What White Paper on Defence?
Back on 21 July The Ottawa Citizen
noted that authorities were busy revisiting foreign policy. “The government is in the midst of an international policy review, focusing on better aligning foreign affairs and defence matters. Government officials have said they want the review finished by the fall. It has been suggested a new White Paper on Defence could emerge from the review,” the report said. In addition, observed was that Bill Graham, the new Defence Minister, planned to press for Canada to have a clear role in the American missile shield project: “Mr. Graham has vigorously defended the American plan to build the missile shield and brings with him his experience as foreign affairs minister. Earlier this year, Foreign affairs and defence officials entered into negotiations with the U.S. on a potential Canadian role in the Pentagon's system” [The Ottawa Citizen
, 21 July 2004].
Within three weeks, media announced “he’ll [Graham] forgo the defence white paper,” [The Ottawa Citizen
, 10 August 2004] and even quoted Graham saying the Liberals are “unlikely” to prepare a white paper on national defence during the current term [The National Post
and The Ottawa Citizen
, 10 August 2004]. I suppose the question at this point has to be: why the rapid turn-around? In less than a month the Liberals have gone from signaling that foreign affairs matters, while perhaps not at the top of the agenda, were not to be readily dismissed to what might be a full retreat from that position. The left-leaning New Democrats and Bloc would be likely to oppose any serious commitment to a firm deal on missile defence, and that is precisely what they did as soon as intention on the part of the Liberals became clear in late July. But what of the Tories? Surely the Conservative Party of Canada would not shy away from backing a commitment to the military and a more robust foreign policy? Even Tory strategist Hugh Segal, speaking within a day of polling, said Paul Martin could count on Stephen Harper’s unflinching support when it came to defence [see Stephen Staples’ piece in The Hill Times
, 19 July 2004, posted at http://www.oneworld.net/external/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.polarisinstitute.org%2Fpolaris_project%2Fcorp_security_state%2Fpublications_articles%2Fdfence_policy_july_04.html
]. In fact, if anything, Stephen Harper is more Liberal than Paul Martin on such issues: “On military spending, the Conservatives’ campaign promise of $7 billion more over five years appears much higher that the Liberals' commitment of $3 billion over the same period. But voters may have forgotten that just before calling the election Paul Martin announced a $7 billion plan to purchase a long list of military aircraft, tanks and warships” [cited in ‘Martin’s Defence Policy Dilemma’, by Stephen Staples, The Hill Times
, 19 July 2004, at http://www.oneworld.net/external/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.polarisinstitute.org%2Fpolaris_project%2Fcorp_security_state%2Fpublications_articles%2Fdfence_policy_july_04.html
What the Tories did was to remain almost silent when Graham and Martin crawled out on that limb to speak publicly about missile defence. Rather than offering up endorsements, Conservatives said the whole matter, particularly any Liberal policies, required more study, more investigation. Some may be tempted to speculate that the Tories have come, at last, to understand that missile defense is, at best, an issue that most Canadians don’t care about, or, at worst, one that is an anathema and will carry electoral costs for Conservative candidates in future. In reality, there is nothing in this affair to suggest the Tories have abandoned Paul Martin. This whole exercise may be entirely tactical, with Tories and Liberals groping for ways to back missile defense without making it appear that their relationship in this hung parliament is far too close. What may have been discussed between Liberal and Conservative brass off the record remains very much the mystery variable. And after all, does not going to the expense and effort of compiling a white paper really mean that defence and foreign policy must remain unaffected?
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