07 March 2007

Confusion at Disneyland?

National Defence Headquarters, located at 101 Colonel By Drive in Ottawa and known to some as Disneyland on the Rideau is the scene these days of some policy disagreement between the Gordon O'Connor, Minister of National Defence, and General Rick Hillier, Chief of Defence Staff.

The disagreement seems to be leading to confusion, as two news stories this week attest.

On Tuesday, CBC's Rob North reported from Halifax that the federal government will be going ahead with a plan to create an 800-strong amphibious force to be based in Atlantic Canada. Consisting of ships, submarines, helicopters and soldiers of various kinds, the contingency force would be a special force able to deploy just about anywhere in the world.

North doesn't quote anybody directly in the story, but this sort of thing wouldn't hit the air unless North and his bosses were satisfied it was accurate based on several sources.

Odd then that on Wednesday, the Ottawa Citizen's David Pugliese reports that the contingency force plan will be delayed for at least three years, plans to bring recruits into the system faster will be put on hold and work to bring up to full strength the special force based at Petawawa will
also be slowed.

Pugliese covers defence issues and covers them very well, by most accounts. His story contains quotes from Hillier. Take as an example this one, in which Hillier is obviously talking about the need to adjust expansion plans based on demands for Afghanistan, security support for the Olympics and the realities of trying to expand the Regular Force:
"I've had to take a bit of an appetite suppressant," Gen. Rick Hillier, chief of the defence staff, said in an interview with the Citizen.

"All those things are increasing and a big load here and I need to balance that load," Gen. Hillier said.

He stressed that recruiting is still going strong and the military will meet its targets this year to fill the ranks.
Strictly speaking, North's story isn't wrong. The amphibious force will go ahead; it just won't be happening any time soon. At the same time, the contrast between these two stories couldn't be any more stark in their tone and their implications.

The Pugliese story, though, has a bit more detail that suggests some give and take going on between the Minister and Canada's senior soldier.

Pugliese reports that the army commander, Lieutenant General Andrew Leslie, right [Photo: Ottawa Citizen], told a Fraser Institute conference on Tuesday that the army will be "pushing" winter warfare training in the near future. The army shifted away from that skill in favour of skills needed in other climates. Cold weather and Arctic operations are a key component of O'Connor's "Canada First" plan.