Canada's Military Might Dependent on Recruits and Restructuring

Article excerpt

Maintaining and improving national defence is necessary for Canada's safety and survival as a sovereign nation. With rampant terrorism, and the possibility of imminent war with Iraq, National Defence needs funds. The Canadian military is capable of having a significant impact in world situations, but funding for restructuring, recruiting and educating military personnel is necessary for Canadian military to be of any influence. Speech to the Toronto Board of Trade, Toronto, Ontario, October 25, 2002.

Let me start out by telling you howl became Minister of National Defence. I was minding my own business at home on a Sunday morning and the Prime Minister called and he said, "Please be in Ottawa at 3:00." I said, "Yes, Prime Minister." I got to Ottawa at 3:00 he called me again and he said, "I want you to be Minister of National Defence" and I said, "Yes, Prime Minister." And he said, "Be at my house at 5:00 and the swearing-in is at 6:00." And I said, "Yes, Prime Minister." And I got there and he said, "What's your military background? " And I said... well, I wasn't expecting that. I said, "Well, I was a cadet in high school for four years and my father was in the war, the Second World War in the liberation of Holland," and he paused for a moment and he said, "Ah, that's good. That's why I make you the Minister of National Defence." And then he told the same thing to the media. I didn't tell the media about being a cadet, he did.

Anyway, after almost five months on the job as Minister of National Defence, this is my first major speech and I'd like to take this opportunity to share some of my thoughts on the role and direction of the Canadian Forces. But before I get into that, let me comment very briefly on my other role as the Member of Parliament for Markham and as Toronto area Minister. And like you of the Board of Trade, I want you to know that I'm committed to sustaining and promoting the social fabric and the economic leadership of the Greater Toronto area. We have a huge amount going for us. We're number five in North America for business headquarters, we're number two in North America automotively, we're number three in financial services after New York and Chicago, with 143,000 people employed. We're number three in entertainment and we're number four in pharma/biotech.

I think we have a strategic asset in the diversity of our population--42% of all the visible minorities in Canada live here and 42%, by coincidence the same number, of the population of Toronto is foreign-born. And I think particularly given the demographics, this is a strategic asset not least in Markham, our ability to welcome and integrate people from all different countries and cultures and religions and races, and just to give you one example of what was striking to me when I first became a Member of Parliament in Markham to learn that in one high school in Markham the students amongst themselves had 55 different first languages. So that tells you quite a lot.

We also have challenges and you know what they are, I know what they are. I don't have time to get into them because this is not the main topic of my speech today. But what I want you to know is suffice it to say that I will be there around the Cabinet table along with my colleagues, David Collenette, Allan Rock and others, promoting the well-being and the interests of this city.

But now I want to go into the main purpose of my comments today which is about the military. Since becoming Minister of National Defence, my respect for the military has taken a quantum leap and the turning point for me was in July when I went to Afghanistan to see our soldiers and our airmen and seamen and women and the temperature was over 50 degrees Celsius but you didn't notice it because of all the sand in your eyes. And there were our people and I had an opportunity to speak to a number of them, minus officers, and to a person notwithstanding these appalling conditions they were first of all pleased to be going home but at the same time proud that they had done their duty there and proud of what they had achieved and they had every right to be proud because I spoke to at least three Americans, a Lieutenant General, a Colonel and a Seargent and to a person they praised our people for what they had achieved. …