Looking back at his 2012 record, most would agree that Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay didn’t have a great year.
The enormous controversy surrounding the F-35 fighter jets acquisition and his use of a search-and-rescue military helicopter to pick him up from a fishing trip caused two separate media fiascos. I guess you could say he’s starting this year right where he left off.
On Jan. 7, Postmedia News released documents it obtained alleging that provinces and municipalities will soon have to pay the federal government if they ask for the Canadian Armed Forces to participate in disaster relief efforts. Federal budget constraints would be the main reason behind this change.
Within hours, the news passed on to the various media outlets across the country, raising the ire of many columnists and politicians alike. Four days later, Mackay reassured press that ‘‘communities needing assistance will not likely be billed for those services.’’
While there is no more tangible worry for the Canadian population, the fact that Mackay was actually considering this possibility – and the public reaction that followed – points towards another interesting year for our defence minister.
Dr. Julian Schofield is a political science professor at Concordia University, specializing in strategic studies.
“This is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard,” he told The Concordian.
According to Schofield, provinces would simply not hire the military if the services would cost them.
‘“The military is relatively unskilled except for shooting people,’” he added. ‘“Their purpose is only to enhance public confidence, it’s a [public relations] move.”
Schofield gives the example of the Great Ice Storm of 1998. Technically, the military couldn’t do much to help, but their presence comforted citizens.
For a long time, Canadians have enjoyed a sense of pride and security towards the Armed Forces. Many grew up knowing that if there was an event dire enough to require their aid, they would come.
And they have.
According to the National Defence website, the Forces operated in four provinces to support efforts against “three floods, one hurricane, and multiple forest fires,” in 2011.
To take away the peace of mind and security of citizens over a question of budget constraints should be out of the question.
In the days prior to MacKay’s statement confirming this change would not take place, federal opposition parties were also condemning the decision, according to the Montreal Gazette.
“Communities should not have to look at their wallet before deciding whether they need help in a natural disaster,’’ said NDP Member of Parliament and defence critic Jack Harris.
As Schofield said, provinces could make do without help from the army if the Ministry of National Defence insisted on charging them for their services. But how will citizens feel knowing that their own soldiers cannot be deployed to help save them because of economic concerns?
“There is a foundational expectation that our military will be there when we need it. That’s what we pay these guys for,” said MP and Liberal defence critic John McKay.
Defence minister MacKay may have conducted successful acquisitions and operations in 2012, but his public image has been tarnished by controversies throughout the year. A cabinet minister, much like the Canadian Forces, should not only do his job, but also maintain the public’s trust in his legitimacy.