It’s all well and good to honour those who served, but we show disrespect to their legacy by allowing our armed forces to have deteriorated to such a brutal extent.
Remembrance Day is about honouring the past.
We honour those who served our nation and sacrificed their lives to ensure that we remained in control of our own destiny.
However, Remembrance Day is also one of the only days when most Canadians give any thought to our armed forces.
Since the day is focused on the past, it can be easy to lose sight of the importance of not simply honouring the legacy of those who served, but protecting their legacy.
And protecting that legacy requires addressing the horrendous state of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Canada’s Armed Forces face three serious problems, each of which must be addressed if we want to truly honour those who served, and continue to serve, our nation.
While it’s not the biggest problem in terms of raw military power, Canada’s Armed Forces has a horrendous reputational issue.
As I noted at the outset, Remembrance Day is the only time most Canadians think much about the armed forces.
Unfortunately, the past few years have featured exceptions to that.
I say ‘unfortunate,’ because the only other time the military gets in the news these days is when a new sex scandal arrives.
This causes repeated reputational damage, which obviously damages recruitment.
That damage has been furthered by the fact that the CAF has imposed gender quotas (a big mistake, since militaries should be ruthlessly focused on competence regardless of gender, not hitting politically correct quotas).
So, the CAF is simultaneously trying to recruit a large number of women at a time when the news is full with stories of women being mistreated in the CAF.
And of course, the image of the CAF has been sullied in the minds of men as well.
How does the CAF expect to recruit people in this environment?
The second serious problem facing the CAF is the constant underfunding it receives.
Most of our military equipment is outdated – and the procurement system is an absolute disgrace.
It has taken forever to even pick a replacement for the moribund CF-18s, and indeed a replacement has not yet been chosen, with the Trudeau government buying more old F-18s as a stopgap measure.
Our Navy has similar issues, with terrible submarines, and not nearly enough advanced icebreakers. New ships always arrive late, and far over budget.
On the ground, our military is quite small, far smaller than you would expect for a nation our size.
For example, while the USA has about 1.4 million active personnel, Canada has under 70,000. You would expect, given our population difference, for Canada to have closer to 140,000 to keep pace proportionally.
Also, I will note that there is a misperception around the US military that many people have. Many assume the US is a highly militarized country, when in reality their military is so powerful because of how big the US economy is. Of all the countries with a ‘first-world’ standard of living, the US has by far the largest population, hence a massive economy. The US actually spends under 4% of their GDP on their military, a far smaller share than many other countries. Thus, expecting Canada to have a military that is in proportion to the US 1/10th or 1/9th, is reasonable.
Canada’s military has been underfunded for decades, and this has caught up with us, as there are shortages and inadequate equipment at all levels.
Beyond the reputational crisis and chronic underfunding, Canada’s armed forces are clearly stuck in an outdated mindset.
They always say you never want to ‘fight the last war,’ but rather be prepared for the next one.
Ironically, as a technologically advanced, well-educated nation, combined with our access to immense resource reserves, Canada has the potential to be a strong nation.
By focusing on cyberwarfare, working with our allies to develop advanced fighter jets, working on space-based military platforms (space will inevitably be militarized regardless of what anyone else claims), and developing hypersonic missile technology, Canada could build a moderately-sized, yet highly advanced military force that would enable us to play a key role in operations that benefit ourselves and our allies, while ensuring strong deterrence to anyone who would think of infringing on our territory.
Further, the defense of a nation requires having a strong population. Currently, with high rates of obesity, including historically high rates of obesity among young people, Canada is put in a weaker position by having such an unhealthy population. This makes military recruitment even more difficult, because it narrows down the pool of potential recruits, a pool that is already smaller due to the aforementioned reputational crisis and underfunding crisis facing the CAF.
Honour the past by protecting the present and the future
Those who gave their lives for Canada can best be honoured not with words, but with deeds.
And those deeds must be directed towards ensuring that our armed forces regain their strength, and that we can contribute meaningfully to our own defense, and towards working with our allies, as opposed to simply relying on external sources for our protection.
Also, we must push back against the continued authoritarian drift of our government.
Allowing our freedoms to be restricted and taken away by the state is a direct insult to those who fought and died for those freedoms.
We can’t truly honour the past if we throw away the values and principles that Canadian military personnel stood up for.
As most countries go, Canada still has a level of relative freedom, but the trend is clearly going in the wrong direction.
Many Canadians seem all too willing to allow fear to change who they are, and that fear is what gives power-obsessed politicians their strength.
What we need now is to summon up a fraction of the courage our fallen soldiers exhibited in order to push back against fear, push back against totalitarian thinking, and show ourselves worthy of the nation our troops gave everything to defend.