Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday October 6, 2022
The military can’t be the first line of defence in domestic disasters, MPs told
Whatever the crisis of the moment happens to be, the military is supposed to be the force of last resort.
Increasingly, though, that word “last” is being replaced by “first” — and sometimes “only.”
A former top national security adviser warned a parliamentary committee on Tuesday that successive federal governments have relied too much on the military to handle crises at home.
Richard Fadden’s remarks were met with some nods of agreement around the table — and a slight wince from a representative from one the provinces that has been in the uncomfortable position of having to call for military-backed relief.
Having served both Liberal and Conservative governments as the prime minister’s security adviser, deputy minister of defence and head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Fadden assured MPs on the House of Commons defence committee that his comments were not partisan.
He said domestic emergency operations — such as cleaning up after storms and fighting forest fires — distract the military from the training it needs in an increasingly unstable world — a point the Conservatives have been hammering away on since the committee launched its study.
That doesn’t mean the Armed Forces should stay away when Canadians are struck by tragedies like post-tropical storm Fiona, Fadden said.
The problem, he added, is that in recent years the federal government has acted as if the military is the only tool it can turn to in a disaster.
“It is becoming too easy for prime ministers — not in particular this one, but prime ministers generally — to simply say, ‘I’m going to send in the army,'” Fadden told the four-party committee, which is studying the military’s domestic emergency preparedness.
“And we do this without talking to the provinces, municipalities and civil society about what they could and should do.”
Fadden argued that the problem cannot be examined with a narrow focus on military response. He called on the federal government to undertake a thorough, independent review of all emergency response capacity across the country, both federal and provincial.
Last week, a senior military commander told the committee that the number of requests for assistance the Armed Forces receives from provinces has ramped up rapidly over the past decade.
Maj.-Gen. Paul Prevost testified that in 2021, there were seven such requests for a military response to provincial emergencies — floods, forest fires and other natural disasters. The period between 2017 and 2021 saw an average of four such requests per year. From 2010 to 2017, the average was two per year.
Those numbers do not include the 118 calls for assistance the military answered during the pandemic by, for example, backstopping exhausted health care staff in long-term care homes in Ontario and Quebec.
“We probably in this country, right now, don’t have another tool.” Fadden said.
“I think this is really problematic for a sophisticated, complex government like the Government of Canada today, when a disaster occurs … if a prime minister only has one tool.”
The idea of a dedicated force within the military tasked with responding to natural disasters has been floated frequently since Fiona hit the East Coast. Gen. Wayne Eyre, Canada’s top military commander, has said such a force would require more military capacity.
It’s also a bad idea, said Fadden.
“Asking the Canadian Forces, for example, to run a railway would be a mistake. Asking the Canadian Forces to become overly involved in disaster assistance, in my view, is also a mistake,” he said. (CBC)
From sketch to finish, see the current way Graeme completes an editorial cartoon using an iPencil, the Procreate app, and a couple of cheats on an iPad Pro …