Against a backdrop of further cuts in the defence budget and the appointment of the fifth Minister of National Defence in seven years, Vice-Admiral Thomas, the Vice Chief of Defence Staff, unexpectedly resigned, exposing the continuing failure of the Tory government to provide leadership and direction on defence policy.
The Admiral did not resign in protest over planned cuts. He disagreed with his boss, the Chief of the Defence Staff, over how the remaining funds should be spent. The Admiral argued that the proposed force structure is not affordable. He questioned the utility of a new expeditionary force, fearing that it would operate at the expense of a mid-ocean, combat-capable navy.
In his reply to the Admiral's letter of resignation, General De Chastelain, Chief of Defence Staff, pointed out that the Navy is getting the largest share, 40 percent, of the Capital Budget over the next 15 years. Future governments, he argued, will need the broadest possible range of options, including an army expeditionary, combat-capable force which need not be at the navy's expense.
Both men are probably right, but neither they nor the Canadian people can tell because the government keeps refusing to set a clear defence policy.
In the absence of a defence policy we are getting out of the blue, ill-conceived proposals for defence equipment like the "corvette," which could be a warship looking for a role. Equipment proposals from the military should not drive policy. Policy and priorities, determined by the politicians, should guide defence acquisition.
Admiral Thomas is right when he says "defence is too important to be left to the military or to the bureaucrats or to either groups agendas." A new defence policy and new priorities, open to parliamentary debate and public scrutiny, are urgently needed to give Canadians a guide to determine whether the 12 billion dollars a year on defence is being spent in the best way to defend and protect Canada's vital interests. If Admiral Thomas's dramatic exit after a distinguished career of 35 years can help bring that about, he will have done Canada a great service.
Rear-Admiral RCN (Retired)
Director of Maritime Affairs
The Naval Officers Association of Canada