Ex-soldier Andrew Leslie served as a Liberal member of Parliament and once advised Trudeau on defence. Nowadays, he is talking to Pierre Poilievre’s ‘receptive, aware and focused’ team.

 This is a conversation series, written by Donna Kennedy-Glans, a writer and former Alberta cabinet minister, with newsmakers and interesting personalities. Lt. -Gen. (ret’d) Andrew Leslie is more than eager to speak about the embarrassing state of Canadian military preparation.

“The current prime minister of Canada is not serious about defence. A large number of his cabinet members are not serious about defence”. The former Liberal MP tells me.

“Our NATO allies are despairing. Our American friends are frustrated.” But because NATO and Norad (North American Aerospace Defense Command) are both essentially voluntary organizations, in which other people cannot give Canada orders,” the retired general explains, “all the officers are extraordinarily polite in public. But in private, the conversations are quite brutal.”

I have asked Andrew to talk about our federal government’s delay in military spending-although the risk has changed – and what we should expect from our allies. This former major-general in the Canadian Armed Forces, former chief of staff of the Canadian Army and former member of parliament for Orleans is someone well-equipped to tell what’s really going on.Far from mincing his words, he gives a frank account. I meet up with Andrew at his home, I find behind him that his walls have been decorated by many medals and awards which testifies to decades of service in places like Afghanistan and Yugoslavia.

We get to the core of the issue. Canada’s closest allies are pushing Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, to consider increasing his country’s military expenditure. And with this constant war in Ukraine, Arctic becoming thinner and more vulnerable, chaos in the Middle East and world order shaking, Canadians are discovering that we have to be ready to our own selves defense.

The United States Air Force General Gregory Guillot (who took over the leadership of Norad in February) has warned his Canadian counterparts that he intends to have the U. S. troops training not only in Alaska but also in the Canadian Arctic. Pro or contra, or somewhere in between?

It makes perfect sense, Andrew answers, because Canada has not only “no permanently stationed combat capability in the Arctic” but also because she is not a routine trooper in the Arctic. “Simply in terms of numbers, there are about 22,000 professional men and women in the U. S. Armed Forces based in the Arctic, mainly in Alaska.There are about 30,000 to 35,000 Russian armed forces based in the Arctic. Canada makes up 300 people. ”

The stark facts, articulated by Andrew in a way that leaves no room for doubt, make me wince. It’s all so embarrassing. It’s increasingly difficult for the federal government to publicly extol our Arctic capabilities, the general continues. “Thank goodness Norad wants to exercise their American troops in Canada’s Arctic,” Andrew concludes, “someone’s got to be out there (in the Arctic) to show presence, and we are not. We are undefended.”

Deterrence is critical, right now, he says, “Putin and President Xi are both ambitious about the Arctic. We know this because they’ve said so.” Andrew’s not suggesting there will be armed conflict in the Arctic right away, but why wouldn’t they show up with drilling rigs to challenge Canada’s sovereignty in contested areas?

Over the last two to three years, other countries have volunteered to come and give Canada a hand with training in the Arctic, Andrew reports, his tone growing increasingly agitated. “The commander of the Royal Navy has said, you know, if you want my submarines to come up and help with trying to figure out what’s going on underneath the ice, I’m willing to do so. The Americans have said, how can we help? Nudge, nudge.”

The new commander of Norad is doing the right thing, Andrew believes, including building on existing relationships with Norway, Denmark, Finland and Sweden, other NATO countries with significant landmass inside the Arctic Circle. These countries also have combat capabilities that they deploy to their northern climates, on a regular basis, to maintain training and deterrence.

One would even think that the Trudeau government would be scared by these approaches from our allies — not only to protect our Arctic but also to increase our military spending to at least two percent of the GDP, in line with other NATO members. However, the minister who has the key role on Canada’s military preparedness – Defence Minister Bill Blair – it sounds like he/she is already losing this fight. He has on record saying it’s hard to persuade the cabinet and Canadians that making efforts to meet the “magical” threshold of two per cent is a goal worth pursuing and also that the Canadian armed forces are facing a “death spiral” when it comes to recruiting. If any CEO of a company said that, employees would start updating their LinkedIn profiles. Andrew replies modestly, “Well, a minister is not supposed to sell something nationally, but that is the job of the whole cabinet. “Yet it also refers to the issues we are facing. ”

And then Andrew repeats what he’s said before, this time more forcefully: “I will say it again, the Liberal government has no intention of reaching two per cent by 2030 and no intention of reaching 1. 76 per cent (as promised in the April 2024 budget) because they are confident in the smug knowledge that the Americans will always defend us. ”

There’s a backstory. When Trudeau who at the time was running for leadership of the Liberal Party asked him to develop its defence and security policy, Andrew put together a policy for him. The policy was laid out in full detail in 2017 in a paper given the title of Strong, Secure, and Engage. “It works really well in fact,” Andrew says, “It offers a lot of money, specific timelines for equipment, an annex of deliverables. One of them thinks that there exactly were 110 or 111, but they have met none of them. ”

And then matter-of-factly, Andrew enumerates the failures: “In the history of the Liberal government since 2015, the government has not been able to use, re-profile, re-allocate, defer, or lapse the committed $20 Billion for defence. This means that fleets of ship have not been replaced, aircraft are too old as helircopters; and the army is in dire straits. ”

 During his campaign for the election in 2015, much was expected of him to be the Minister of Defence under the Liberal banner. His new job will be government whip he said.

The grandfathers of Andrew were both ministers of defence in Canadian Government once. His father’s grandfather, Andrew McNaughton was a member of the government from 1944 to 1945 under Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, when conscription was a major issue. Coming to the maternal side of his family, his grandfather Edward Brooke Claxton also served in the Canadian government, and under King and Louis St. Laurent, during the time when the government had to choose between the financial and political cost of retaining the sovereignty of Canada or the defence against the Soviet Union threat in North America.

Andrew remains doubtful that the threats from friends or the voices of the Canadian people will make the Troodleau government shift its position on military spending. Nevertheless, he points to a turning point by Trudeau’s father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau — who for years was determined not to spend a lot on defence so that he would be able to fund social programs.

“(Pierre Trudeau) faced up to a rude and brutal comment by the chancellor of Germany, the prime minister of England, and the president of the United States on his poor defense spending, and he was told coldly that trade is a function of the members who participate as a team. “Andrew retells – Trudeau went out and started buying new ships, new tanks, new jet fighters, new artillery guns

 Liberal government inflexibility on military expenditure just pushes me harder to fight for reasonable upgrade to the armed forces. He is in talks with Pierre Poilievre’s team about the defence strategy and he finds them, “receptive, aware and focused. And he adds, “you can quote me on that. ”

- Published By Team Nation Press News

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