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Building brigades: Canada, NATO allies struggle to shore up Baltic defences against Russian threat

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Canada doesn’t have enough troops to deploy without resorting to mobilization, report warns.

The idea looks good on paper.

But converting NATO’s so-called “tripwire” forces in the three Baltic countries to fully topped-up fighting brigades — the kind that could withstand a Russian invasion — is proving to be a challenge for the lead nations involved: Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany.

At the last NATO summit in Madrid, leaders of the western military alliance ordered the conversion of battle groups in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia to full combat brigades with anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 troops each, depending on the availability of equipment.

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Getting there is proving to be a struggle, according to two recent reports — one from the U.K. House of Commons, the other from a Warsaw-based international affairs think-tank.

Since that June NATO summit, journalists have been asking Canadian politicians and military officials when the Canadian-led brigade in Latvia will be created and what it will look like. Their responses have been vague.

In a recent interview with CBC News, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre wouldn’t be pinned down to a precise timeline but said “the first exercise we’re looking at is in 2024 … at the brigade level.”

Which means that completing the expansion to brigade level could take Canada two years from start to finish.

And it seems Canada isn’t the only country struggling with the creation of combat brigades — despite the demands of Baltic leaders and the political urgency western politicians have attached to the project.

A research briefing for the British House of Commons noted that the U.K., which leads the NATO mission in Estonia, has two battle groups assigned to the country — one under the alliance flag, the other deployed bilaterally by former prime minister Boris Johnson in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s full invasion of Ukraine.

“However, in October the Ministry of Defence (MOD) announced that the additional battlegroup will not be replaced in 2023,” said the research paper, dated Nov. 21, 2022.

“The U.K. will continue to lead the NATO battlegroup. Instead of the additional battlegroup, the U.K. will hold at high readiness the ‘balance of a Brigade’ in the U.K., available to deploy if needed.”

A British soldier checks equipment on a tank during a break in a NATO exercise at Camp Adazi near Riga, Latvia on Thursday, Nov.17, 2022.
A British soldier checks equipment on a tank during a break in a NATO exercise at Camp Adazi near Riga, Latvia, on Nov. 17, 2022. (Patrice Bergeron/The Canadian Press)

The U.K. also promised to “surge” forces throughout the year to conduct exercises, enhance its headquarters and provide support to the Estonian armed forces.

The problem — according to the Centre for Eastern Studies, a Warsaw-based analytics organization — is that the U.K., like Canada, doesn’t have enough troops to deploy without resorting to drastic measures like mobilization.

“At present — and for the foreseeable future — the British Army is unable to maintain a continuous rotational presence of an entire armoured brigade outside the U.K. without announcing mobilization,” says a Centre for Eastern Studies report entitled Expectations vs. Reality: NATO Brigades in the Baltic States.

Britain’s “3rd Division, intended for operations in the European theater, will only complete the process of restructuring and modernisation by 2030 … That is why London is unable to assign a specific brigade to Estonia, but can only offer individual subunits,” says the report.

How much army does Canada need?

The report goes on to say that “Canada also has the problem of deploying an entire brigade without prior mobilization, as its peacetime armed forces consist of only three mechanized brigades.”

Canada’s federal government is currently re-examining the country’s defence policy. One of the things being discussed as part of that process is the appropriate size of the Canadian military, given how the global security climate has changed in recent years.

The Germans, who lead the NATO battle group in Lithuania, are facing their own challenge — namely, their commitment of troops to the alliance’s standing crisis force.

“The German Army will not have one fully equipped brigade available until 2023, when it will be on duty with NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF),” says the Centre for Eastern Studies analysis.

“The Bundeswehr will only have one fully modernized division available by 2027, and a further two by 2031. It would thus only be able to permanently deploy one brigade in Lithuania on a rotational basis by around 2026.”

All of the current battle groups in the region are multinational formations. Canada’s Defence Minister Anita Anand has said other nations supporting the Canadian-led operation in Latvia are being consulted about what they might contribute.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Defence Anita Anand speak with Canadian troops deployed on Operation Reassurance as he visits the Adazi Military base in Adazi, Latvia, on March 8, 2022. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The Canadian military’s operational commander, Vice-Admiral Bob Auchterlonie, said Canada is trying to boost the force in Latvia in tandem with its allies.

“We are working with the U.K. and the Germans on schedule, and we’re working with Latvia on a number of things required to actually get there,” Auchterlonie said in a recent interview with CBC News.

In recent months, Lithuania and Estonia in particular have complained about the plan adopted at the Madrid NATO Summit. They say they don’t want their supporting nations (Germany and the U.K.) to simply rush troops into the countries in the event of an emergency. They want real brigades stationed on their soil, not paper ones.

Auchterloine said Canada is also trying to decide how many troops should be stationed in Latvia on a rotational basis — and how many could be rushed in through what could be contested waters and airspace in the event of a conflict with Russia.

And there’s another problem, according to the Centre for Eastern Studies report.

“Despite ongoing diplomatic efforts, none of the Baltic states is in a position to provide the infrastructure necessary to station such forces in the near future,” says the report. “The training grounds and barracks infrastructure is insufficient and needs to be significantly developed.”

Allies have time to prepare: Auchterlonie

Lithuania has said it will make all of the relevant investments by 2026. Estonia just finished negotiations in London last fall to make that happen.

Auchterlonie said Canada is facing the same space crunch in Latvia. Camp Adazi outside of Riga, where the battle group is housed, is “busting at the seams,” adding more tanks and troops is impossible at the moment and a brigade “simply won’t fit,” he said.

The allies, he added, have a bit of time.

“The Russians are fully committed to Ukraine. In terms of threat immediately, is there an immediate threat of Russia heading this way? I’d say that, you know, our allies in the Baltic agree that probably that threat is slightly diminished now,” Auchterlonie said.

If the crisis in the region escalates, he said, allies will want to make sure there are forces available.

“But it’s not going to happen today,” he added. “It’s not going to happen tomorrow.”

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The Losani Family Foundation celebrates 10 years of giving back

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This year, the Losani Family Foundation is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. Over the past decade, the Foundation has made a significant impact on the communities it serves in three major core areas:

  • support for vulnerable women,
  • support for children,
  • support for food banks.

As the foundation’s parent company, Losani Homes is a leading developer operating in the Hamilton/GTA area, with a long-standing history of supporting charitable causes. Losani Homes’ charitable initiatives have been active in the local community for over 40 years, ever since the Losani family first immigrated to Canada. Some early initiatives included supporting children’s programs through an emphasis on physical activity, literacy programs, and hospital facilities.

By 2013, the Losani Family formalized their commitment to local communities by founding the Losani Family Foundation, which has been making a sizable impact on charitable organizations, locally and internationally, donating over $1.6 million since its inception in 2013.

CEO of Losani Homes, Fred Losani, has been the driving force behind corporate and family philanthropy over the last decade. With a deep sense of care and stewardship in support of local and international communities, Fred and the company’s employees have worked tirelessly to support housing, clean water, health, and numerous other important causes.

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The Losani Family Foundation has supported multiple organizations over the years, including but not limited to: Good Shepherd, St. Matthew’s House, and Hamilton Food Share. The Losani Family Foundation’s passion for giving back has also inspired many business associates in the local community.

In 2006, Fred and five other Hamilton business leaders raised a staggering $1.5 million for local children and families by trekking to the North Pole, and again in 2008, where they trekked to the South Pole. They even completed the entire length of the Bruce Trail in 2012. These achievements were the spark that led to the Foundation’s inception, and they have continued to make a difference in countless lives since.

In 2017, Losani Homes and the Losani Family Foundation received the Gold Award for Building Community Spirit at the National Association of Home Builders Awards (NAHB).

At that time, Fred Losani stated: “We are honoured to receive this special recognition for our efforts at both the local and international levels. We are fortunate that we have achieved great success in our home and land development business. We take this responsibility seriously, but we are equally committed to and proud of the work done through the Losani Family Foundation.”

The Losani Family Foundation has consistently professed that food is an essential element of life, is at the heart of any family gathering and is a core value of the Foundation. The Losani Family Foundation has worked with numerous food banks over the years, one of the closest relationships being with Hamilton Food Share, enabling the team to support vulnerable people in the community. The Losani Family Foundation has worked closely with Hamilton Food Share to support families at risk of facing food insecurity issues. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been donated by the Losani Family Foundation to this vital Hamilton organization.

In 2022, the Losani Family Foundation further supported families facing poverty by contributing $9,500 to Food4Kidz to establish a relationship with the organization to address the issue of food insecurity for children in close to 70 Hamilton schools. The Losani team also visited CityKidz, another non-profit organization close to the Foundation’s heart. Team members worked on packing family care kids and assembling boxes for meal kits. Along with their volunteer labour, the Losani Family Foundation donated $25,000 to help improve the lives of local children by supporting the work of CityKidz. To date, the Losani Family Foundation has donated well over $200,000 to CityKidz.

Looking towards 2023 and beyond, the Losani Family Foundation will be supporting these and numerous other charitable initiatives. Their aim is to provide significant financial support to grassroots charities in local communities.

In 2023, the team at Losani Homes will embark on multiple visits to support our community partners in Hamilton, Stoney Creek, Brantford, Paris, Grimsby, and Beamsville.

The Losani Family Foundation continues to set a high standard for philanthropy and remains steadfast in its commitment to making a difference in our local communities.

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Vancouver park board offers tips on how to ‘respect’ city’s coyotes

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VANCOUVER — Now that coyote denning season is in full swing, the Vancouver park board is offering some tips for “peaceful coexistence” between the animals and humans.

Their pups are born in the spring, and the board says that makes coyotes more active as they protect their dens and seek food for their young.

Normally they’re only seen at dawn and dusk, but the board says that behaviour changes in spring, when they’re spotted in the daytime and they become bolder or stand their ground if they perceive a threat.

Coyotes are found across Vancouver and prefer sheltered, wooded areas to raise their families, so the board says it will occasionally close trails in high-traffic locations like Stanley Park where they are known to frequent.

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Its tips for living without conflict with the animals include to never leave or offer food — punishable by a $500 fine if offenders are caught — keep pets on a leash, give wildlife space and if you see a coyote, slowly back away.

There have been a number of high-profile coyote attacks in the city over the years, including dozens in spring and summer of 2021 in Stanley Park, some involving children bitten while with their families.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 21, 2023.

 

The Canadian Press

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Military expecting to save $30M per year with targeted housing benefit for troops

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OTTAWA — The Canadian Armed Forces is rolling out a new housing benefit that a senior commander says will better help troops struggling to find affordable accommodations while saving millions of dollars every year.

The Canadian Forces Housing Differential will supplement the incomes of members who have to live and work in areas of the country with high rental costs.

That includes Canadian Forces Base Comox on Vancouver Island, where some members were recently told they could contact Habitat for Humanity if they were having trouble finding a place to live.

The benefit is set to come into effect on July 1 and will replace an existing allowance called the post living differential, or PLD, that sought to offset the cost of living and working in particularly expensive communities.

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Unlike that allowance, whose rates have been frozen since 2009, the new housing benefit will be tied to salary to help those who need it most, said Brig.-Gen. Virginia Tattersall, the military’s director general of compensation and benefits.

The result is that thousands of members who don’t currently qualify for the PLD allowance will start to receive the housing benefit, while thousands of others will see their PLD cash cut off — at a net savings of about $30 million per year.

“This benefit is about us being equitable,” Tattersall said in an interview. “It is truly trying to look after those who need it the most. So hence why it is more the junior ranks that will benefit from this than it is the senior ranks.”

She added the aim is to ensure no member is forced to spend more than between 25 per cent and 35 per cent of their monthly salary on rent. An outside company has been hired to assess average rental prices near bases.

Online forums catering to military personnel are rife with stories and complaints from Armed Forces members about the lack of affordable housing near military bases where they are required to work.

The problem is exacerbated by the cyclical nature of military postings, as troops are routinely forced to relocate from one part of the country to another due to operational demands and career progression.

Younger and more junior members face an especially hard time in certain communities such as Comox, Victoria and Halifax, where housing is extremely limited or expensive.

There is also a critical shortage of housing on bases, with thousands of military members and their families currently on wait-lists while promises to build new accommodations largely stuck in neutral.

To ease the problem, the local base commander at CFB Esquimalt near Victoria has started letting new sailors live in their training quarters for months after their initial training is finished.

The focus on housing rather than overall cost-of-living reflects the main cost disparity of living in different parts of the country, Tattersall said, unlike in the past when cost variances were far greater.

“Cost of living per se is relatively equal across the country, the one thing that does stand out is that cost of housing, or that affordability of housing,” she said.

“And so that’s why we’ve focused the benefit in on that issue, because that more seems to be the real challenge for our members.”

Tying the new housing benefit to salary will ensure those who are really struggling get the help they need while cutting down on spending, she added. Armed Forces members living in military housing will also not qualify.

The new housing benefit will cost about $150 million per year, compared to $180 million for the PLD allowance.

“And so part of finding that sweet spot in terms of something that looked after members was also ensuring that we brought ourselves back within the envelope of funding that had been authorized,” she said.

The military estimates that about 28,000 Armed Forces members will qualify for the new housing benefit, which represents about 6,300 more than currently receive the PLD.

However, about 7,700 members who have been receiving the existing allowance will be cut off. While the military says most of those already live in military housing or have higher salaries, the move is likely to spark complaints.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 21, 2023.

 

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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