Friday, September 19, 2014

Why Should Visits Matter?

Today's news had an interesting story for those studying the role of legislatures in civil-military relations (this guy): the Canadian government may be limiting access to Canadian bases for the opposition parties.  This is great news!  Well, it is good for those writing grants about the role of legislatures in civil-military relations.  It is bad news for Canada if true.

Why?  Because if parliament's job is to hold the Minister of National Defence to account for how the military is run, they probably should have some info about the military.  Oh, sure, the government and its allies might say, we can tell them what they need to know.  They can chat with the folks they ask to testify, we can bring them unclassified documents, and so forth.  Going to military bases just inconveniences the troops as they have to spend time entertaining (boring with endless powerpoint) the visitors.

Yes, visitors are inconvenient. But military base commanders do not have to entertain all three hundred and eight parliamentarians.  Just those who serve on relevant committees or in relevant positions.  There are only a handful of opposition members on the Defence committee, apparently only one search and rescue critic for the Liberal Party (wow, things must be messed up to need one of those).  So, there is not a daily parade of opposition critics seeking to hang out at military bases.  Indeed, these folks have other responsibilities that are far more demanding of their time--running for office and all that. 

What kind of info can one get from a military base visit?  Even if these visits are guided, there are opportunities for parliamentarians to talk to the sailors, soldiers, air-people (we need a better term than the joint airmen and women) who are not selected by the government.  These visits allow the parliamentarians to see what is being funded by the government (technically, the role of parliament in funding things ... confuses me).  If the parliamentarians never visit bases or do so very, very rarely, then they will not know much about their file, and can only ask questions out of profound ignorance. Might that be what the government wants?  Mayhaps.

There is another dimension to this.  That when we talk of the relationship between the civilians and military, there is often a focus on just the executive branch and not the military's relationship with the society at large.  While there are debates about whether the job of parliamentarians is to represent anyone (yes, really), the reality is that they do represent people from all over Canada.  So, they can serve as a bridge between the Canadian people and the Canadian Forces.  With them, the gap just gets wider. 

But I guess the priority of message management is more important than all of this. And to say this is a budget item is silly, as these visits are not costly at all compared to everything else, but the costs to democratic control of the military are quite another thing entirely.



1 comment:

Prem Patel said...

The amount of shirking Ministerial accountability from this Government and blaming the public service/Canadian Forces makes me sick. This Minister has blamed the RCAF for not pulling spares from CC-130s, and blamed VCDS for this debaucle, that's just this week.

Blame the RCMP for reclassing Swiss Arms, blame VAC for their errors. Complete failure for Ministers to accept blame/responsibility and to throw the bureaucracy under the bus.