With Canada's grinding, decade-long ground commitment in Afghanistan at an end, there is a sea change needed with respect to Canada's Armed Forces. Quite literally. Prime Minister Stephen Harper hinted at it eloquently in a recent speech in Ottawa, declaring that "Canada is a maritime nation, a maritime nation with trade, commerce and interests around the world...Canada and its economy float on salt water."
"Such a nation," Mr. Harper said, "must have a navy."
More than any government in recent memory, the Conservatives have understood the importance of the Royal Canadian Navy to Canada's economy and future. They have taken important steps towards ensuring it has the capacity not only to safeguard our sovereignty but to extend the reach of Canadian laws and authority anywhere in the world.
The modernization of its frigates, its submarine fleet, and the procurement of Joint Support Ships, Arctic offshore patrol ships, and the development of a new surface combatant, together, represent the most ambitious fleet modernization in many decades. The government has even funded research into so-called robo-ships – unmanned surface vehicles, or USVs.
The case for such an investment in the RCN is compelling. A large share of Canada's GNP relies on its capacity to trade by sea. Climate change is testing Canada's will and capacity to defend its vast Arctic waters. And Canadian warships are regularly being called on to do everything from fighting piracy and terrorism, to interdicting drug and human traffickers, delivering humanitarian relief, and even engaging in the protection of foreign nationals as was the case with the navy's support of NATO's engagement against the regime of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
The government's immediate priority must be to ensure delays and other pressures do not threaten these procurement programs. It must ensure adequate recruitment to the regular and reserve ranks.
And given the defence challenges and its own priorities, it needs to appoint a naval officer as the next Chief of Defence Staff, following the expected departure later this year of General Walter Natynczyk. The last an admiral was in that role was 1997. It's time again.