Tag Archives: election

Where is Defence in Canada’s Federal Election?

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The following piece is written by the Conference of Defense Associations Institute’s David McDonough, and can be found in its original form here. It is republished with their permission.

On 2 August 2015, Prime Minister Stephen Harper asked Governor-​General David Johnston to dissolve Parliament – and dropping the writ for what promises to be one of the longest election campaigns in recent history. As I write this, the election is now in full swing, with the first leaders debate having taken place a few weeks back (and an unknown number to go), all parties ramping up their fundraising and “ground game,” political ads increasingly dominating the airwaves, and still with almost two months to go.

All three major political parties (Conservatives, NDP, Liberal) have already staked out different positions on key security and defence issues. The Conservatives have now promised to expand the Reserve Force from 24,000 to 30,000 personnel in its next mandate, which represents a return to its original 2008 Canada First Defence Strategy promise, albeit at a much quicker rate. The Liberals, on the other hand, have pledged $300 million annually for military support programs, including lifelong pensions for injured veterans.

Of course, it remains to be seen if the next government’s funding envelope will increase sufficiently to fulfill either campaign promise. Interestingly, rumours already abound that the NDP may soon propose a small increase in defence spending, which would represent an important turnaround for a party historically ill-​inclined towards national defence and overseas military operations. But whether such rumours materialize as campaign promises, and are actually acted upon, is more uncertain.

Yet what is most noticeable about the campaign so far is that defence has been a relatively quiescent topic – a fact that many informed commentators have noted. Even in the 2011 election, political leaders were quick to raise the issue of Canada acquiring the controversial F-​35 aircraft (or, in the case of the government, to defend that decision).

Today, the government faces an even more uncertain procurement record – not least when it comes to fleet replacement for the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), evident in the continuing delays in the acquisition of major surface combatants, Arctic ships, and supply ships.

Members of Her Majesty's Canadian Ship SASKATOON carefully maneuver the ship around a large piece of ice while travelling through the Amundsen Gulf on August 22, 2015 during Operation NANOOK. Photo: Cpl Donna McDonald, AETE Imagery Data Systems. ET2015-5751-04
Members of Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship SASKATOON carefully maneuver the ship around a large piece of ice while travelling through the Amundsen Gulf on August 22, 2015 during Operation NANOOK.
Photo: Cpl Donna McDonald, AETE Imagery Data Systems.

Indeed, some worrisome gaps in naval capabilities have now emerged, given the decommissioning of its supply ships (sorely needed for the RCN’s blue-​water operations) and destroyers (with their crucial command and control and area air defence capabilities). The sole remaining destroyer, HMCS Athabaskan, was damaged in a storm earlier in the year and is currently being repaired in Halifax. But some say the ship is no longer seaworthy, and even with repairs, few people expect it to remain operational for long – perhaps not even until its planned retirement in 2017.

The procurement problems might be most acute for the RCN, but they are far from confined to naval matters. One need only look at the Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF) fighter-​aircraft replacement. Several years after announcing the F-​35 with great fanfare, we appear to be no further along in selecting (let alone procuring) a replacement aircraft for our aging CF-​18 fighters and the government continues to meagrely extend the life of its current air fleet.

Fortunately, we have had some recent good news on procurement, such as the long-​delayed acquisition of the CF-​148 Cyclone maritime patrol helicopter and the commissioning of an interim supply ship to be built at Davie Shipyard (as well as leased ships from Spain and Chile to handle refueling along the east and west coasts, respectively). Furthermore, the successful HCM/​FELEX modernization of RCN frigates, which will entail crucial command and control upgrades and improved air defence systems, partially compensates for the loss of our destroyers.

Yet such announcements do little to hide the many procurement failures over the past several years. The government even seems to have tacitly accepted such a criticism, as shown by their efforts to fix defence procurement with the 2014 Defence Procurement Strategy, although little in the way of concrete evidence on improved efficiency and effectiveness has resulted.

To be sure, it is still very early in a rather extensive election campaign. As such, discussion on the absence on defence issues seems premature. The Munk Debate between political leaders scheduled for September will focus on foreign policy, and one would expect that defence procurement and the country’s broader security policy will be discussed in more detail. Neither the NDP nor the Liberals have put out their own defence policy platforms, and both will likely speak more openly about such issues once their platforms are finally released.

Even then, however, defence issues will likely remain far from the forefront of policy platforms in this election. Simply put, as important as such issues may be, elections are almost never won or lost on defence, national security, or foreign policy in Canada – as all political parties are well aware. It is the economy that has been the pivot by which elections are often determined, even if a case can be made that security and defence should then be a close second. However, one needs to go back to Diefenbaker’s defeat in 1963 for the last time such issues took centre stage in Canada.

On top of that, as Steve Saideman has recently said, 2e1ax_vintage_entry_maclean-s-election-debate-1“[n]one of the three parties are going to want to actually talk about this.” The Conservatives are unusually weak on the defence procurement file, so it is only natural that they would prefer to focus on other issues. The NDP might be keen to criticize the government’s handling on this issue. But their supporters will likely be wary of the party drifting too close to the military, especially in light of the more centrist positions the party has staked on economic matters in recent months. And the Liberals have their own historic baggage, given that it was under Jean Chrétien that many of the challenges facing the Canadian Armed Forces began to mount.

Still, if it was only a question of procurement management, both the NDP and Liberals would likely show greater emphasis on this issue, especially as it does not reflect well on the Conservative claim of being competent and sound managers of government. But, as the Parliamentary Budget Office notes, the real challenge facing Canadian defence policy and procurement is a financial one – specifically a budgetary shortfall of between $3342 billion, which ongoing procurement delays and management issues have increased. Consequently, it is likely that neither opposition party will be eager to address such an issue; not the NDP, which have never been close to the military and are now eager to show their fiscal bona fides, and not a Liberal Party currently reminding the electorate of their past stewardship of the economy.

In that sense, the absence of defence issues in this election really comes down to a question of money. Simply put, addressing defence challenges requires a greatly expanded defence budget (or at least a significantly altered force structure, which might no longer be “multi-​purpose” or indeed “combat-​capable,” if one is not careful). And it is likely that no political party would be willing to countenance such a prospect.

The Conservatives would prefer to offer promises of significant funding in the future, with no guarantee such a promise would be kept. If rumours are to be believed, the NDP might accept a minor increase in funding – although this will likely result in a modified force structure geared towards less combat-​focused operations, as described in a recent Rideau Institute-​CCPA report – and which I have criticised elsewhere (here and here). It remains to be seen what approach the Liberals will ultimately pursue, but it is difficult to be optimistic.

Political parties focus on getting votes. And unless voters cast their ballot on issues on security and defence, such matters will remain of secondary (if not tertiary) importance. This is an unfortunate situation. It would certainly behoove politicians to treat such issues with both thought and seriousness, as part of their responsibility to safeguard the country and its citizens. And, given the sizable number of serving and retired military personnel and their families, many of whom still pay close attention to such issues, they might even find an unexpected electoral benefit of treating security and defence like a statesman rather than a politician.

Of course, if the past is any indication, I also don’t really expect things to change any time soon. It is not without reason that Winston Churchill stated that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

This article originally featured at the CDA Institute and can be found in its original form here

David McDonough is Research Manager and Senior Editor at the Conference of Defence Associations Institute, and a research fellow at Dalhousie University’s Centre for Foreign Policy Studies. He received a PhD in Political Science from Dalhousie University in 2011. He tweets at @DS_McDonough. (Candidate Image courtesy of Mark Blinch/​Reuters; Images of Vessels courtesy of the Royal Canadian Navy webpage).

CIMSEC’s 2015-2016 Officers and 2015-2017 Board

Congrats to CIMSEC’s newly elected officers and board members!

If you’d like to see their goals for the org, you can see them here. The current officers and board will begin the process of turnover and transition to be completed by the end of June.

Position and Percentage of Votes of Submitted Ballots (missing percentage indicates abstentions)


Chairman, Board of Directors
Scott Cheney-Peters – 96%

Member, Board of Directors
Scott Cheney-Peters – 98%
Chris Rawley – 96%
William Allen – 80%
Mike Carroll – 84%
Mary Ripley – 90%
Andrea George – 86%
Ben Purser – 82%
Matt Hipple – 94%
Chris Wood – 80%
Jordan “Patsy” Klein – 74%


Matt Hipple – 94%

Vice President
Roger Misso – 92%

Victor Allen – 90%

Josh Tallis – 94%

Director of External Relations
Katherine Dransfield – 45%
Robert Holzer – 29%

Director of Membership
Bret Perry – 94%

Director of Online Content
Dmitry Filipoff – 94%

Director of Operations
Emil Maine – 96%

Director of Publications
Matt Merighi – 94%

CIMSEC’s New Officers

The officers club in CIMSEC’s tropical island fortress.

The competition was fierce, the candidates outstanding, and the bribes somewhat disappointing.

Congratulations to CIMSEC’s new officers! You can read more about the candidates and their goals here.

President: Scott Cheney-Peters
Vice President: Chris Rawley
Director of Online Content: Matt Hipple
Director of External Affairs: Emil Maine
Director of Operations: Will Yale
Director of Social Media: Paul Pryce
Director of Membership: Matt Merighi
Director of Publications: James Bridger
Treasurer: Bret Perry
Secretary: Mike Carroll

Chapter Presidents:
San Diego, USA: Jeff Anderson
Central Florida, USA: Erek Sanchez
Hampton Roads, USA: Vic Allen
Washington, DC, USA: Scott Cheney-Peters
New York City, USA: Will Allen
UK: Chris Stockdale-Garbutt
New Caledonia: Alix Willemez
Egypt: Elsayed Agrama
India: Himanil Raina

If you’re interested in learning about the roles/responsibilities of Associate Editor, Associate Social Media Director, or Chapter President of an area not listed above, send me an email at director@cimsec.org.

As always, if you have any ideas on how we can make the organization better or would like to help out our all-volunteer effort in any other way, let us know!

Puntland’s New President: A Maritime Security Outlook

After losing Puntland’s presidential election by a single parliamentary vote, incumbent president Abdirahman Mohamed Farole extended his congratulations to his opponent Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gaas, a former prime minister of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG). UN and EU envoys praised the autonomous state’s January 8 election, decided by the votes of 66 parliamentarians appointed by clan elders, as a model for Somalia-wide democratization. The maritime security community should also take note, as Ali Gaas, a U.S-trained economist, will preside over the original heartland of Somali piracy. One of the many issues facing the president-elect is what to do with the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF)—a marine militia described by its supporters as Somalia’s most effective counter-piracy force and by its opponents as the Farole administration’s Praetorian Guard.

Puntland president Abdirahman Mohamed Farole (left) and president-elect Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gaas (right).
Puntland president Abdirahman Mohamed Farole (left) and president-elect Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gaas (right).

A Controversial Legacy

Farole came to power in 2009, a year in which Somali pirates attacked over 215 ships and operated with impunity from Puntland’s shores. The president’s answer was the PMPF, an elite coastal force that would deny the pirates their onshore sanctuary. The marines, trained by a South African private military company and financed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), quickly grew to a force of 500 troops supported by a fleet of small ships, aircraft and armored vehicles. Security operations commenced in March 2012 and succeeded in disrupting pirate bases across the remote Bari and Bargaal regions. In late December 2012, the PMPF rescued 22 sailors held hostage aboard the MV Iceberg for almost three years. With Puntland-based piracy largely eliminated, the marines turned their attention towards encroaching al-Shabaab militants, using their expat-piloted helicopters to provide air support during several skirmishes in early 2013.

While operationally successful, the PMPF was politically contentious. A January 2012 report from the UN Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group lambasted the marines “as an elite force outside any legal framework, engaged principally in internal security operations, and answerable only to the Puntland presidency.” Later that year, the president’s son Mohamed Farole became director of the PMPF, a cause of inter-governmental tension given his lack of military experience according to inside sources. On October 29 2012, the marines blockaded the residence of Ali Gaas in order to prevent him from campaigning among local politicians and clan elders.

A Difficult Decision

Ali Gaas pledged to improve Puntland’s security during his victory speech, but has yet to comment on his policy regarding the PMPF. Piracy may be suppressed, but many gangs are now diversifying into other illicit ventures such as arms smuggling and protection services for illegal fishing fleets. An al-Shabaab bombing against a PMPF convoy on December 5, 2013 further underscores the high level of insecurity that persists in the region. In the face of these challenges, what might the new president’s plans be for the contentious marine force?

Though the marines would later be used to impede his campaigning, it is important to note that Ali Gaas was a vocal supporter of the PMPF during his tenure as TFG prime minister from June 2011 to October 2012. When the UN Monitoring Group accused the PMPF’s South African trainers, Sterling Corporate Services, of breaking the 1992 arms embargo on Somalia, Ali Gaas responded with an official letter on November 16, 2011, advocating that the UN “approve the waiver for training and enforcement capabilities for Puntland State of Somalia to actively fight piracy and strengthen regional and maritime security.” A month later, the prime minister’s office re-clarified that “the TFG fully supports the efforts of Puntland authorities.”

Despite the labeling of the Puntland marines as Farole’s “private army,” it is unlikely that Ali Gaas will dismantle the PMPF when he assumes office. It is expected, however, that the outgoing president’s son and other Farole loyalist will not retain their leadership positions (whether they help themselves to the PMPF’s valuable collection of equipment and vehicles on their way out is another question). Securing a steady source of funding to maintain the PMPF’s marines, bases, vehicles, and expat mentors will be a pressing concern for Ali Gaas. The bulk of current financing comes from UAE, but it remains to be seen if this arrangement will continue under a new president.

The PMPF base camp in Bosaso, Puntland is the most extensive in the region (Photo: Robert Young Pelton)
The PMPF base camp in Bosaso, Puntland is the largest such facility in the region (Photo: Robert Young Pelton)

A Federal Marine Force?

There are indications that the former TFG prime minister envisioned the PMPF as a model of coastal security that could extend across Somalia. In April 2012, Ali Gaas’ office authorized Sterling Corporate Services to select and recruit soldiers from the Somali National Army to join the PMPF training camp in Bosaso, Puntland. The move was blocked by African Union (AMISOM) peacekeepers, however, which prevented the soldiers from embarking at Mogadishu airport. After the departure of Sterling in mid-2012, a US-registered security company, Bancroft, proposed a reversal of this plan, in which men and materials would be dispersed from the Bosaso base to a number of small coastguard cells across the Somali coast. This idea was rejected by the Farole administration, however, which was reportedly loath to cede control of its elite marine police force to the federal government.

Relations between Puntland and Mogadishu continued to sour over the next year. In late July 2013, the new Somali Federal Government announced that it had signed a deal with Dutch private maritime security provider Atlantic Marine and Offshore Group to establish a coastguard to combat piracy and secure Somalia’s exclusive economic zone. The deal received a hostile response from Puntland officials, who saw the contract as an “unacceptable, inapplicable and unsuitable” violation of Puntland’s territorial sovereignty.  In early August, the Farole administration suspended relations with the federal government.

With a former TFG prime minister now coming to power in Puntland, observers anticipate a more conciliatory relationship between the state and federal governments.  While a Somalia-wide coast guard or navy remains a distant prospect, the opportunity is now ripe for confidence building measures among local security forces. The PMPF maintains the most advanced training facility in the country and could once again offer to train marines from across Somalia if an acceptable deal can be worked out with the federal government and AMISOM. Supporting such an endeavor would be attractive option for the EU’s maritime security capacity-building mission (EUCAP NESTOR), which has thus far been unable to carry out its mandate in Somalia due to the country’s insecurity and fragile political arrangement.

While Ali Gaas may be tempted to keep the PMPF under the direct control of the presidency, a more advisable option would be for the Puntland parliament to pass legislation that defines the force’s power, status, and responsibility. Doing so could serve to legitimize the PMPF in the eyes of the international community, opening new lines of desperately needed funding. “There is internationally consensus that the PMPF should be ‘legalized’ and integrated into the regular security structures of Somalia,” an EUCAP NESTOR officer remarked, further noting that “The international community is studying how that best can be done and how the government of Somalia could be supported in that respect.”

Puntland’s model of democracy is unorthodox by western standards and so too are its maritime police forces. Both, however, have demonstrated resiliency in the face of great challenges and may come to serve as templates for the rest of the country. As foreign warships and armed guards begin to depart the Horn of Africa, local marines will be the only thing standing between the pirates and their prey.

James M. Bridger is Maritime Security Consultant and piracy specialist with Delex Systems Inc. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. James can be reached for comment or question at jbridger@delex.com