Christian Leuprecht is professor of Leadership in Class 1965 at the Royal Military College, director of the Institute of Intergovernmental Relations at Queen’s University, and a senior colleague at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. His latest book is Public Security in Federal Polities.
The deployment of 1,700 regular troops and military reserve members Duty in long-term nursing homes in Ontario and Quebec have been applauded by Canadians. At the same time, we seemed ambivalent about the decision to scale back or suspend some of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) international commitments. As far as the public is concerned, military away games are discretionary – a disruption used to keep busy when troops are not needed at home.
The problem is that the country’s stability, prosperity and harmony have long relied on expeditionary military power. The CAF emphasized the country’s geo-strategic interests by strengthening allies and promoting stability abroad. With the globalization of the transnational threat, many Canadian allies have adopted the same posture of the expedition, and our allies are as difficult to sell the need for this action to their domestic constituencies as Canada.
But other countries’ civil-military relations differ from Canada in important ways: under their social contracts, there is broad consensus to keep the military out of domestic operations. The sentiment they hold is that just because the military can do work at home doesn’t mean it should.
These countries want their military to defend their interests; thus, in response to emergencies that are not security related, their civil society must largely deal with it on their own. The functional logic has told Canadian allies and partners in creating organizations that jointly handle civil defense and disaster preparedness. Examples include the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the United States, the State Emergency Service (SES) in Australia, Technisches Hilfswerk (THW) in Germany, the Sécurité Civile in France and the Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) in Sweden. These organizations provide surge capacity in a broad spectrum of expertise, as well as volunteers and trained equipment to help with disaster response.
Canada has no equivalent. Provincial emergency action organizations do not have operational capacity that can be used. So, the CAF finally stopped the emergency response. That is a consequence of a typical Canadian anachronism.
Under paragraph 91 (7) Constitution, the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over matters relating to “militias, military and naval service, and defense.” While provinces and municipalities are prohibited from forming their own military, American states maintain their own national guards. The state militias provided a catalyst to accelerate the U.S. civil war. In negotiating the Confederacy during the 1860s, Canada, which was politically divided and deadlocked, intended not to repeat American mistakes.
At that time, only the federal government had the police forces needed to ensure peace and order. Under the terms “assistance for civilian forces” in Militia Law in 1868, a local official (eg, mayor, prison chief or judge) could ask the local militia and military commanders to oblige. At that time, it guaranteed that there would always be sufficient resources available to ensure justice administration in the Canadian province. At present, this is a moral hazard: knowing that they can call on the CAF, the provinces that lack investment in critical infrastructure.
Over time, mechanisms for assistance to civil authorities have developed without much political oversight, debate or public awareness. Canadian Defense in 2017 White paper “Strong, Safe, Engaged” (SSE) explicitly provides reserves to take on new roles and capabilities. Civil response is a mandate that reserves should have. But many members are placed below LENTUS Operation – CAF’s standing mission for domestic operations – belonging to regular troops.
Reserves should focus on home matches, so that regular troops are not interrupted from away matches.
Such division of labor will require a fundamental restructuring of the CAF. Army reserves are based on an outdated model of mobilizing militias for war: a shadow infantry and artillery waiting to be filled if we mobilize our troops for battle.
Canada can learn from its allies: home and away don’t have to be a zero-sum game, especially when a country spends as little on its troops as it does Canada. In addition to the Pandemic, because climate change brings more frequent and greater floods, snow storms, and forest fires, CAF should consider alternative models to fulfill its civil response mandate. The current approach is clearly inefficient and unsustainable.
Canada will not pay for a larger military. So Canada will need a more organized military that is actually structured to optimize taxpayer investment returns.
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