Harper heads for the past.

It was 44 years ago, on an Air Canada flight to Toronto from Ottawa, Group Captain Bill Lee, sitting in the adjacent seat, explained his idea of how to combine the Canadian military.  Bill was, at the time, Defence Minister Paul Hellyer’s executive assistant.  As far as national issues went, it did not seem to be of much urgency.

Bill saw the move as an attention getter to make Paul Hellyer the next Prime Minister at the 1968 Liberal Party convention.  Bill had not factored in the role Pierre Trudeau would play in that convention.  Mind you, Paul went a good ten rounds against the more recalcitrant of Canada’s admirals until he forced some retirements and the Canadian Forces became unified.

Now, four decades later, Prime Minister Harper wants to restore the Canadian Forces to their supposed former glory as the Royal Canadian Navy, The Royal Canadian Air Force and a stand-alone Canadian Army with its various ‘Royal’ regiments.  Just who he is going to impress with this is not clear.  We are not even sure that the Monarchist League really care about it.

Frankly, it is our observation that people in the Canadian Forces will hardly give a damn.  With the small sample of Base Borden military personnel we have talked with in recent years, we find no interest in the history of the separate forces.  A person, for example, in a blue air element uniform said he was a major, when we identified the two wide stripes and one narrow stripe on his uniform sleeve as being a squadron leader.  He had no idea what a squadron leader’s rank meant.

Mind you, this simplified rank structure can deceive someone who has served in the military.  Once, at a cocktail party in Ottawa, we had a pleasant chat with a fellow who was introduced as a lieutenant general.  Having previously served in the Canadian Air Force, it would have been a much more awkward conversation if he had been introduced in his Air Force rank as an Air Vice-Marshall.

Bill Lee and Paul Hellyer told us that it would save money to combine the Canadian forces more than 40 years ago.  When the silliness is officially announced later this month, Harper and his Defence Minister are going to tell the Canadian public that it will not cost very much to have three separate military services.  It will be just like when we were told that it would not cost very much to host the G8 and G20 last year.


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