Hudson on the Hill

Civil-Military Relations, Who Controls the Military?
HUDSON ON THE HILL  |  May 15, 2010

The Government has been clear on its intention to withdraw the Canadian Forces from Afghanistan in 2011. Military operations there are to cease by July and the troops are to all be home by December of that year. But is the government calling the shots, or has the Cabinet abrogated its responsibilities?

It is helpful to remember exactly what the Parliamentary motion, approved on 13 March 2008, actually said. The passage of interest here says, “… the government of Canada notify NATO that Canada will end its presence in Kandahar as of July 2011, and, as of that date, the redeployment of Canadian Forces troops out of Kandahar and their replacement by Afghan forces start as soon as possible, so that it will have been completed by December 2011.”
Note there is no mention of ending the military mission in Afghanistan, just a “redeployment” of the Canadian Forces out of Kandahar. Judging by some public pronouncements, it seems that the Canadian Forces leadership is getting its marching orders direct from Parliament, not from Government.
On 8 December 2009, General Walt Natynczyk, the Chief of the Defence Staff told the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence:

We have about 18 months left in the Parliamentary mandate for the Canadian Forces mission in Afghanistan. The Government of Canada has given the Canadian Forces clear instructions. Our military mission in Kandahar will end by July 2011. The Canadian Forces will have completely withdrawn from Kandahar by December of 2011.
Later, during that same committee meeting he said: There are two portions of the parliamentary motion that are key for the Canadian Forces. One is that all Canadian Forces members would leave Kandahar by 2011. The other is the end of the military mission in 2011, without specifics on what that means. … That's why, on August 7, I put out instructions to the men and women, based on the parliamentary motion to which those two pieces are key.
Afterwards, responding to a question from Mr. Pascal-Pierre Paillé, General Natynczyk confirmed, “Based on the mandate we have been given, a parliamentary mandate, the presence of the Canadian Forces in the province of Kandahar will end first, then the military mission will end.”
There are other indicators. In a recent dinner talk delivered to the Ottawa Branch of the Canadian International Conference, Army Commander Lieutenant-General Andy Leslie remarked that the Army was coming home from Afghanistan in accordance with the Parliamentary motion calling for an end to the military mission in Afghanistan by the end of 2011.
So, are General Natynczyk and Lieutenant-General Leslie taking orders from Parliament or government?
There words must have been music to the ears of Claude Bachand, the Bloc Quebecois defence critic who has long advocated more ­Parliamentary participation in defence decision making. In a debate sponsored by the Globe and Mail in February 2006, Mr. Bachand said “the Bloc Québécois has always argued that Parliament has to be involved. A decision from Parliament is much more decisive than a cabinet decision. The fact that decisions in Parliament are public gives a better understanding of all the issues of the ­mission to the whole population of Canada.”
The Chief of the Defence Staff, the Chief of the Land Staff and the Bloc Quebecois – strange bedfellows indeed. But it is all balderdash.
In a recent study for the Institute of Research on Public Policy (IRPP), Professor Philippe Lagasse of the University of Ottawa examined Accountability for National Defence: Ministerial Responsibility, Military Command and Parliamentary Oversight in Canada. One of the central issues was that of the role played by Parliament and Government in the deployment of the Canadian Forces. Citing a number of sources, Lagasse notes that “… the Canadian Forces obey the authority of ministers of the Crown. … the House of Commons has no independent authority over Canada’s armed forces.” He is clear in concluding, “… a vote in the House of Commons is not legally required to deploy the Canadian Forces or even declare war.”
In May 2006, Michael Dewing and Corinne McDonald authored a Library of Parliament publication entitled International Deployment of Canadian Forces: Parliament’s Role, which described the Canadian Parliament’s largely indirect role in controlling the deployment of the Canadian Forces abroad. Government, in the exercise of Crown prerogative, decides on the deployment of the Canadian Forces and the nature of the missions they undertake. Of course, Government is held accountable to Parliament through such mechanisms as Question Period, review of Estimates and studies by Parliamentary Committees, but Parliament traditionally does not exercise direct, executive control over military activity.
Professor Lagasse agrees. He points out that the Canadian Forces belong to the Crown. Authority for deploying the Canadian Forces flows from the Crown to its ministers, not from Parliament to the Government. In fact, Section 4 of the National Defence Act says that “The Minister [of National Defence]… has the management and direction of the Canadian Forces and of all matters relating to national defence.” Moreover, he issues all government direction through the Chief of the Defence Staff, as described in Section 18(2) of the NDA, which says: Unless the Governor in Council otherwise directs, all orders and instructions to the Canadian Forces that are required to give effect to the decisions and to carry out the directions of the Government of Canada or the Minister shall be issued by or through the Chief of the Defence Staff.
None of this is unknown to the Chief of the Defence Staff, or any other Canadian Forces officer, of any rank. It is therefore curious that the likes of General Natynczyk and Lieutenant General Leslie would resort to portraying their actions as being a result of Parliamentary direction, rather than government orders. Why would they do this?
In truth, despite their apparent sucking-up to Parliament, Generals Natynczyk and Leslie know that they are working to government orders, and it is government that is directing the end of the military mission in Afghanistan by July 2011. Government, not Parliament, has decided the Canadian Forces will be out of Afghanistan by December 2011. It is Government that issues orders to the Canadian Forces. Government can change its mind too.

© FrontLine Defence 2010