Paying the Piper

In this post I discussed how Canadian border guards are unarmed and pretty much useless because they don’t have the means to impose a monopoly of force. For decades the SOP was to let dangerous and potentially violent people in to the country, and then to call the nearest police station and let them handle it. The primary function of a border guard, essentially to guard the border, was passed off to other law enforcement agencies within the interior.

The incoming Conservative government has vowed to arm the custom agents. How many are to be armed, and what they are going to have so far as firepower is concerned, are issues that haven’t been resolved as of yet. But the one thing we can be sure of is that it’s going to cost money.

Don’t just mean the cost of a few thousand handguns. Training costs money and the people who go through it have to take refresher courses every so often. Realistic training is tough on equipment, so guns will have to be replaced and ammunition purchased in large quantities. And, of course, there will be unanticipated legal costs just as soon as a suspect sues the government because a law enforcement officer points a gun at them.

The Conservatives have started to shovel a great deal on their plate even before they take control. This blog entry says that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, their national law enforcement agency, is 25% under strength. (I have no idea how accurate this assessment is, but it wouldn’t surprise me.) It’s been my experience that corners are cut on training and maintenance of equipment long before there is a staffing shortfall. If there are fewer Mounties in the ranks than there should be, then I’d be surprised if they could function at anything approaching their expected level of competence.

One thorn in US/Canadian relations is the Arctic. Canada insists that a great deal of northern waters are actually part of the country, while US naval vessels routinely transit and patrol the area without bothering to inform Ottawa and ask for permission. . The Canadians might very well claim the area as their own, but they don’t have the means to project force that far North. Heck, they don’t even have any way to tell for sure that one of our subs wandered through. That’s probably why this is such a big deal to the Canadians while people in the US, even those interested in military affairs like myself, aren’t even aware that it’s happening.

This has been going on for some time, where US ships cross into territory claimed by the Canadians. It is said that just about every maritime power in the North Atlantic does the same thing with impunity. (That would be Russia, Great Britain, France, and the US.) The only reason that the Canadians seem to be singling us out is that we have a bigger Navy than anyone else so we’ll do it more often, and that we will actually listen instead of ignore them.

Stephen Harper, Canada’s next prime minister, has said that his government is going to do something about it. He wants to build three armed icebreakers to patrol the disputed area, a deep water port that will drain more than a billion dollars from the treasury, and a line of undersea sonar installations similar to the SOSUS net that the US built during the Cold War to keep an eye on the Soviet submarine fleet.

I don’t have a problem with this. I’ve long thought that Canada was just relying too much on the goodwill of its large neighbor to the South. It wouldn’t bother me if they carried more of their fair share in the future. But I do have a real problem figuring out where the money is going to come from to pay for all this.

Harper promised the voters that he’d decrease taxes, something that will reduce government revenues by, what, $4 billion a year? Add in the new warships, the sonar sensor line, the deep water port, and new money for law enforcement. Let us not forget that Canada has a problem even acquiring second hand submarines, something that will have to be addressed. How much is all of this going to cost, and how much less is the government going to have coming in to pay for it?

It looks to me like the Conservatives promised the sky in order to be elected, but I’m not sure that it’s possible for them to deliver. Could it be that they’ve already set the stage for the inevitable triumphant return of the Liberals?

11 thoughts on “Paying the Piper”

  1. Under the previous federal government, Canada has been reporting very large surpluses every year. I think that the new Conservative government is figuring this fact into its new spending.

    Balancing the federal budget has been made almost a necessary issue in Canada since the Liberals have been doing it for so long. Even Canada’s NDP which is essentially a social democratic party has come to the centre and run on a platform of balancing the budget.

  2. Of a sudden, Canada’s taking note of “intrusion” by American ships in its northern waters? It sounds as if, perhaps, the government wishes to focus national attention upon a rather minuscule issue. Is it not well thought the U.S. and Canada are friends? Or is it a fact the defeated Liberal government saw fit to instill a common mistrust of the nation to the south? It appears to be a childish game, between the two, in light of the international problems to be faced.
    It’s evident, too, elected officials have sought, over the years, to neuter a great law enforcement arm, the RCMP — along with an important adjunct: border security. Is it any wonder how morale and performance, amongst the men and women of both agencies can plunge, on any given day, into the depths of apathy?
    Responsible citizens of both nations, at this delicate, dangerous time, should look within themselves to realize leftist ideology seeks to divide, pervert, and conquer governing as we know it. Hence the “appearance of reasons” for mutual discord between two, great, contiguous nations. Canada’s puffed up posture solves nothing. It merely enhances the embeddedness of the left.

  3. Of a sudden, Canada’s taking note of “intrusion” by American ships in its northern waters?

    Actually, it’s been a major issue up in Canada for more than 20 years.

    In 1985 the US Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Sea managed to navigate the Northwest Passage while a ship tasked to escort them, the Canadian icebreaker John A. McDonald, was forced to turn back. This lone incident profoundly affected Canadian budgeting and military planning, even though almost everyone down here in the US didn’t even notice.

    How did this affect Canadian affairs? It pretty much highlighted the extreme helplessness that the Canadians suffer even in waters that they insist is sovereign Canadian territory. The idea that took hold of their imagination was that they needed a nuclear submarine fleet in order to be taken seriously in the Arctic.

    Needless to say, they never managed to build such a fleet. In fact, their recent failure to buy old diesel subs that were safe enough to avoid killing their own crew indicates that the Canadians probably won’t ever be able to build naval assets that can project force into Northern waters.

    But the one thing to remember when talking about disputes between Canada and the US is that most of it has been simmering for a long time. To paraphrase P.J. O’Rourke, the US is like a beautiful 20 year old woman while Canada is like a 13 year old boy. Canada thinks about us all the time while we barely realize they’re up there.


  4. Canadian governments of both parties have been raising the Arctic sovereignty issue regularly for decades. I think Harper’s approach is quite astute politically — he is putting the opposition on notice that they can’t talk about sovereignty endlessly and then oppose any spending on the basic means of asserting sovereignty.

    Of course if they were really serious about the issue they would buy a couple of nuclear-powered fast attack subs, but hey, icebreakers are a start.

  5. “How much is all of this going to cost, and how much less is the government going to have coming in to pay for it?” Saudis pay for their budgets with their oil money. Canadians can pay for their tax cuts with their Alberta oil sands.

  6. James,

    Thanks for the clarification. Although, I must say, Canada should just concentrate upon its internal issues and leave the defense of the hemisphere to the United States. After all, Uncle Sam’s been doing just that for decades. With regard to the northern waters, I would think they’d just regard our Navy and Coast Guard as a welcome addition to maritime traffic. Let’s not sweat the little things. There’s bigger fish to fry.

  7. Enoch:

    Canada cannot just concentrate upon internal issues and leave the defence of the hemisphere to the US as you recommend. Canada’s reason d’etre is “We are not Yanks”. To do as you advise is to become a Yank Lite.

    The Canada we know started to take shape after the American Civil war as a British response to a threat to its North American Colonies. Its final form came in 1949 when Newfoundland, a formerly self-governing crown colony was compelled to join the confederation. Forming the country this way did not make for a strong sense of national identity. Different “nations” were consolidated into a single confederation. The glue that bound these “nations” together was the desire to not be subsumed by the United States. This does not make for a strong national identity I am not a Yank is not a strong positive national identity. So Canada has been searching for its national identity and part of that identity search is a desire to assert sovereignty and create differences between Canada and the United States.

  8. “I am not a Yank” really became the focus, as you say after World War II. Prior to that, Anglo-Canada had an affirmative identity: A very strong identification with the British Empire, Protestantism and racial identity — keeping out Asians. Quebec also had an affirmative identity as Roman Catholic. The dissolution of the British Empire was a big blow to Canadian identity. The Second Vatican Council was a similarly big blow to Quebec’s Catholic identity. So, we end up with Anglo-Canada defining itself as not-Yanks, and Quebec identifying itself as not-Anglo and not-Yankee.

    There is, in fact, a lot in Canadian history from which to construct a positive and true narrative which coud be a source of unity and pride. But no one seems to want to do it.

  9. Since Denmark and Canada seem to actually have a land dispute up north complete with Danes planting flags on bits of land that Canada asserts is there, a little trespass by US subs is not actually Canada’s biggest problem up north. We’re not planting Old Glory anywhere as part of territorial expansion missions to Canada.

    The economic value of these bits of land are set to rise if the globe continues to warm. Canada needs to be ready to defend its sovereignty. The US’ role is very likely to make sure that this doesn’t overheat to the point of blows.

  10. The Canadians and the Danes gong to war in the arctic over newly-melted islands — an odd scenario. But, who knows?

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