“Read @HarjitSajjan speech about the lack of proper funding 4 the Canadian Forces by the previous Government,” Mike Maka, a staffer at the Prime Minister’s Office, tweeted Thursday morning. Kate Purchase, the PM’s communications director, retweeted the message. This might be a good week to pay attention to the defence minister’s precise words, and that’s not what his speech said.
In fact, Harjit Sajjan was careful in his Wednesday speech to the Conference of Defence Associates Institute to note that “successive governments” — the word is bold, underlined and in italics in his speaking notes — “contributed to the current state of affairs.”
That state of affairs is lousy—”in some ways, worse than realized by most observers”—and Sajjan is careful to refer to governments in plural, and to timelines going back before 2006, as he diagnoses the problem. “Canada’s naval capabilities are at a 40-year low.” “In over 25 years as a Reservist, I saw firsthand the ways that Canada’s government [singular, sic] have [plural, sic] failed to properly equip our Reserve force.”
My point here is not to exculpate the Harper government. Almost the opposite: Stephen Harper, whose political brand was a lot closer to the Armed Forces than Justin Trudeau’s, once planned to reverse the long-term trend of status-quo defence spending against mounting operational challenges. His preferred instrument was the Canada First Defence Strategy, an ambitious plan laid out in 2008, with 20-year spending provisions and specific procurement objectives, for building up a strong Canadian military.