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Canada not sending fighter jets to Europe next year as Air Force rearms, regroups

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Canada will not send fighter jets to patrol NATO airspace for Russian incursions next year, the first time that Canadian CF-18s will be absent from the skies over Europe since 2017.

While the decision is being blamed on the need to upgrade the CF-18s and train more personnel, it has nonetheless raised eyebrows given the West’s current tensions with Russia and the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Canada first deployed a group of CF-18s to participate in what is known as the NATO air policing mission in 2014, as the military alliance scrambled to bolster its forces in eastern Europe following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

Based out of Romania and working alongside other NATO aircraft, their mission was to monitor Russian air activity over the Baltics and Black Sea ⁠— and protect against any aggressive action by Moscow.

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The Air Force started to send aircraft and personnel every year in 2017, with the most recent rotation ending on Dec. 1, as six CF-18s returned home from Romania following a four-month deployment in which they flew nearly 500 sorties.

Yet while there was an expectation that Canada would return next year, Defence Department spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier confirmed in an email that will not be the case.

“While the RCAF remains ready to deploy NATO committed assets when required, we are not planning to participate in NATO air policing in 2023 at this time,” he said in a statement.

Many of the Air Force’s aircraft and personnel are currently tied up on “modernization activities,” Le Bouthillier said, which includes upgrading Canada’s aging CF-18s so they can fly and fight for the foreseeable future.

“Moreover, the RCAF is also focusing on training new and existing fighter pilots and technicians as part of our ongoing reconstitution efforts,” he added.

Canada’s auditor general warned in 2018 that the CF-18s risked being outmatched by more advanced adversaries due to a lack of upgrades since 2008. The Air Force has been working to add new weapons, sensors and defensive systems to the fleet.

Those upgrades come as the federal government continues negotiating the purchase of 88 F-35s, the first of which isn’t scheduled to arrive until at least 2025 and the last around 2032.

The Air Force has also been struggling with a shortage of pilots and technicians for years. A lack of experienced pilots, in particular, has forced it to walk a fine line between having enough seasoned aviators to train recruits and lead missions in the air.

The decision not to commit to another rotation next year nonetheless raised questions for University of Calgary defence analyst Jean-Christophe Boucher, who was in Romania on Dec. 1 to see the CF-18s take off for their return flight home.

Boucher said he talked to Romanian and French military personnel during his visit to the Mihail Kogalniceanu airbase, who expressed surprise and confusion at suggestions Canada would not be back in 2023.

“Everyone was telling us: ‘We don’t understand what it means, they’re not coming back,’” he said. “Romania is very grateful (for) the commitment.”

Romania’s proximity to Ukraine, and the fact the Black Sea has become a front line in the war in Ukraine, also means Canada was playing a key role in checking Russian aggression and activity in the region, Boucher said.

Le Bouthillier noted that Canada did recently deploy three C-130 Hercules transport aircraft to the United Kingdom to help move NATO troops and equipment.

The government is also in talks with NATO allies about reinforcing a Canadian-led battlegroup in Latvia.

Yet the return of two minesweepers from a stint with a NATO task force last month has also left Canada without any warships in European waters for the first time since 2014. The government instead opted to send two frigates to the Indo-Pacific region.

That, combined with military-wide personnel shortage and the government’s recently announced Indo-Pacific strategy, has resulted in growing concerns that the Canadian Armed Forces is being stretched too thin.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 14, 2022.

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Canadian assessment team deployed to Turkey after earthquake

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Canadian assessment team deployed to Turkey

A senior government official says a Canadian assessment team is on its way to Turkey to determine how Canada can contribute to earthquake relief efforts.

International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan was expected to formally announce the deployment of the Canadian Disaster Assessment Team this evening.

The senior official, who spoke on background pending Sajjan’s official confirmation, said the team consists of a handful of military and Global Affairs officials.

The official underscored that the deployment of the team does not automatically guarantee a further deployment of Canadian resources to the country.

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The earthquake, which razed thousands of buildings in Turkey and Syria on Monday, is one of the deadliest quakes worldwide in more than a decade and the federal government is facing criticism that the window to help with rescue efforts is closing.

Search teams from more than two dozen countries have joined tens of thousands of local emergency personnel and Canadian humanitarian aid workers with charitable organizations were arriving Wednesday

Defence Minister Anita Anand said late Tuesday that the federal government had not ruled out sending a Disaster Assistance Response Team, to help with the recovery effort, but that it was working to figure out what would be most useful.

The assessment team would recommend whether to send additional support, such as a DART.

Earlier Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government would match funds donated to Canadian Red Cross relief efforts up to $10 million on top of an initial aid package of $10 million.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2023.

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Canadian soccer player describes the horror of the earthquake in Turkey

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Canadian soccer player

Canadian soccer player Sam Adekugbe is one of the lucky ones. He managed to escape earthquake-ravaged Antakya in Turkey.

Some of his teammates and staff at his club Hatayspor are still missing.

The 28-year-old from Calgary is now safe in Istanbul with Canada captain Atiba Hutchinson, who plays in the Turkish Super Lig for Besiktas. But in a Zoom call Wednesday sitting next to Hutchinson, a sombre Adekugbe told a harrowing tale of being caught in the quake — and the horror of what he saw in the aftermath.

“Unfathomable. Something you never really expect,” said Adekugbe, who looked shell-shocked.

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Adekugbe was relaxing at home with some teammates after a 1-0 win over visiting Kasimpasa in a Turkish league game Sunday evening. The quake began as he started cleaning up his home when they left.

He started shaking, which initially made him think he was having a panic attack. Then the furniture and TV began to tip over and cups and dishes smashed in the kitchen.

He went outside to find the road split and people yelling amid freezing rain and lighting strikes. After witnessing the damage around his home, he drove the 20 minutes to the team training ground, seeing the devastation along the way.

“It just felt like a movie. You’re seeing collapsed buildings, fires. People yelling, people crying,” he said. “People digging through the rubble. Broken pieces of houses. Just things you never really expect.”

It got worse the closer he got to the centre of the city, which is located 1,100 kilometres southeast of Istanbul in a region bordered by the Mediterranean and Syria.

“Roads split. Bridges broken. Twelve-storey highrises just completely collapsed. Families looking for loved ones. Parents looking for their kids. Kids looking for their parents. It was just something unfathomable. Something you never really expect.”

Adekugbe says people are still missing, including the team’s sporting director, Taner Savut. There is confusion over the whereabouts of Ghana international Christian Atsu, who was at Adekugbe’s home that night.

Reports of Atsu being rescued are now in doubt, said Adekugbe, who joined the search for survivors after getting to the training ground.

“It’s also people who work around the team,” Adekugbe said.

He says one of the team’s equipment men died in the quake. So did the daughters and mother of a woman who works in the team kitchen.

The wife of another equipment man needs urgent medical attention, facing having her arm amputated if she doesn’t get it.

“Of course I’m thankful that a lot of my teammates have been found. But the people that do help the team, the people who work around the club, they still have loved ones that are missing and unaccounted for. Really it starts to hit home when you just see the agony, the desperation on their faces,” he said.

In the light of day, the horror grew.

“You’re looking through rubble trying to find your teammates. You’re trying to yell for them in like darkened spaces of apartments that used to be standing,” Adekugbe said. “It’s just something you never find yourself doing. People coming back with broken bones. People still missing to this day. It’s something you can’t really explain.”

Adekugbe and some of his teammates managed to get out thanks to his coach, Volkan Demirel, who used to play for Fenerbahce, another Turkish club based in Istanbul. He called the Fenerbahce president who organized a plane departing from a city about a 150-minute drive away.

Adekugbe and other Hatayspor players and staff were bused to the waiting plane, which took them to Istanbul.

“We were very lucky,” Adekugbe said.

“I just grabbed what I could … I have three suitcases and my dog.”

Hutchinson was waiting to take him in. Adekugbe had called him in the aftermath of the quake, showing him the damage via FaceTime.

He called his parents when he got to the training ground.

Antakya is renowned for its cuisine, which has many Middle Eastern influences. UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has designated Antakya as a “city of gastronomy.”

Adekugbe, who joined Hatayspor in June 2021 from Norway’s Valerenga Fotball, has won 37 caps for Canada and saw action in all three of Canada’s games at the World Cup in Qatar.

Born in London, England, he was three when his family moved to Manchester and 10 when it came to Calgary.

At 16, he moved to Vancouver to join the Whitecaps residency program. He signed a homegrown contract with the MLS team in 2013 but made just 16 appearances for the team over the next four seasons, spending much of the time out on loan.

Adekugbe had loans stints with Brighton in the English Championship and Sweden’s IFK Goteborg before joining Valerenga in January 2018.

While Istanbul escaped quake damage, Hutchinson’s concern for Adekugbe grew when internet connection was lost and a second quake hit.

Both players urged Canadians to donate to relief organizations to help the region and its people.

“There’s a lot of people that are still under the rubble,” Hutchinson said.

“People are just really in bad conditions right now,” he added. “It’s really cold here. Just making it through the day and the night, it’s extremely difficult.”

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2023.

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How much money is needed to retire in Canada

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Canadians now believe they need $1.7 million in savings in order to retire, a 20 per cent increase from 2020, according to a new BMO survey.

The eye-watering figure is the largest sum since BMO first started surveying Canadians about their retirement expectations 13 years ago. It’s also a drastic increase from the $1.4 million in savings Canadians expected to need for their nest eggs just two years ago.

The results reflect Canadians’ concerns about current economic conditions, particularly inflation and higher prices, said Caroline Dabu, head of wealth distribution and advisory services for BMO Financial Group.

“If you look at the average Canadian, they’re feeling the rising inflation costs,” said Dabu.

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“And so, not surprisingly, we are seeing that Canadians are feeling they absolutely will need more to retire.”

Canada’s annual inflation rate hit a four-decade high of 8.1 per cent in the summer of 2022 and has since fallen to 6.3 per cent as of December 2022. BMO Economics expects the country’s CPI to decline to around three per cent by the end of the year.

The sharp increase to Canada’s inflation rate in 2022 exceeded wage gains, eroding purchasing power for most families and heightening fears about the future. The BMO survey found that just 44 per cent of Canadians are confident they will have enough money to retire as planned — a 10 per cent decrease from 2020.

But while the $1.7 million figure may sound overwhelming to working-age Canadians, Dabu said the number says more about the economic mood of the country than it does about real-life retirement necessities.

“Certainly when we’re working with clients, we find that many overestimate the number that they need to retire,” she said.

“It really does have to be taken at an individual level, because circumstances are very different … But $1.7 million, I would say, is high.”

While rising inflation may require tweaks to a retirement plan — such as contributing slightly more to savings each month if you’re a young worker, or making cash flow adjustments if you’re nearing the end of your working career — Dabu said these changes don’t necessarily have to be drastic.

When it comes to retirement planning, Dabu said, knowledge is power. By working with a professional financial advisor and making a plan that encompasses individual circumstances and goals, Canadians can come up with their own retirement savings number.

“In the survey, we note that 53 per cent of Canadians didn’t know how much they will need to retire,” Dabu said.

“That increased confidence comes from knowing the exact number that I need to save for, and how I’m going to get there.”

The BMO survey also found that approximately 22 per cent of Canadians plan to retire between the ages of 60 and 69, with an average age of 62.

Millennial and generation z Canadians are the most nervous about their ability to save and invest right now, the survey found. However, all age groups — 74 per cent of survey respondents — said they are concerned about how current economic conditions will affect their financial situation, and 59 per cent said economic conditions have affected their confidence in meeting their retirement goals.

The BMO survey was conducted between Nov. 4 and 7, 2022 by Pollara Strategic Insights via an online survey of 1,500. The survey’s margin of error is plus/minus 2.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 7, 2023.

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