The federal Liberal government is pulling the plug on a decade-old plan to move the military’s elite Joint Task Force 2 to a new base, ending years of speculation and uncertainty for the commando unit’s members and their families.
The decision, announced Monday by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan in response to a question from The Canadian Press, comes despite the previous Conservative government’s having spent millions acquiring land for a new facility near Canadian Forces Base Trenton in Ontario.
“In the changing global security environment, we remain focused on making sure that the Canadian special forces are equipped to deal with these challenges,” Mr. Sajjan said in an e-mailed statement.
“I want to assure those who are serving with JTF2 and their families that we have no plans to move this facility out of Ottawa.”
While the minister did not provide reasons for the decision, defence officials have previously spoken of a desire to keep JTF2, whose primary role is counterterror missions in Canada and abroad, close to Ottawa to guard against terrorist attacks.
There have also been reports that the cost of the new base had skyrocketed in recent years, with Postmedia quoting internal Defence Department documents from 2016 as saying the price had more than tripled from $364-million to $1.2-billion.
The previous Conservative government first decided to move the supersecretive unit from its Dwyer Hill base west of Ottawa to a new location next to CFB Trenton in 2007.
The Conservatives at the time felt having the commando unit close to an airport – CFB Trenton has the Canadian Armed Forces’ busiest airfield – would improve its ability to respond quickly to domestic and international emergencies.
Ottawa bought property north of CFB Trenton but ran into fierce opposition from one farmer whose ultimately unsuccessful fight to keep his 90-hectare farm made headlines. The government eventually expropriated Frank Meyers’s land; he died last year.
The government has not said how much it spent on the more than 200 hectares purchased for the move, but officials have pegged the total in the millions of dollars.
Despite years of effort, however, the move never happened. The issue hung over the military and JTF2, even as members of the unit deployed to places such as Iraq to help in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Defence officials would later cite concerns about “lone wolf” terrorist attacks as one reason for keeping JTF2 close to Ottawa. One such attack in October, 2014, saw an ISIL sympathizer kill Corporal Nathan Cirillo in front of the National War Memorial before storming Parliament.
Reports about the new facility’s escalating costs also raised questions about the feasibility of relocating the unit.
Major-General Peter Dawe, the commander of Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, which includes JTF2, said in an interview last week that he was still awaiting word on whether the unit would move.
While commanders had been able to minimize any impact on the unit caused by the uncertainty, Maj-Gen. Dawe added, “a decision would be welcome.”
The Defence Department has not said what it will do with the land that was purchased near CFB Trenton, although officials have suggested it could be used for training or to store ammunition.