Dozens of political and military luminaries call on Ottawa to stop backsliding on national defence
More than 50 of this country’s former top security officials, military commanders and politicians — along with a former top Supreme Court justice — have signed an open letter imploring the Liberal government to take national security and defence more seriously.
The letter was released Monday by the Conference of Defence Associations Institute (CDAI). It includes the signatures of five former Liberal and Conservative defence ministers, nine former chiefs of the defence staff, four former ambassadors, two former top national security and intelligence advisers, a former director of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS), business leaders and former chief justice of the Supreme Court Beverley McLachlin.
“There is no more important responsibility for the federal government than protecting Canadians against all threats — foreign and domestic,” says the letter, a copy of which was obtained by CBC News.
“Now is the time to fully discharge the commitments we have made to our allies and partners in sharing the burden of the collective security, commitments which are essential to safeguard our peace, prosperity and way of life.”
While the criticism is mostly aimed at the current Liberal government, the letter acknowledges that successive governments since the end of the Cold War have reduced Canada’s emphasis on defence and foreign policy.
“Among the most important responsibilities of the federal government is the need to protect the safety and security of its citizens, defend Canadian sovereignty and maintain our territorial integrity,” says the letter. “However, in recent decades, issues of national security and defence are rarely treated as a priority other than in times of great peril.”
Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of NATO, recently signaled the military alliance’s upcoming leaders summit in Vilnius, Lithuania would reset allied expectations about defence spending in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and rising tensions with China.
Stoltenberg said members are quickly coming to regard the NATO benchmark for members’ defence spending — two per cent of the gross domestic product — as the “floor, not the ceiling.”
The open letter says “Canada cannot afford to conduct ‘business as usual'” and strongly encourages Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet to “lead and act with a sense of urgency” and accelerate the timelines for the purchase of new equipment.
Last month, NATO published an annual report that shows Canada’s defence spending amounted to just 1.29 per cent of GDP in fiscal 2022-2023.
Critically, the letter said the federal government needs to invest in improving the ability of the Department of National Defence (DND) “to spend its budget in an expeditious and timely manner.”
For years, DND has been unable to spend its full appropriation, with tens of billions of dollars going unspent since the end of the Afghan war. Under the former Conservative government, that money used to lapse back to the federal treasury. The Liberals changed the rules to allow the department to keep more of the cash until it’s ready to spend it.
Letter pins blame on multiple governments
The Canadian Press recently uncovered an internal DND report that said roughly 30 per cent of the department’s military procurement positions — 4,200 jobs — were vacant at the end of May last year.
Separately, almost a decade ago, an independent study by the Conference of Defence Associations Institute (CDAI) and the MacDonald-Laurier Institute said that cuts introduced by the Liberal government under Jean Chretien in the 1990s gutted the military’s equipment-buying branch, while the Conservatives did nothing to fix the problem after winning power.
Retired lieutenant-general Guy Thibault, the chair of the CDAI, said the decision was made to draft the letter after the government decided recently to open up the defence policy review to public consultation, further pushing back its delivery for what might be a year.
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said recently that decisions on whether Canada would aspire to meet the NATO spending target would be made in the aftermath of the policy review, which is supposed to look at Canada’s defence posture both overseas and at home.
Thibault said the policy update is being delayed during a time of great peril for global peace and security due to the threats posed by China and Russia.
He said authoritarian regimes are continuing their military expansion and are willing to use force to achieve their aims.
“The recent federal budget was largely a summary of previous announcements without any acknowledgement that the government must accelerate program spending,” he said.
Thibault pointed to the non-partisan nature of the letter and its criticism.
Last fall, the recipient of CDAI’s annual Vimy Award, retired lieutenant-general Michel Maisonneuve, delivered a blistering acceptance speech that many interpreted as a thinly veiled attack on the Liberal government. In it, he railed against divisive leaders, cancel culture and the sorry state of the Canadian military.
The CDAI, which bills itself as non-partisan, distanced itself from Maisonneuve’s remarks, saying they did not reflect the institute’s views.
Thibault said he hopes the Liberal government will consider seriously the letter’s expression of deep concern for the future security of the country.
The people who signed the letter include:
- The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, former chief justice SCC
- The Honourable Peter MacKay, former minister of national defence
- The Honourable David Pratt, former minister of national defence
- General (Ret’d) Raymond Henault, former chair NATO MC, chief of the defence staff
- Ambassador Yves Brodeur, former ambassador to NATO
- Ambassador Deborah Lyons, former UN special rep UNAMA Afghanistan
- Blake Goldring, former honorary colonel Canadian Army, executive chairman AGF Management
- Dick Fadden, former national security adviser and deputy minister of national defence
- Chiko Nanji, CEO Metro Supply Chain Group
- The Honourable John Manley, former deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs
- The Honourable Anne McLellan, former deputy prime minister
- The Honourable Perrin Beatty, former minister of national defence
- The Honourable John McCallum, former minister of national defence
- The Honourable Jason Kenney, former minister of national defence
- The Honourable David Collenette, former minister of national defence
- The Honourable Andrew Leslie, former chief whip, commander Canadian Army
- The Honourable Senator Peter Harder, former deputy minister of foreign affairs
- The Honourable Colin Kenny, senator (Ret’d), founding chair of the standing Senate committee on national security and defence
- The Honourable Dan Lang, senator (Ret’d)
- The Honourable Joseph Day, senator (Ret’d)
- Mel Cappe, former clerk of the Privy Council and U.K. high commissioner
- General (Ret’d) Paul Manson
- General (Ret’d) John de Chastelain
- Admiral (Ret’d) John Anderson, former NATO ambassador
- General (Ret’d) Jean Boyle
- General (Ret’d) Maurice Baril
- General (Ret’d) Rick Hillier
- General (Ret’d) Walter Natynczyk
- General (Ret’d) Tom Lawson
- Ambassador (Ret’d) Robert Fowler, former foreign policy adviser, deputy minister of national defence
- Ward Elcock, former director of CSIS, deputy minister of national defence
- Margaret Purdy, former deputy secretary to the cabinet (security and intelligence) and associate deputy minister national defence
- Daniel Jean, former national security and intelligence adviser, deputy minister Global Affairs Canada
- John Forster, former chief of CSE, deputy minister of national defence
- Margaret Bloodworth, former deputy minister of national defence
- Roland Paris, former senior adviser (global affairs and defence) to the prime minister
- Vincent Rigby, former national security and intelligence adviser
The CDA Institute board of directors and CDA executive:
- LGen (Ret’d) Guy Thibault, former vice chief of the defence staff
- Ambassador (Ret’d) Gord Venner, former senior associate deputy minister of national defence
- Ambassador (Ret’d) Kerry Buck, former NATO ambassador
- Mike Hamilton, senior vice president RBC Insurance
- Naresh Raghubeer, managing partner Sandstone Group
- Renée Filiatrault, former foreign service officer
- Dr. Stéfanie von Hlatky, Queen’s University Centre for International and Defence Policy
- Honorary Colonel Jeff Westeinde, president Zibi Canada
- LGen (Ret’d) Marquis Hainse, former commander Canadian Army
- VAdm (Ret’d) Drew Robertson, former commander Royal Canadian Navy
- VAdm (Ret’d) Darren Hawco, former NATO military representative
- VAdm (Ret’d) Mark Norman, former commander Royal Canadian Navy
- VAdm (Re’d) Bob Davidson, former NATO military representative
- VAdm (Ret’d) Denis Rouleau, former chair CDA, vice chief of the defence staff
- MGen (Ret’d) Steve Noonan, former commander of Canadian Operational Support Command
- MGen (Ret’d) Michel Lalumiere, former chief Fighter Capability
- Youri Cormier, adj. professor Royal Military College of Canada and CDA executive director
Letters to the editor: ‘Danielle Smith’s rejection of conventional thinking.’ Populism and politics, plus other letters to the By The Globe and Mail
Re “The essence of Johnston’s report: Trust me, there’s no story here” (May 24): Columnist Andrew Coyne describes well what many Canadians were expecting from David Johnston and what he failed to deliver.
No. 1 is to know what the government knew, who specifically knew, when they knew it and what, if any, action they took. I find Mr. Johnston failed to deliver on a grand scale.
The result? Many Canadians have even less trust in government than they have ever had.
Not a good position for the country, nor the current incumbents in Ottawa.
Roger Emsley Delta, B.C.
Re “My work to protect Canada’s democracy from foreign interference is not done” (May 27): Most troubling to me is David Johnston’s scathing criticism of the whistle-blower who risked their own freedom to alert Canadians to the danger to democracy of China.
Without their courage and loyalty to the public interest at the highest level, none of this would have come to light. The messenger he would shoot deserves our deepest gratitude, as do the Globe reporters who similarly put their reputations on the line.
Alexandra Phillips Vancouver
David Johnston reminds us that he was appointed governor-general by Stephen Harper, that he has served in a number of public roles and never once was his integrity questioned. Except now.
Politicians, reporters and columnists wanted a public inquiry into foreign interference, not public hearings. They want the Prime Minister and his ministers on the “stand,” so to speak. Unconscionable attacks on the pristine reputation of Mr. Johnston have ensued.
Can we fuel criticism not with anger and personal attacks, but with clarity and respect for informed opinion? Not too high a standard, surely, when the central figure is a man of such stature and decency as Mr. Johnston.
Bill Wilkerson Port Hope, Ont.
Re “Targets of Chinese regime reject Johnston findings, call for public inquiry” (May 26): What would a public inquiry tell us that we don’t already know?
David Johnston confirmed The Globe and Mail’s reporting. He also shed light on the bungling way intelligence is, and is not, passed on to government officials. How could anyone do their job effectively when this is the case?
Most disturbing, in my view, is Pierre Poilievre’s rejection of Mr. Johnson’s invitation to take an oath of secrecy and read the full report. It points me to a profound cultural shift within our parliamentary democracy that now embraces members, and those who elect them, who would rather dismantle democratic procedures from the inside than be properly informed.
The Globe has done its job by alerting government and the public. We should now have action on Mr. Johnston’s findings. There’s lots of work to be done.
This should be the urgent path to maintaining our democracy, not a public inquiry.
Janet Tulloch Ottawa
Re “Stop the presses on the King Charles $20 bill” (May 24): “An antiquated, deeply diminished institution that belongs to a long-ago era.” I agree: Our constitutional monarchy is the worst possible system of government for Canada – except for all the others.
We live next door to a republic that recently demonstrated the dangers of a head of state who is the product of “democratic” choice. And look at Brazil, Argentina, Pakistan and countless other democracies with elected heads of state. They provide a stark contrast to modern and progressive constitutional monarchies such as Norway, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands.
I believe constitutional monarchies are a superbly modern way of balancing traditional safeguards and democratic progress, allowing bitter political disagreements to work themselves out without tearing the fabric of nations apart. And because our monarch lives hours away by plane, Canadians are spared the costs of upkeep and maintenance.
A good deal for Canada, eh? Saves a lot of $20 bills.
Larry Muller Trent Lakes, Ont.
Contributor Peter Donolo writes of the need for Canada to reduce its fixation on the monarchy, in favour of placing mug shots of prime ministers on our money. No offense to Lester Pearson, but why replace one entitled elite with another?
For the duration of my day job, I’ve invited Canadians and academia to think about how they are placed in relation to Indigenous nations, politics, communities and histories. And as a citizen of the Ktunaxa Nation, a Canadian and a scholar, I’m still wondering why Canadians can have such limited imaginations that prevent them from seeing Indigenous displacement and oppression that is not merely historic, but still in play.
In this not-so-reconciliatory moment, consider putting Indigenous leaders, who were persecuted by Canada, on our bills, an invitation to remember where our money comes from and at whose expense.
Many Canadians still don’t have a clue about these things.
Joyce Green Professor emerita, politics and international studies University of Regina
Re “America’s long embrace of stupidity” (May 22): While intelligence can sometimes present challenges, the acceptance of ignorance is a losing proposition.
Donald Trump, who appeals to the uneducated, provides evidence that stupidity is not a superpower. His ignorance did not yield solutions to problems plaguing the world. His reign of errors did not resolve issues such as domestic inequality, global warming and international conflicts.
The current countercultural movement by Canadian populists poses a dangerous threat to our democracy. The vocal criticism of gatekeeper expertise by Pierre Poilievre, along with Danielle Smith’s rejection of conventional thinking regarding public health and governance, are prime examples of this hazard.
Leonard Cohen and St. Augustine’s words –”behold the ignorant arise and snatch heaven beneath our eyes” – suggest that salvation may be achieved through ignorance. However, this notion relies on faith in matters beyond our world.
A discerning individual should question the intelligence of such a perception of reality.
Tony D’Andrea Toronto
As contributor Michael Enright so eloquently points out, this situation is nothing new to our southern neighbours.
It is a manifestation of America’s great divide, the socioeconomic distance between the haves and have-nots. Exacerbated by an inadequate social safety net and exploited by predatory politicians and media outlets, it has led to a toxic stew of conspiracy theories, misinformation and outright lies.
Add in racial tensions, gun-ownership disputes, abortion rights and illegal immigration at the southern border, and one fears that it’s only a matter of time before the fuse is lit on this powder keg, with catastrophic consequences.
Dave Hurley Belleville, Ont.
Letters to the Editor should be exclusive to The Globe and Mail. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. Keep letters to 150 words or fewer. Letters may be edited for length and clarity. To submit a letter by e-mail, click here: email@example.com
Goldman Cuts Israeli Shekel Forecasts on Politics, Intervention
(Bloomberg) — Strategists at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. have revised their forecasts to reflect a weaker shekel on renewed concerns that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial plan will increase pressure on the currency and the central bank won’t intervene to support it.
Comments by central bank Deputy Governor Andrew Abir last week that interest rates need to be the main tightening tool have downplayed the “potential for FX interventions,” the strategists said in a report on Friday. The shekel slumped 2.3% last week after parliament passed a new national budget, which granted more funding to the nation’s ultra-Orthodox in order to secure the bloc’s loyalty to his right-wing coalition.
Goldman revised its forecasts of the shekel to 3.70 and 3.60 against the dollar in the next three and 12 months, respectively, compared with 3.50 and 3.40 previously. While that’s still stronger than the current level, the strategists said they expect volatility around their estimates to “remain elevated.” The shekel rose 0.3% to 3.7178 as of 2:50 p.m. in Jerusalem on Monday.
“With limited policy support, we think domestic political developments will remain in the driver’s seat for the shekel,” Goldman’s strategists, including Kamakshya Trivedi, said in the report.
The shekel’s correlation with the performance of global technology stocks began to break down in January amid massive protests against Netanyahu’s plans to give politicians more control over the judiciary and its appointments. His decision in late March to delay the plan had provided some reprieve for the currency, until last week.
The shekel trades at a more than 10% discount to Goldman’s estimated fair value of around 3.3 per dollar, the strategists said.
In April, Moody’s Investors Service lowered the outlook on the nation’s A1 rating to stable from positive, citing a “deterioration of Israel’s governance.”
“If market participants and tech investors continue to grow more concerned about domestic political developments and their impact on institutional quality, then risk premium may build further in the currency,” the strategists at Goldman said.
Construction work starts on 24 Sussex — but its future is still in doubt
Construction work has just started on 24 Sussex Drive, the prime minister’s official residence. The building has fallen into a state of deep disrepair after years of neglect and inaction.
But the National Capital Commission (NCC), the federal body responsible for official residences, said the new activity shouldn’t be interpreted as a commitment to fully restoring the 150-year-old property that has housed ten of the country’s prime ministers.
The NCC told CBC News this work must be done regardless of what the government ultimately decides to do with the heritage property.
Work started last week on stripping the property of asbestos and removing “obsolete mechanical, heating and electrical systems,” a NCC spokesperson said. The rehabilitation work is expected to take about a year.
The construction activity follows the commission’s decision to formally shutter the residence for health and safety reasons.
While the Gothic Revival-style home, perched high above the Ottawa River, has been unoccupied for years, the property was still being used by some staff until its 2022 closure. It was also used to host garden parties on the home’s expansive two-hectare grounds.
But the once-stately property is now infested with rodents. The property also has been deemed a fire hazard because the property uses outdated “knob and tube” wiring from another era.
A 2021 report concluded the residence is in “critical” condition and pegged the cost to complete “deferred maintenance” at $36 million. The report set the home’s “current replacement value” at $40.1 million.
The fate of the 34-room mansion is in the hands of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet.
Despite repeated pleas from heritage advocates, Trudeau has so far signalled he has no plans to save the building.
He’s lived since 2015 at Rideau Cottage on the grounds of the Governor General’s residence — a relatively small home originally built for an aide.
The sorry state of 24 Sussex has heritage enthusiasts feeling dejected.
David Flemming is the chair of Heritage Ottawa’s advocacy committee, a group determined to protect the capital’s built history.
He said it’s “atrocious” that Canada, a G7 country with a $2 trillion economy, doesn’t have a functioning official residence for the head of government.
“The politicians making the decision — this is not their building. This belongs to the people of Canada,” Flemming told CBC News.
“Having a residence for the prime minister is just the cost of doing business as a nation. The truth is we just don’t hold our built heritage in high regard in this country.”
Flemming said his group has written letters to Trudeau asking him to make a call on the home’s fate but their pleas have been repeatedly ignored.
“All we want is for something to be done. That’s it,” he said. “We just want him to make a decision. Whether it’s the prime minister’s residence or not, it should be kept as a public building.”
Flemming had pitched former governor general David Johnston as a neutral arbiter to lead a panel of experts to decide on the home’s future.
Given the recent controversy over Johnston’s role as special rapporteur on foreign interference, Johnston’s likely “not the one now,” Flemming said. But the idea still stands, he added — a distinguished panel of non-partisan people should decide how best to restore the dilapidated landmark.
Christina Cameron, a professor and former Canada Research Chair in Built Heritage at Université de Montréal, agrees that 24 Sussex can and must be saved.
She last saw the home’s interior in 2018. At the time, she said, the property seemed salvageable.
“There’s no reason why that house couldn’t be rehabilitated,” she said.
“I think it’s really sad. I’ve watched it over the years and no prime minister wants to be seen investing in something for himself. I don’t know how we break the logjam but it’s important that we do because it’s a home that’s critical to our national story, to our narrative as a country.
“So many people important to world history have crossed that doorstep, and we’ve all seen them pictured on that doorstep.”
Cameron said Trudeau should commit to restoring the property and dictate that the work be done on a deferred timeline so that it’s only available for the next occupant.
Trudeau could preserve history while neutralizing claims that it’s a self-serving decision, Cameron said. Or, she said, the home could be re-purposed for public use. Either choice would make it politically palatable for the current government, she said.
“I think the worst thing is to just not do anything,” she said.
The residence has become something of a political hot potato. The multi-million-dollar restoration price tag has deterred both Trudeau and his predecessor, Stephen Harper, from doing anything about a home that dates back to Ottawa’s days as a lumber town.
Trudeau said in April the government is working with “public servants as they chart a path forward for the official residences.”
A spokesperson for Trudeau did not comment on 24 Sussex’s future Friday, referring questions to Public Services and Procurement Minister Helena Jaczek.
A spokesperson for Jaczek told CBC News that they “don’t have much of an update on 24 Sussex.”
“We continue to work closely with the National Capital Commission to develop a plan for the future of 24 Sussex Drive,” the spokesperson said.
At least one former resident, former prime minister Jean Chretien, has said the home is “an embarrassment to the nation” that should be restored.
Maureen McTeer, former prime minister Joe Clark’s wife and author of a book on Canada’s official residences, has said the home isn’t worth saving. The home’s interior was gutted decades ago and it’s lost its historical value, she said in a 2015 interview.
Reached by email Thursday, McTeer said she had no comment on the home’s future.
Canada is an outlier among its allies when it comes to official residence repairs.
The British equivalent to 24 Sussex — 10 Downing Street — recently went through an extensive renovation.
The White House was overhauled under former president Donald Trump.
The Lodge, the Austrian prime minister’s official Canberra residence, received millions of dollars in restoration work in 2016.
Stornoway, the official home of the leader of the Official Opposition in Ottawa’s leafy Rockcliffe Park neighbourhood, is also in good condition — it received tens of thousands of dollars in repairs as recently as 2020.
While 24 Sussex has been left to rot, opposition leaders like Rona Ambrose, Andrew Scheer, Erin O’Toole, Candice Bergen and Pierre Poilievre have made use of Stornoway — an early 20th century home built by a prominent grocer that later served as a temporary home-in-exile for the Dutch Royal Family during the Second World War.
“You know, the federal government does have a good track record when they do decide to do restorations. We’ve got some top-notch architects and conservation people,” Flemming said.
“It just takes some political will — and there’s none of that right now.”
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