Badass MND

9 November 2015

In the present world of social media, instantaneous communication, and the 24 hour news cycle, the words of the University of Toronto’s Prof. Harold Innis’ former student, Marshall McClellan, spring to mind: “the medium is the message”. In the past decade, during the reign of the Harper government, we had a lot of photo ops and tough talk about Canada being a warrior on the world stage. It often seemed more effort was spent promoting the government than on the actual mission. Much treasure was expended on creating inconsequential photo ops for representatives of the Harper government, whether in the hills of Syria or on board one of Her Majesty’s warships.  The phrase poseur comes to mind.  

When the new Cabinet of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government was sworn in, social media was abuzz about the new Defence Minister. One headline proclaimed “You have no idea how badass Trudeau's Defence Minister really is”. 

The reality is, Canada’s men and women in uniform are warriors. Unlike any other public servants, those in uniform are prepared to put their life on the line for the safety of their countrymen and to protect – and project – Canadian values. This is what sets the uniformed services apart from the civilian public service. Canada’s regular and reserve forces are an integral part of Canada sovereignty and provides the government with foreign policy options. It must not be forgotten that ‘defence of the realm’ is job-one for our military.  

Make no mistake, our military clearly knows it is subject to civilian oversight. It takes its policy direction and strategic orders from the Chief of the Defence Staff, the uniformed head of the Canadian Armed Forces, who is implementing directions from the Minister of National Defence, who in turn, is acting on instructions from the Prime Minister and the Parliament of Canada.

When Harjit Sajjan, a serving reserve Lieutenant-Colonel, was announced and sworn in as Minister of National Defence on 4 November 2015, Canada’s social media lit up. It is clear that the Honourable Harjit Saijin, Minister of Defence, has had a long and stellar military career as an Army reservist. The selection of a rookie politician in the demanding portfolio of Defence surprised many people, however, it is clear that he is no poseur, either on the streets of East Vancouver, as a Vancouver Police Department gang squad detective, or in the mountains of Afghanistan, leading counterinsurgency and intelligence operations in a coalition force of NATO partners. His demeanour attests to a skilled military professional who is comfortable in his mission. The new Defence Minister understands that any armed conflict has a high cost of blood and treasure, including the resulting aftermath of post traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) and the needs of our veterans, which continue for decades. This is the true cost associated with any military operation, and a decision not lightly made.

Minister Sajjan’s biggest challenge will be to lead the Department in a bureaucracy (especially Finance, Treasury Board and PCO) that is not overly sympathetic to the military (that may be where the Minister’s experience in gang warfare will come in handy).

Our new Minister of National Defence is a citizen soldier. He has led from the front and by example, and understands the complexities being faced in foreign military deployments. He understands that his troops are his most valuable asset and must be cared for. This is not a time for photo ops, but as Canada redefines its place in the world under the looming threat of climate and ocean change, it is time to face up to serious problems from a defence and security standpoint. 

Respect is earned and the new Minister of Defence has the respect of Canada’s warriors. Major General David Fraser, bit of a badass in his own right, and former Canadian commander in Afghanistan and this to say: “Some people in Ottawa are going to want to pick on him because he’s new, but let me tell you, he is tough and smart, and determined [...] Nobody should under estimate Harjit,” 

Having a Minister of National Defence (MND) who is both a civilian, police officer, and reserve Army officer provides an opportunity for the Department of National Defence to look, from a policy standpoint, at how we achieve Canada’s foreign policy goals. The CDS, General Jon Vance, no stranger to Afghanistan and complex threat environments, will work well with a fellow comrade in arms to achieve the Government of Canada’s goals in a timely cost-effective way. Leadership is an art. These two strong leaders will ensure Canada threats are identified and responded to in a timely way to give effect to Canada’s foreign policy. Truth, Duty, Valour are not mere words.

Canada should be comfortable with a badass MND. History shows they achieve their mission and make it look easy – but it is never easy. Canada expects great things from its military, and having the civilian oversight by the MND with such depth and proven track record bodes well for Canada’s place in the world. The MND’s mission is clear. 

K. Joseph Spears has acted as legal counsel for the Department of National Defence as an 
ad hoc agent of the Attorney General of Canada and the Legal Advisor to the Minister of National Defence. Joe is a former civilian DND wilderness survival instructor. His grandfather James Spears was a sniper with the 85th Nova Scotia Highlanders. He was a friend of the late Senator Ray Perrault. kjs@oceanlawcanada.com