Monday, November 01, 2010

Combat fatigue and the F-35

There was a Nanos poll released last Monday on defence policy that may be a helpful backdrop to the discussion, or semblance of a discussion, that we are having on the F-35 issue at the present time. That poll may have been lost in all the hurly burly of the Toronto mayoralty election but it is worth noting in a few respects.

When Canadians were asked about budget priorities for the federal government, here's how they ranked the following issues:
"...79 per cent said rated health care as important for the government's budget spending, jobs and the economy are important for 73.9 per cent, and the environment and taxes were also rated higher - only 40 per cent considered military spending important."
Additionally, UN peacekeeping was ranked highest as a future priority for the Canadian Forces (7.26 on a scale out of 10 in terms of importance) with overseas combat missions ranking lowest among the four options presented (at 5.19). Rounding out the poll was the strong opposition found to the prospect of Canada entertaining another mission like the Afghan one.

What does this mean in terms of the F-35 debate? It's an indicator that the aftermath of the Afghan mission may impact upon the F-35 issue in ways we haven't fully contemplated. The emphasis in coverage of Afghanistan now is on our exit, how we go about it - particularly given the latest hurdle of losing the UAE base. This poll may hint that the desire of the Canadian people may be to retrench and go about our future military endeavours under that banner of peacekeeping, that the mood is changing.

Choosing a sole-source route and insisting that no questions be asked in order to spend billions on combat fighter jets, the largest military purchase in Canadian history, may be a misread of the underlying sensibility of Canadians at the moment. Asking questions about our defence priorities in the future and making choices that flow from those answers may be a better route which is more in tune with where Canadians are.

The poll is also worth noting as a general indicator of where people are at in terms of how they see our future military direction. And I say general because it's likely that any day now we're bound to start seeing a poll or two roll in on the specific question of the F-35 purchase. That tends to be a predictable element in the life cycle of a Canadian political issue these days and where we seem to be, awaiting those good ol' polls. We've seen the one by Le Devoir-Leger Marketing to date, but not a Canada-wide poll.

Remember that on two issues in the past year that garnered a lot of attention, the gun registry and maternal health initiative, we saw early initial polling numbers that moved as the debates went on, toward support for both the registry and for including abortion funding in the maternal health overseas initiative. So these general backdrop numbers are worth keeping in mind once we see specific polls on the F-35 issue as well.