comment.
Conservative defence critic James Bezan echoed some of Drapeau’s concerns, saying the general “has been the good soldier carrying forward, unfortunately, the political agenda of the prime minister and Minister Sajjan.”
Yet both he and Garrison said the government was ultimately to blame and replacing Vance now would create even more instability in the Forces.
“I wouldn’t want to see Gen. Vance step down before the next election,” Bezan said. “We need to first replace the prime minister and the defence minister before we replace the chief of defence staff.”
Trudeau’s spokesman Cameron Ahmad in an email said the government believes in Vance, a sentiment echoed by Sajjan.
“I continue to have confidence in the chief of the defence staff,” Sajjan said in his statement.
“Gen. Vance is an integral part of the defence team and I have faith in him and his team as we implement our ambitious defence policy.”
Given the importance of the No. 2 position, which involves overseeing much of the military’s actual administration, the focus should be on finding a new vice-chief of defence staff, said retired colonel Brett Boudreau, now a fellow with CGAI.
“Continuity of senior command is a useful thing, especially when implementing considerable change such as a defence policy,” he said. “Stability in the VCDS position needs to be restored, it’s too important to the management of the institution to be a revolving door.”
Canada’s chattering classes are apparently confused by findings in recent polls that while Canadians say they care about fighting human-induced climate change, they’re also unwilling to part with a lot of money to do it.
They shouldn’t be.
I’ve been reading polls on this issue for well over a decade and the basic rule of thumb is that while two-thirds of the public say they want action to address climate change, two-thirds become far less enthusiastic when the costs are explained to them.
Recent polls by Public Square Research and Maru/Blue for the CBC, and by Nanos Research for secondstreet.org came to similar findings.
The CBC’s report on the poll said that while 4,500 Canadians surveyed from May 31 to June 10 collectively identified climate change as their second greatest worry, 32% were unwilling to pay anything to address it.
Another 17% said their upper limit was less than $100 annually.
Combining those two groups means half of those surveyed were only prepared to spend under $100 each year.
By comparison, 16% were willing to pay between $100 and $500 per year, just 7% between $500 and $1,000 and 3% more than $1,000 annually.
What’s the reason for such apparently contradictory findings?
Part of it is explained by the fact that the only thing that finished higher than climate change in the CBC poll when people were asked what issue most concerned them (19%) was the cost of living (32%).
Similarly, the secondstreet.org poll of 1,000 Canadians from May 31 to June 4 found while 57.3% of Canadians supported paying a carbon tax with 41% opposed, the median amount they were willing to pay was just under $100 annually.
But even this poll’s finding that most Canadians support a carbon tax is disputed by another, suggesting that the answers people give to polls depends largely on what they’re asked.
A Forum poll of 1,633 Canadians released June 6, for example, found 45% of voters surveyed opposed carbon taxes, with only 28% in favour and 27% neither for or against.
That’s far different from the secondstreet.org/Nanos poll which showed 57.3% in favour, 41% opposed.
But while the Forum poll released June 6 found far more Canadians opposed to carbon taxes than in favour, another Forum poll of 1,812 adults released July 4 concluded the environment has become the leading election issue for Canadians, with 26% identifying it as the most important issue, compared to 25% for the economy and 16% for health care.
Given the poll’s margin of error, this means the environment and the economy are statistically tied as the top issues but the larger point is that, in the past, it has been rare for the environment to top traditional voters concerns, such as the economy and health care.
That said, the reluctance of Canadians to pay carbon taxes — even, supposedly, “revenue neutral” ones — while simultaneously professing to care about the environment and climate change has, to me, a simple explanation.
It’s that while Canadians care about human-induced climate change, they’re skeptical that a new tax will solve it.
Or, alternatively, that a federal government that can’t balance its books — despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s broken 2015 election promise to do so — probably isn’t going to be able to fix the weather over the next few decades.
And in that belief, Canadians are being completely logical.
SASKATOON — It’s a gathering of premiers without Prime Minister Justin Trudeau present, but the PM was front and centre in discussions over who was to blame over hundreds of jobs lost in two provinces.
An announcement said 550 jobs were to be lost at a Bombardier rail car plant in Thunder Bay and another 87 gone in La Pocatiere, Que., all the result of Buy America regulations.
The federal government tried to blame the Ford government in Ontario for the job losses, but the reality is the culprit is in Washington.
Still, there is plenty of chatter among the provinces that a lack of leadership from Trudeau is the reason Canadian workers are in this situation.
The Federal Transit Administration, which provides funding for transit projects across the United States, has a requirement that the projects buy American.
Just to get funding, the project has to show that “the steel, iron, and manufactured goods used in the project are produced in the United States,” according to the grant conditions.
Those requirements extend to rail cars.
As recently as 2017, the requirement was only that 60% of the product had to be produced in the U.S. That went up to 65% in 2018 and will be 70% by January.
Canadian manufacturers and the provincial premiers would like to see Canada exempted from these requirements, but so far it hasn’t happened.
Bombardier, which had been getting contracts in the U.S. in addition to major contracts in Toronto and Edmonton, says there simply won’t be enough won’t be enough work for all those workers if they can’t bid on contracts in the U.S.
Speaking on background, an official with Bombardier said the company was able to bid on contracts at the lower threshold but not with a 70% Buy America requirement.
On Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Quebec Premier Francois Legault called for federal action to get Canadian firms an exemption.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford addresses media at the Thorncrest Ford car dealership in Toronto on April 1, 2019.
“We need the federal government to continue to negotiate with the U.S. government,” Ford said.
“This is killing our trade with the United States. We have to change the Buy America policy.”
Legault said that Bombardier being blocked from getting future rail contracts in the United States is at the heart of the layoffs.
“So that’s why we all decided together that we need more leadership from the Prime Minister of Canada to negotiate an exemption,” Legault said.
One official in Ford’s office put it more bluntly.
“Justin Trudeau has failed to stand up to Buy America,” they said.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, who is hosting the meeting, backed up his counterparts in calling for greater federal leadership in getting Canadian industries an exemption from the provisions but also said the premiers will take action themselves.
Acting as spokesman for the 13 assembled premiers, Moe said provinces and territories need to start advocating as a group with our major trading partners.
“We will again be co-ordinating our efforts with our outreach and our advocacy in support of our trade relationship, our Canadian trade relationship with the United States,” Moe said.
The subtext of that statement is the same as the comment from Ford’s official.
Workers in Thunder Bay and La Pocatiere, as well as in other affected industries and towns, are depending on someone getting something fixed on this front.
It’s doubtful that Trudeau will get anything done soon and not just because of the looming election.
The current increase in the Buy America provisions was passed under then-president Barack Obama and left in place by President Donald Trump.
If Trudeau couldn’t get an exemption from his good friend Obama and a renegotiated NAFTA with Trump, then I don’t have much hope.
If Trudeau or his successor can’t get this fixed, then the more than 600 workers unemployed today will just be the beginning.
WATCH ABOVE: Sun political columnist Brian Lilley breaks down how our PM is slipping again on the ethical front.
In his latest political gaffe, Justin Trudeau is appointing friends, family and donors as – wait for it – judges!
Who said justice is blind?
What do you think? Is Trudeau pulling a Trump?
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