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The Government Says It Wants to Create Jobs, Yet Canada is Desperately Short of Cops and Soldiers. Aren’t Those Jobs?

National Post - March 12, 2009

By Colin Kenny

The focus of the federal government’s Jan. 27 budget was job creation. And why wouldn’t it be, given the current implosion of the world economy and soaring unemployment rates across Canada?

What I find curious about the budget is that the government didn’t look to the huge gaps in Canada’s security matrix and take measures to fill them with what Canadian security agencies need so badly: people.

We’re short of soldiers. We’re short of cops. We’re short of spooks. We’re short of border guards. And we are also short of equipment for the military, much of which could be manufactured in Canada.

Yet the closest the government has come in recent months to making major investments in Canada’s security agencies was the announcement of a $274 million contract to purchase 1,300 military trucks from Navistar International Corporation. The company will build the trucks in its Texas plant despite the fact that it has a plant in Chatham, On.

The company maintains that the cost of retooling the Chatham plant would be prohibitive, which may be true. But you have to wonder if this government isn’t having trouble connecting the creation of Canadian job opportunities with the weaknesses in Canada’s security agencies.

Let’s start with the Canadian Forces. The Harper government made early noises about rebuilding the Canadian military after years of Liberal neglect, but then two things got in the way: Afghanistan, and lack of political will. Afghanistan has badly sapped our military’s capacity to train and expand, and the lack of public interest in revitalizing the Forces has sapped the government’s willingness to back up its fightin’ words with cold, hard cash.

Last year the Forces increased by a measly 628 souls. And it’s just going to get worse. The government has promised to raise the size of the Canadian Forces from 64,400 to 70,000 by 2027-28, which amounts to 280 people a year.

The Senate Committee on National Security and Defence has estimated that our burned-out Forces need 90,000 personnel right now to perform the roles that their political masters demand of them. Increases of 280 people a year aren’t going to get us there.

The government should be trying to recruit somewhere in the neighbourhood of 20,000 to 25,000 people, quickly. The military doesn’t have the capacity to train this many people, but it could if it contracted officers and senior NCOs who have left the military and are having the same problems with their retirement investments that other Canadians are having.

This kind of recruiting would accomplish even more than replacing jobs lost at the auto plants and in other sectors. It would also mean having a military that could operate in concert with President Barack Obama’s military on missions that make sense to Canada, which might make Mr. Obama more resistant to congressional pressures to impose barriers to Canadian-U.S. trade.

Right now Canada’s military doesn’t have the capacity to keep more than about a thousand soldiers in combat at any one time. That isn’t going to gain us a lot of influence among our trading partners.

The RCMP is as hard up as the Canadian Forces, which is bad news in a declining economy in which crime will inevitably increase. Our committee has calculated that the Mounties are short 5,000-7,000 officers. While the U.S. Coast Guard patrols the Great Lakes with 2,200 officers, Canada’s contingent consists of 14 Mounties. Crime is rife at Canadian ports, but the Mounties don’t have the people to snuff it out. The RCMP told us last year that it only has the resources to track a third of the Canadian criminal organizations that it knows exist.

Then there are the customs officers. Our borders are sieves yet our border crossings are clogged. The Canadian Border Services Agency should have 2,300 additional employees. The CBSA needs to replace under-trained part-time officers with full-timers, ensure that there are at least two officers at every border post and have replacements available when officers who will be armed go for training. The federal government has said it will hire 400 officers – not nearly enough to help move traffic at border crossings while assuring a high level of security at the same time.

And there is CSIS – the intelligence agency behind Canada’s anti-terrorism fight. CSIS has fewer employees now than it did 18 years ago, even though it has taken on overseas responsibilities. These kinds of duties require a critical mass of personnel to be effective. CSIS doesn’t have the people.

Building equipment for Canada’s security forces would obviously create jobs. Both the Canadian Navy and Coast Guard are going to require at least [70] replacement ships in the coming years if Canadian interests are to be defended. Strange, then, that the Canadian government has not negotiated a long-term deal with the Canadian shipbuilding industry to ensure the industry 50 years of high-tech jobs in places like the Atlantic provinces, Quebec and British Columbia.

This government told Canadians before it was even elected that two of its priorities were domestic law and order, and the revitalization of the Canadian military. These days the government’s priority is jobs. If it went back and delivered on its earlier priorities there’d be a lot more of those jobs to be had.

(Colin Kenny was chair of the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence in the last Parliament.