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Post by Riverdale on Fri Jan 11, 2019 9:46 am

Is it time for Canada's military to unionize?

Our Armed Forces serve overseas alongside the unionized militaries of countries such as Germany and France. Isn't it time to explore this option at home?

ROBERT SMOL > January 11, 2019

ROBERT SMOL	 Cda-UN-Mali-20181222

Throughout my military career and beyond, any talk of a military association, or union, as an organized contract-negotiating body representing our military rank and file was dismissed as “absurd” – often prompting dystopian images of out-of-control, pot-smoking, pacifist, insubordinate soldiers defying orders.

Yes, our military may serve next to unionized, professional and sober municipal and provincial police services, the Coast Guard, Canadian Border Service Agency, and the Canadian Communications Security Establishment, to name only a few. But that is beside the point, apparently. Equally irrelevant, it seems to detractors, is the fact that our Armed Forces continue to serve overseas alongside the unionized militaries of countries such as Germany and France.

But is it really beside the point? Are nascent initiatives – such as that of Ottawa lawyer and retired colonel Michel Drapeau to draw up a petition for a Military Professional Association of Canada – a radical step into the unknown? Or are they a long-overdue nod to modern western democratic culture and military reality?

The ultimate decision to create a military professional association will have to come from the rank and file that it would represent. Do the soldiers, sailors and air personnel, the flesh, blood and backbone of the Forces, feel they deserve a collective legal voice over working conditions, rights when disabled, processing of family and spousal benefits, grievances and career progression?

Our Armed Forces continue to serve overseas alongside the unionized militaries of countries such as Germany and France.

Or should we in 2019 and beyond continue to leave ultimate responsibility for caring for the rank and file to the 20-something lieutenant just out of university, or the pedantic staff-officer captain or major focused on promotion and determined not to “upset the colonel”?

Before any informed decision can be made, negative and factually incorrect perceptions of a military professional association need to be identified and shot down.

First and foremost, a professional military association does not, never has, and absolutely never will be about our military having the right to strike. (Critics and skeptics, please read the previous sentence again.) As with our uniformed police fire and border services, a unionized military would have to instead move to mediation and arbitration if contract negotiations reached an impasse.

Second, military unionization is never intended to give military personnel the right to refuse a lawful operational combat order. To imply otherwise would not only be a crime under the National Defence Act but would also defeat the whole purpose of a military union, which is to work within, and not against, the operational objectives of the organization. Unionized firefighters are not opposed to fighting fires. Unionized police are not opposed to fighting crime. Unionized operating room nurses want the patient’s surgery to be a success.

Third, having a professional military association would not turn its members into “pacifists.” By way of comparison, we don’t seem to have any concerns that the aggressive and outspoken unions representing our police officers have rendered them reluctant to draw their weapons. If anything, police unions have sometimes been blamed for protecting and rationalizing the actions of overly aggressive police officers.

Finally, when discussing a military association with serving officers and veterans, the conversation often moves to previous personal encounters with individual and allegedly incompetent unionized European military personnel. I do not doubt for a second that those singled-out, individual cases of incompetence might be true. But was that allegedly incompetent unionized European soldier encountered in 1974 or 1981 a product of their military union or their individual professional shortcomings and that of their commanders? To be even more blunt, is our own staunchly non-unionized uniform military an “incompetence-free zone” when it comes to treatment of the rank and file?

Fellow vets, we know the answer, don’t we?

Nonetheless, perhaps after careful thought, debate and reflection, an empowered and organized rank and file might not be right for Canada. Perhaps our military’s Infantry soldiers, sonar operators, port inspection divers, and communication research operators, to name a few, are not intelligent or mature enough to find a professional balance between any possible collective professional empowerment and their operational combat duties.

Robert Smol served for more than 20 years in the Canadian Armed Forces. He is currently an educator and writer in Toronto.


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Post by RunningLight on Fri Jan 11, 2019 4:33 pm

It would have been nice to have some type of representation that would have lobbied politicians to keep us out of the New Veterans Charter back in 05/06.

Something like the RCMP had, SRR, (Staff Relations Representative).

Very well written article by Robert Smol.
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Post by Trooper on Fri Jan 11, 2019 7:04 pm

Yes the article is well written, but as far as disabled Veterans are concerned a different approach may be a better option in defending our benefits.

I know that Sean Bruyea a well respected advocate for Veterans, and a few others raised concerns about the NVC back before it was enacted into law. Alone in their quest to stop this they could not stop the NVC from coming into force.

If anyone had a chance in succeeding in stopping the NVC it would have been the Legion. The Legion however accepted the NVC at the time, which was inline with all parties at the time. To this day although the Legion has somewhat walk away from it's acceptance of the NVC, not one political party, the previous Ombudsman Guy Patent, the present, and all previous Ministers of Veterans Affairs 2006 forward has walked back their stance towards enacting the NVC. In fact they have produced a new Pension for Life which takes away 6 benefits from the NVC.

The Legion holds more coax than people believe. As one senior VAC has relayed to me about the speculation about the pension act Veterans all being rolled into the NVC. The government can legislate at anytime this to become legislated, even though the pension act is grandfathered in. However according to this VAC agent, the Legion will never stand for that. Keep in mind most if not all the Legion members who are actually truly Veterans are getting their benefits from the Pension act. So the Legion is helpful to those who are receiving full benefits from the Pension act. (At lease from this respect).

In my own opinion, instead of looking at unionizing, I would be looking at forcing the government to put into law (legislation) protection for disabled Veterans. A protection act to have in support of our legal challenge we bring forward. We need to stop fighting for the multiple legislation that is produced by the bureaucrats of VAC. These legislated benefits are not worth fighting against. They are not comparable to the benefits of the Pension act which are far better than what's coming out of the bureaucratic cage. Fighting for these benefits OR downplaying the benefits distract from the main problem. We need to simplify our ways OR the way we approach our battle. To much legislated benefits brought to light confuses our support network, and distracts away from our main objective. The supreme court ruling in the Equitas law suit last January has pretty much spelled it out for us. Folks we are not doing any good to our cause by attending these stakeholder summits OR attending any event brought on by the government.

If we don't learn by our mistakes, we will never learn.


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Post by Masefield on Sun Jan 13, 2019 4:29 pm

Remembering Canada's dangerous foray into nuclear weapons

January 13, 2019

ROBERT SMOL	 02x230_30ba_9-e1547410147539
Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson warms his hands in his pockets as he chats with President John Kennedy for benefit of photographers on terrace of President's summer home at Hyannis Port on Cape Cod, May 10, 1963. The Canadian Press/AP)

Guest Columnist

During the 1960s and ’70s, the prosperous bedroom community north of Montreal where I lived a carefree childhood had a dirty little secret.

One that, thankfully, never came to haunt me.

Fifty-five years ago — on Dec. 31, 1963 — the Liberal government of Lester Pearson formally acquired American-controlled nuclear weapons for use by the Canadian military.

Among the RCAF Squadrons stood up specifically for this purpose was RCAF 447 Surface to Air (SAM) Squadron at LaMacaza near Mont Tremblant, a mere hour and change drive from my childhood home.

This and its sister squadron, 446 SAM at North Bay, Ont., combined housed 56 Canadian BOMARC missiles — each carrying a 10-kiloton nuclear warhead maintained, armed and jealously guarded by in-house American servicemen.

Their mission, in layman terms, was to get the BOMARC warhead to detonate in the air close enough to the incoming Soviet bombers so as to destroy, avert or at least delay their further progress on their targets.

But the Canadian and American officers and NCOs who guarded, serviced and stood by ready to launch these U.S manufactured and nuclear-tipped Canadian BOMARCS were by no means alone. RCAF and Army bases, across Canada and into Europe, served as multi-faceted purveyors of U.S nuclear weapons.

ROBERT SMOL	 Peake-archive_mp12
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau pins a rose to his lapel while at a UJA function in Toronto June 5, 1978.

The BOMARCS Canadian “delivery-boy” systems for these American nuclear weapons included RCAF Voodoo and Starfighter squadrons in the air and MGR-1 Honest John Tactical Nuclear weapons manned by the Royal Canadian Artillery.

However, a most delectably frightening scenario for Liberal-led Canada in the 1960s and 70s would have been the fact that, had the Avro Arrow proceeded to full production, it could well have become the single most accurate allied fighter interceptor for the delivery of nuclear missiles against Soviet bombers. Imagine that?

Though actual delivery systems were to change and consolidate over time, the Canadian Armed Forces continued to use tactical nuclear weapons until 1984, which, ironically, happened to be the same year Pierre Trudeau finally, left office. To put it another way, only when Conservative Brian Mulroney took office did the Canadian Armed Forces officially become “nuke-free” again.

Upon reflection, our government and military’s shrewdly dual-minded, 20-year in-house nuclear affair with the U.S had all the classic hallmarks of Liberal defence: Dilly-dallying that symbolized the dawn of this country’s slow decline into quasi-colonial U.S defence dependency.

Politically, I must admit that Liberal governments of the 60s and 70s were shrewd!

Knowing that full membership in the “nuclear club” would alienate and anger much of their base, the Pearson-Trudeau political dynasty opted instead for carrier status, officially leaving ultimate responsibility for the detonation of Canadian-carried nuclear weapons to the appropriate U.S authority.

Of course, for what it was worth, nuclear release of Canadian-carried U.S nuclear warheads had to be concurred by Canada, as well. But just how serious would a possible Pearson/Trudeau government “No” have been?

If the U.S chose to act alone, over Canada, against the Soviets would we have had the chutzpah to stand up to both?

So by default, the true genius of Liberal government’s nuclear “affair” with the U.S was that, depending on the perceived outcome, the Canadian government could politically associate, or disassociate itself from the fallout (politically and radioactively) of any Canadian military purveyance of U.S nuclear tipped warheads over Canada.

As much as it suited us, we could say that we were an active part of it. Likewise, as much as it suited us, we could say that it was ultimately not our fault.

Meanwhile, what might have become of any Canadian inhabitants or territory directly underneath the nuclear exchange was to be the problem of the Canadian Militia, which, incidentally, was brought kicking and screaming into the civil defence and evacuation business.

Thankfully, all the arrangements that generated the Canadian in-house affair with U.S nuclear weapons are long over. Dare instead to imagine a “Donald Trump” nuclear head attached to an outdated Justin Trudeau “shaft” fighting for Canada and you can rest assured that the end of the world as we know it has arrived!

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Post by Kizzer on Sun May 05, 2019 8:37 am

Canada liberated the Netherlands. Now guess who has the better-equipped military today?

The Dutch won't forget the country that came to their aid. That's cause for celebration – but also for possible embarrassment, considering how the state of the Canadian Armed Forces compares to the modern Dutch military.

ROBERT SMOL May 5, 2019

ROBERT SMOL	 A134390-v6
May 9, 1945: Infantrymen of The West Nova Scotia Regiment in a Universal Carrier en route to Rotterdam are surrounded by Dutch civilians celebrating the liberation of the Netherlands.

I’ve always been aware – and have experienced first-hand – how appreciative the Dutch of all generations are towards Canada for liberating their country in the final months of the Second World War. The liberation is customarily observed on May 5. The Dutch will not forget the country that came to their aid.

That’s cause for celebration – but also for possible embarrassment, considering how the state of the Canadian Armed Forces compares to the Dutch military in 2019.

Today’s Royal Netherlands Army, Navy and Air Force possess a capability that, weapon-to-weapon, surpasses Canada on most, if not all, major fronts. Unlike Canada, the Dutch have implemented, or are implementing, military modernization plans that reflect a nation and military that sees itself as an ally, not merely an appendage, of the United States.

For example, while Canada continues to dither, delay and digress in the procurement of new fighter jets, the Royal Netherlands Air Force is already in the process of replacing its aging F-16s with a fleet of 37 new F-35 Stealth Fighters, the same fighters Canada shied away from procuring. Today, one-time Canadian liberators whose fleets of Lancaster bombers and Spit fighters once filled the Dutch skies, is instead purchasing 18 second-hand F-18 fighters from Australia, another country in the process of acquiring new F-35s.

While Canada has zero capability when it comes to attack helicopters, the Netherlands possesses a fleet of 28 AH-64 Apache helicopters that have seen service in operations around the world. This growing asymmetric relationship between former liberators and liberated was most apparent during Canada’s peacekeeping deployment to Mali last year. Tasked to somehow replace the rapid Dutch multi-weapon attack helicopters, the country whose generals once accepted the German surrender in the Netherlands had to improvise by quickly modifying our small Griffon transport helicopters with mounted machine-guns.

Thankfully for our peacekeepers, the Dutch Special Forces in the region remained for a short time afterwards to help protect the Canadian contingent.

Perhaps the Dutch might also some day come to our aid should our army need ground-based air defence capability. In 2012, the Canadian Armed Forces had to phase out its dated and ineffective ground-based missile defence capability without any replacement. Yet the Dutch Joint Land-Based Air Defence Command operates five modern air-defence batteries, three of which use modern MIM-104 Patriot long-range surface-to-air missiles.

On the ground, Canada might be well advised to check the ownership history of our current fleet of tanks should any of our armoured regiments be invited to take part in the 75th anniversary of liberation next year. Why? Because many of our tiny fleet of Leopard 2 Tanks are second-hand purchases from, wait for it, the Netherlands!

Though smaller in number, the Royal Netherlands Navy maintains a similar advantage over Canada by way of combat capability. The two oldest ships in the Dutch naval fleet are the same age as Canada’s only remaining operational ships, the Halifax Class frigates. Between 2002 and 2005, the Dutch built four new air defence frigates (De Zeven Provincien-class), which have undergone upgrades in recent years. Compared to Canada’s aging ships, they possess an impressive array of missiles, armament and decoy capability.

And the Dutch must have made some impression on Canadian defence planners, since one of the confirmed initial bidders in Canada’s plan to eventually replace our frigates by, yes, 2040, was Alion, which was proposing the Dutch frigate design for Canada.

Elsewhere at sea, the Netherlands have also recently completed and are operating four Offshore Patrol Vessels (Holland Class) built between 2010 and 2013. Though Canada has 448 times the coastline of the Netherlands, we have only recently managed to launch the first of four to maybe six planned Arctic Offshore Patrol Vessels.

So while the Dutch will continue to remember Canada as the main force behind their liberation, we in Canada might be well advised to remember how the status and strength of our nation has changed compared to the country we once freed.

Robert Smol served for more than 20 years in the Canadian Armed Forces. He is currently an educator and writer in Toronto.


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Post by Keshery on Mon Aug 19, 2019 10:32 am

Why Sweden is leagues ahead of Canada on fighter-jet technology

ROBERT SMOL August 19, 2019

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