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Military cash pledge no panacea
Tarina White
Calgary Herald

Federal election pledges by Canada's party leaders to pump billions into Canada's flailing military will do little to bring the country's defence forces up to speed.

That's because training personnel how to use the latest military technology -- which is becoming increasingly high tech -- takes years, said Mercedes Stephenson of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies in Calgary.

"Even if we got the new helicopters (to replace the Sea Kings) tomorrow, it would be six years before we could use them," said Stephenson during a panel discussion on the current affairs television program Global Sunday.

"When you let the armed forces erode to a certain level, it becomes extremely difficult to rebuild them."

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper is promising that, if elected, his party would increase the current 50,000-strong troop level by 27,600 and inject $5.5 billion into the defence budget.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Paul Martin has announced the Liberals would deliver an unspecified boost in defence spending, in addition to looking at improving maritime security and bolstering reserve forces.

In pre-campaign promises, Martin committed to spend more than $7 billion on new helicopters, fixed-wing search-and-rescue aircraft, a lightweight mobile gun system for the army and new navy supply ships.

"There's actually quite a bit of daylight between the political parties and what they're proposing (for the military)," said National Post editorial writer Adam Daifallah, noting that the Liberals appear more interested than the Conservatives in directing money to peacekeeping initiatives.

"We do have a real choice in this election, and I think it's something that's long overdue for discussion," he said.

Meanwhile, Stephen Staples of the Polaris Institute in Ottawa argued that the Canadian government also needs to inject cash into intelligence operations to protect against a possible terrorist attack in Canada.

"A military solution in the traditional way we've been doing this is not going to solve this problem," said Staples of the threat of terrorism.

Daifallah agreed. "It's obviously an area where Canada's severely lacking," he said of intelligence operations.

"We're absolutely a target," for a terrorist attack, he added.

© The Calgary Herald 2004

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