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Keith Gerein: The impact of climate change and domestic disasters on Canada’s military.
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Keith Gerein: The impact of climate change and domestic disasters on Canada’s military.

1st Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry soldiers prepare to depart 3rd Canadian Division Support Base Edmonton en route to Vernon, B.C., on July 23, 2021. The Canadian Armed Forces is deploying land forces to support local and provincial authorities in response to the emergency wildfire situation.


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Edmonton is a major military town.


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Edmontonians are proud to be able to speak out about soldiers who have served their country in wars all over the globe.

But as that world has grown more complex in recent years, it’s fair to wonder if the most daunting conflict now facing our Canadian Armed Forces is an identity crisis.

Are we really still a peacekeeping nation today? Is it still true that NATO is known for being a strong NATO member? What are our capabilities to defend our nation against environmental threats?

That last question may seem surprising, but it’s worth asking because apart from that frantic evacuation from Afghanistan earlier this year, Canada’s military has probably been best known during the last couple of years as a domestic disaster response service.


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Whether that’s been assisting with fires and floods in British Columbia, serving in long-term care homes, administering vaccines in remote communities or adding to the ICU capacity in Alberta, the military has stepped up ably.

This is no surprise. Based on my experiences with soldiers over the years I know they can solve almost any problem and will find a solution if they are given the right support.

Still, this kind of role isn’t necessarily what most soldiers sign up for, and yet they may need to get used to it as a bigger part of their workload.

We know that climate change tends increase the severity and frequency for various disasters. Oh, and this includes pandemicsBecause A warming climate can lead to new pathogens or increase the chances of existing ones spreading north of the 49th parallel.


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That said, it’s not clear that our country has really resolved the question of whether the military, as currently constituted, is the right tool to throw at these crises.

(This issue is becoming more important due to growing concern about whether the United States can be trusted as a reliable and trustworthy partner/protector.

This question was posed to Anita Anand, the new Minister of National Defence, last Friday. visited EdmontonWe are grateful to the local troops who have been helping in recent disaster relief efforts.

In our brief interview, she twice noted “ Strong, Secure, Engaged ,” the Liberal government’s wide-ranging strategic planFor the military that was released in 2017.

The plan, which does address the growing threat of climate change, has been accompanied with a substantial long-term budget increase .


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It is possible that it is too ambitious. If so, the funding increase may not be sufficient to realize the vision.

This is where identity crisis concerns come in.

Defence Minister Anita Anand.
Anita Anand, Defence Minister Blair Gable/Reuters/File. Photo

As an example, it’s unclear what more Canada can meaningfully contribute to UkraineShould Russian aggression escalate, there is no other option than a trained force already present.

As another example, while Ottawa has pledged to restore Canada’s peacekeeping tradition, the follow-through has been questionable at best.

Yes, Canada recently pledged $85 millionThe money will be used to support peacekeeping efforts, which is generous in comparison to other countries. However, it is primarily for a UN fund to facilitate peace talks and conflict resolution.


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It was notable that the announcement did not contain any commitment to fulfill the 2017 promise to create a 200-soldier quick react force.

“At the current time our commitment is with that $85 million and I am heavily engaged with Gen. (Wayne) Eyre and our broader government … on broader commitments,” Anand said.

Part of the government’s reasoning for the flip-flop is that the world has changed since the 2017 promise was made. However, it’s curious that they aren’t expressing the same attitude with the entire Strong, Secure, Engaged strategy, which came out the same year.

Given the past events, I believe the government might need to reexamine its plan and tighten priorities in order to provide a stronger domestic disaster response.


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(Edmonton’s base, by the way, seems a likely place to benefit from any investments in this area, given its location, size and existing expertise.)

If so, it is a good idea to increase recruitment efforts. This includes reaching out to people who may not have been attracted to the Armed Forces previously in large numbers.

The problem is that reports of sexual harassment and abuse in the military haven’t exactly created the impression of a welcoming environment for women and other marginalized groups.

Anand has moved quickly to implement a number of long-overdue reforms, including the transfer of military sexual misconduct casesDespite being a civil court system, this scandal can still leave a lasting impression on the public.

This has been a bit of a wide-ranging column, but the bottom line here is that Edmontonians — and I assume all Canadians — want to continue to be proud of our military.

Forces deserve and need a more tightly controlled identity in order to make that happen. Our country needs to be transparent about its priorities, and the support it requires to excel, instead of trying to please everyone with half measures.

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