31 March 2005

The choice is ours - Goose Bay revisited

Since Thursday is turning out to be a Labrador day here at the Bond Papers, I thought I'd also reprint the text of a commentary done by your humble scribe for CBC Radio Morning Show last year.

As you can tell from the context, it was shortly after the provincial government hosted the American ambassador. The comments I made on the radar site are still valid: if the thing is built in Goose we are talking maybe 100 people plus their families. I still hold to the view that the Americans have no military interest in Goose Bay or Labrador generally as a site for their equipment. If an X-band radar winds up in Goose it will be built with Canadian money. But here again, I caution that National Defence has no operational interest in Goose Bay other than as a staging area. They don't need a base there.

Other than that, here's the commentary:

"US ambassador Paul Celucci didn’t go to Goose Bay last week to check out the training facilities. The American military already has bases that do everything Goose Bay can do or wants to do and more besides. The Americans, like the Germans, are closing bases at home and overseas. As the German ambassador keeps saying: how can you close bases at home and at the same time invest in new facilities at Canada?

In the modern context, that’s one of the reasons why pushing Goose Bay as a place to train pilots is like trying to grow cucumbers in Mount Pearl. Someone else can do it better and cheaper. What’s worse, the demand for pickles – in this case manned combat aircraft - is dropping. As a result, countries are changing their military forces to take advantage of new technology and lower their costs.

No small irony, then that the same week Celucci was being pitched on pilot training at Goose Bay, the Canadian Forces was testing a Predator remotely piloted vehicle from the same airport. Coupled with ground-based radar, like the surface wave system developed by Northern Radar of St. John’s and the American defence giant Raytheon, in the next five years, remotely piloted vehicles will do just about everything that needs to be done for coastal defence and security in Canada.

Count on it!

Ambassador Celucci is interested in Goose Bay as a possible site for part of the American ballistic missile defence system. For Goose Bay, though, being a BMD site won’t bring as many people to the community or as much money as people might think. That doesn’t mean Goose Bay won’t have military forces in its future. It’s just that the military options are limited. There may be better civilian opportunities for economic development in central Labrador, but for Goose Bay, the Cold War is finally over.

As for Premier Williams, he is really just making the same out-dated pitch his predecessors have used. Like Danny Williams now, Roger Grimes used to complain the federal government should be spending more money on Goose Bay.

That’s just misguided.

DND isn’t a regional economic subsidy program. The Canadian Forces do not train at Goose Bay now because they do not need Goose Bay. It is that simple. DND already spends too much on buildings it doesn’t need and doing jobs it just shouldn’t be doing.

Rather than gripe or chase old ideas, let’s look at something DND would be interested in – like strengthening the reserve forces here or basing Aurora patrol aircraft at Gander, both of which would actually improve Canadian defence capabilities.

The best defence-related economic potential for Newfoundland and Labrador isn’t in military bases at all. It’s in supplying goods and services. Northern Radar is one defence contractor in the province. Rutter, North Star, Stratos, GRI Simulations and others compete globally with the best and have produced thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in sales often without much meaningful support from the provincial government.

That needs to change, too.

As in Goose Bay last week, we can either reminisce about the good old days or be part of the future.

The choice is ours.