Paul Hellyer Overreacts

Former defence minister Paul Hellyer has an op-ed in today’s Toronto Star decrying the nominal return of the Royal Canadian Navy, Royal Canadian Air Force, and Canadian Army.

He makes two main points:

1) The royal rebranding could be a first step back toward three separate, competing services.

2) His unification efforts were undermined by the establishment of an integrated civilian-military National Defence Headquarters under the Trudeau government.

I’d like to take issue with both these points.

First, it is simply too early to say that the name changes will increase inter-service rivalries. While they have been given new names, the three services will still be under the command of a single Chief of the Defence Staff and closely watched by a financially mindful civilian Deputy Minister. Efforts by the chiefs to use the designations to revive their autonomy could be quickly checked. What’s more, the name changes will not be accompanied by any organizational shifts that the services will be able to exploit to extend their independence.

Second, as Hellyer himself admits, unification did not do away with service rivalries and tensions. Sure, the services fought less after unification, since they underwent a dramatic integration. But the different elements retained an ability to push for their concerns and priorities. Simply put, unification did not end service rivalries; it merely dampened them. Before linking any new manifestations of service rivalries to the royal rebranding, then, we should be aware that they never really went away.

Third, I find Hellyer’s argument that the headquarters integration undermined unification bizarre. If anything, the establishment of NDHQ brought the services together in a common cause against the supposed intrusion of the Deputy Minister and Assistant Deputy Ministers into the military’s exclusive affairs. Moreover, the fusion of DND and the CF happened in part because the Trudeau government felt that unification had made the CDS too powerful and unresponsive to Cabinet. Rather than being a mistake, the integrated headquarters addressed an unintended consequence of unification and improved civilian control of the military in Canada. 

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