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The Slow Resurgence of the Canadian Fur Trade

Upon my return to the family farm this past Christmas, I was able to participate in an activity more suited to Canada’s yesteryear, namely the skinning of a freshly snared coyote from my brother’s trapline. The vast majority of Canadians would be unfamiliar with the practice that was once commonplace amongst the Courier de bois, the Nor’Westers, and the Indigenous Peoples selling their wares to the Hudson Bay Company. Most people probably do not realize that Canada would have been shaped differently had it not been for five main fur companies and the European demand for beaver felt hats driving the exploration of the West.

The mechanics of skinning a fur bearing animal have basically remained unchanged for millennia. As with most other activities nowadays, there are even YouTube skinning how-to videos of the process. The tricky parts are using a sharp knife, being careful to not put nicks in the hide as these will need sewing later, and being prepared to put some elbow grease into pulling the hide off. If the animal was well fed with plenty of fat stores, then a pulling bar and lots of grunting will be needed. If you’ve got a bush rabbit or partridge near the end of a harsh winter, then those skins will slip off with minimal effort. As an aside, in the event of a survival situation, due to the leaness of rabbits you cannot use them as your sole food source as it is harmful to ingest too little fat. But my brother’s coyote  had not been eating skinny rabbits as it was the size of a small wolf and it took a lot of grunting to finally pull the skin off.

Stretching boards are precise tools

Once the hide is off the animal, it needs to be mechanically fleshed whereupon the extra fat or meat is stripped from the hide. It is then washed inside and out, any nicks are sewn up, then it is placed on a stretching board to dry. The trick with the board is to refrain from over-stretching the animal. Also at this time, the cartilage from the ears is removed and my brother tries to pin them and the rest of the hide in a natural position as it dries. After drying, the pelt is brushed and fluffed then hung in a cool, dry area free of bugs or other pests. The buyers at auction look for any excuse to knock down the value of the pelts so my brother puts a lot of painstaking effort into producing a quality product.

In 1910, 25 PEI Silver Fox pelts fetched $34,649 at a London auction.

The vast majority (95%) of the world’s wild and farmed furs end up at one of five main fur auction centers in the world: Kopenhagen Fur (Denmark), Finnish Fur Sales (Finland), NAFA (Canada), American Legend (USA) and Sojuzpushnina (Russia). Last year, my brother made a few thousand dollars from his 30 mile trapline selling his coyote, marten, fisher, badger, weasel, fox, and squirrel pelts at the Finnish auction. For him, it’s a hobby that pays for itself. For the 50,000 active Canadian trappers (25,000 Aboriginal peoples), 289 registered fur farms, and 316 directly related businesses, the fur industry generates in the range of half a billion dollars of GDP per year. (2012-13 statistics) Trapping and pelting animals has been a way of life for Indigenous peoples for thousands of years. Even fur farming has a long history with the first mink farm started in Ontario in 1866. Then in the 1890s, there was somewhat of a ‘Gold Rush’ to farm Silver Fox in PEI.

Speaking of that Big Red Sandbar, one of my tasks in Base Operations at CFB Summerside in 1989 was to map all the fox farms on the island in order for our pilots to know what areas to avoid. The vixens would kill their kits if startled by a loud noise such as a low flying aircraft. The farmers were wily though as whenever an animal would die, they would toss the carcass into a freezer and give the base a call with the tally of dead animals if one of our aircraft came close. As we were attempting to save a few dollars of the Queen’s budget, we would determine if the farmer was fibbing or not. Today, there are plenty of wild foxes on the Great Red Mud but the farms have disappeared.

Present day locations of Nova Scotia’s Mink & Fox farms

In Canada today, mink (@85%), fox, and a few chinchilla are farmed for their pelts. Of the close to 3 million mink pelts produced per year, the provinces of Ontario and Nova Scotia split the amounts almost evenly. Click the following link for an excellent video on how the Nova Scotia Agricultural College runs their mink farm. It is very informative on why the industry is sustainable, profitable, a good neighbor and humanely run despite their many detractors. Government and industry have worked together for decades to regulate, enforce and put together best practices in order to run the industry, wild and farmed, correctly.

A hakapik. A weapon used for seal hunting.

But if you had to name one Canadian pelt industry that has taken the most hakapits to the head from dissenters, it would be the Seal hunt. Outfits like the Canadian Sealers Association and the Seals and Sealing Network are attempting to counter the efforts of busy body celebrities who perennially stage flashy protests over Canada’s annual seal hunt. Misinformed and slanderous persons such as Paul McCartney and Pamela Anderson make splashy appearances and use graphic video to slag the hunters and the fishery. But if you read through the Canadian Fisheries and Ocean site regarding Seals and Sealing, it is reported that populations such as the Harp Seal are in the millions. As the landed catch for 2016 was only 66,800 Harp Seals and 1,812 Grey Seals, the only two types allowed to be hunted, this is hardly a case for grave concern.  Here is a good link to dispel the omnipresent myths Sir Paul and Big Boobed Pam would like you to believe.

Canada had its roots with the fur trade and it continues to remain a vital part of life and source of income for thousands of Canadians. But the industry definitely has its critics in today’s Politically Correct world. This probably has much to do with a century’s worth of ‘Cuddlefying’ all animals to represent a Disney-washed version of Nature’s flora and fauna. This is why the internet blows up over the death of a gorilla or a dentist posing with a dead African lion. The vast majority of Westerners would not have the first clue as to how to hunt let alone skin and dress an animal, wild or domestic. We are removed many times over from activities that were commonplace to our ancestors. CBC released a 2016 documentary entitled ‘Angry Inuk’ detailing how celebrities and environmentalist outfits should just keep their noses out of their lives. Indigenous people, trappers and farmers do not care if you buy or wear their products as that is everyone’s personal choice. But they do take umbrage with know-nothing Hollywood stars jetting around trying to destroy millennia old lifestyles.

Besides, who is living to excess more when placed side by side, an outspoken environmental critic such as Leonardo DiCaprio with his lavish lifestyle or the Inuit communities who are just trying to survive?


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Nova Scotia Highway 101 sign welcoming travellers to Clare

Acadians in Nova Scotia

The recent furor over historical Canadians such as John A. MacDonald, Edward Cornwallis or Frank Oliver and their place in modern day Canada has brought forward the fact that we are woefully ignorant of our own history. Other than the hazy recollection of a CBC Vignette, the vast majority of us know very little Canadian history. Hence when a vocal minority seizes control of the narrative surrounding a particular character, the majority doesn’t immediately dismiss the hyperbole as they have no knowledge of the subject.

Towards the end of shedding some light on a piece of Canadian and Nova Scotia history, the focus of this article will be on the Municipality of Clare and the vibrant present day Acadian culture. Until I had spent some time visiting the region, I had no idea of the rich Acadian culture thriving in the southwest corner of the province. The entire Le Grand Dérangement episode was never a part of my school history lessons and it seems after checking with my kids, it still is not a part of high school studies. I consider it a sin that our own history receives such short shrift.

Location of the Municipality of Clare on the southwest tip of Nova Scotia

The History of Clare (La Baie Sainte Marie)

Starting in 1755, the Acadians were flung hither and yon from their homes in the Grand-Pré region of Nova Scotia. After close to a decade, under a kinder British governor, many of the exiles were allowed to return to British territory in 1764. Their former lands had already been ceded to New England Planters, so a new area of the Nova Scotian peninsula needed to be found for them. Legend has it that a surveyor from the Irish county of Clare, carved out a large chunk of land for the returning Acadians. This became the Municipality of Clare located in the County of Digby.

Families named Comeau, Deveau, LeBlanc, Robicheau, Belliveau and Melanson were typically given land for a homestead and a 100 acre woodlot. Unlike the fertile lands of the reclaimed Grand Pré delta or the Annapolis valley, it was tough to grow crops on the rocky, wooded, boggy land. Most of the Acadians turned to logging and fishing to survive.

Today, the main industries include agriculture, lobster fishing, other fisheries, ship building, mink farming, logging and tourism. Although all the larger sawmills are gone from the region, numerous hobby sawmills are busy making lumber from the family woodlots. Red Spruce, Yellow Birch, Hemlock, White Pine, Sugar Maple, and American Beech are common Acadian forest trees. Burning wood for heat is very common. Sawing logs into planks, boards and beams for various building projects is the usual destination for the larger felled trees. A couple of niche markets is to make maple wood slats for lobster traps or Hackmatack ‘knees’ for wooden ships.

The Culture

The Acadians of Clare are fluently bilingual, had a rich Catholic religious background and have several unique foods and customs.

  • The Acadian Churches along the Evangeline Trail

The small Acadian communities of loggers and fisherman managed to erect several magnificent churches that run the length of the Clare portion of the Evangeline Trail.

Église Saint-Bernard Church, Saint-Bernard, Nova Scotia

This is the first large church you come across after taking the Church Point turn-off from the main 101 Highway. The granite for the structure was brought from Shelburne, NS and the first mass was held after a 32 year construction period in September 1942.

Église Sainte-Marie, Church Point, Nova Scotia

After only two years of construction, 1500 volunteers finished building North America’s largest wooden church in 1905. Located next to it is the Acadian Université Sainte-Anne.

Paroisse Sacré-Coeur, Saulnierville, Nova Scotia

Further ‘down the line’, is another larger wooden church built and financed by the local inhabitants in 1880.

Saint-Alphonse-de-Ligouri Church, Mavillette, Nova Scotia

Again, this 1921 church was another example of the local Acadian craftsmen and parishioners coming together to build a place of worship.

Acadian Food

Nova Scotia Acadians have many signature and staple dishes unique to their culture. Similar to the more esoteric dishes from other cultures, many of the traditional meals take some getting used to.

Acadian ‘comfort food’ – Rappie Pie

I wish I could say it was more appetizing than it looks but I will be charitable and say Rappie Pie is an acquired taste. The process of making the dish starts with finding an old fowl in the yard and boiling the meat to tenderize it. Meanwhile, you make ‘zombie’ potatoes (my characterization of the process) by mashing all of the liquid and starch out of them. They get re-energized by the chicken broth. Then in a large pan, you layer the chicken meat, some diced onions and the grey, goopy potato paste. Bake in the oven until there’s a crisp crust. It’s a time consuming dish to make especially the processing of the potatoes. This is why it is served for special occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Check out the recipe here.

Traditional Acadian Chicken Fricot

This dish is similar to a meat and dumplings stew. Again, if chicken was the meat in the stew, they would use an older bird. The dish looks and tastes more palatable than the Rappie pie. Check out the recipe here.

Acadian Stuffed Quahogs
  • Quahogs

Quahogs are large clams that can be found in the intertidal regions on Clare’s shoreline. Many places in the Maritimes and states such as Maine will cut them into strips for deep frying similar to other clams. The Acadians prefer to eat them stuffed as pictured above.

Dulse – An edible seaweed harvested and sold in Clare
  • Seafood

Due to the nature of being so close to the ocean, Acadians frequently ate lobster, oysters, red mussels, dulse (a type of seaweed), herring, and haddock. Seafood and fish chowder are common meals.

Cultural Events

Acadians in Clare hold festivals similar to other Acadians elsewhere in New Brunswick, PEI, Maine and Quebec. They also hold their own unique yearly events.

Tintamarre traffic driving up the ‘Line’ to Sainte-Anne University

This is a relatively new Acadian tradition that had its roots in New Brunswick when it was held in conjunction with important Acadian anniversaries. The traditional way of holding a Tintamarre was to start at one end of the village and make a lot of noise as you passed by the neighbors with everyone ending up at a central meeting place. In Clare, because of the long distances up and down the ‘Line’, people get in their vehicles and drive the highway from both ends of the municipality to end up at the Sainte-Anne University. It is held on Acadian Day, August 15, and in Clare is the culmination of a week-long Acadian Festival. Houses next to the road decorate their yards with flags and droves of people come out to wave at the honking line of traffic.

Metaghan, Nova Scotia Easter Canoe Trip, April 2-3, 2010 – Photo Courtesy of Lisa Sutt
  • The Spring Canoe Rallies

There is a strong connection between the inhabitants of Clare and canoeing. Several Canoe rallies take place in the spring. One traditional rally that had its start in the 70’s uses the Salmon River/Lake Doucette drainage area for participants to make their way right down to the ocean. The two day event is held every Easter long weekend and attracts scores of canoes. It also attracts numerous spectators and well-wishers who follow the boaters on their ‘four wheelers’. Certain popular haul-outs are good vantage points to watch the participants shoot some rapids and occasionally tip over in the frigid spring runoff. Check out YouTube video highlights of the 2010 Meteghan Easter Canoe trip courtesy of Lisa Sutt through this link.

Grou Tyme – ‘A Great Time’ for all Acadians to come together for music and dance
  • Acadian Music

The Acadians of Clare enjoy their music. Years ago, community centers held weekend dances for the locals to party. Numerous small home-grown bands entertained their neighbors. In recent years, several popular bands such as Radio Radio, Grand Dérangement, and Blou got their start in the area. Unfortunately, outside of the region, only Quebec fans may be familiar with their music as most of their songs are in French.

Canadians need to discover the fact that Nova Scotia is not just Halifax, Peggy’s Cove and lobster. Clare is a Canadian historical gem whose heart is a short three hour drive from Halifax. Next time you visit the Maritimes, it would be worth the time to visit.

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Selling UN Peacekeeping to Canadians

***Originally published with FrontLine Defence***

Most Canadians would agree that the atrocities happening in places like Mali, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (and any numerous other corners of hell in the world) should be stopped. But hard lessons in Afghanistan have taught us that spending precious blood and gold may not make the kind of difference needed to set some of these regions firmly on a path away from lawless anarchy. Prime Minister Trudeau’s trepidation towards committing a large military contingent to a quagmire such as Mali is absolutely understandable. There seems to be no upside in it for Canada other than the altruistic humanitarian angle. Why send Canadians to a place that (a) doesn’t want peace and (b) doesn’t want foreigners meddling in their affairs? The return on millions or billions spent, will likely only be the return of Canadian dead, maimed, and mentally injured. UN peacekeeping is a tough sell to Canadians who have witnessed repatriation parades and an epidemic of soldier suicides. Would it not be easier to throw up our hands in despair and say “let them work out their own issues and stay out of someone else’s fight”?

Historically, Canadians have, and will do what’s right. As witnessed by the Royal Canadian Navy sailors recently returned from West Africa’s mission, NEPTUNE TRIDENT 17-01, the Canadian flag, the people and our ideals are respected and powerful. We are seen as honest brokers with no ulterior motives unlike other larger countries. We are wanted and needed. Canada can and must make a difference outside of our borders.

So how do you sell the bitter medicine that is UN peacekeeping to Canadians? To begin with, they need to be given the straight goods. Recently, the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), General Jonathan Vance stated something similar with reference to the new Canada Defence Policy. The Policy lays out firm timelines and monies for the next 20 years, giving hard direction for the military to follow irrespective of change of government. The same firm, clear direction needs to be in place before Canada’s next UN peacekeeping operation. The government and military needs to be brutally honest, open and realistic about the whole proposed operation. Number one is to identify the goal. Why are we going, where are we going, what will we accomplish, and how long will we be there? How many of our soldiers might be taking the Highway of Heroes home? What will be the ultimate cost, including expected care associated with returning soldiers maimed in mind and body? How will we decide when enough is enough? Will there be a natural ‘Victory’ or just a point where we’ll just cut our losses and leave? When there is no discernable upside to a bad mission, Canadians would be more willing to sacrifice to the greater good if they are given the straight up honest cost ahead of time, with regular, candid updates.

People don’t want sugar-coated BS, and are tired of politicians trying to feed it to them.

Once Canadians have the straight goods, they’re going to demand that our soldiers have the best tools and training to accomplish the mission. Again, a remark from the CDS is apropos. The military still recruits based largely on a model of a WWI soldier. Similar to the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) recruiting strategy overhaul envisioned by General Vance, Canada also needs a complete rethink of how to approach peacekeeping missions in order to be effective during and long after we’ve been there.

The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative based at Dalhousie University in Halifax uses this type of forward thinking with their Veteran Trainers for the Eradication of Child Soldiers (VTECS) program and research. The program just graduated a second cohort of veterans who will work overseas to help end the scourge of child soldiery and exploitation, utilizing the proactive, and progressive, research, education and training pioneered by the Dallaire Initiative. So far, the combination of expertise and research has been paying increasingly large dividends, with countries such as Sierra Leone, Rwanda and even Somalia embracing this new approach.

These new types of peacekeeping methodologies need to be embraced and leveraged by the CAF in order to ensure successful future peacekeeping missions. As part of a speaking series co-hosted by Wounded Warriors Canada and VTECS, Major-General Patrick Cammaert (retired from the Royal Netherland Marine Corps) spoke of UN-sponsored peacekeeping challenges. Peacekeeping efforts fail when any of the following occur:

  • Participating countries and their forces have neither the will nor appetite for the missions – if your heart isn’t in it, it’s obvious to the populace and they lose trust in UN backed programs.
  • Peacekeepers have a lack of understanding of the issues surrounding the conflict they’ve been dropped into.
  • Commanders are derelict in serious reporting regarding the actual issues in theatre.
  • UN forces operate under a risk-adverse attitude and are not proactive.
  • Peacekeepers have a general lack of knowledge of the mandate, the Rules of Engagement, and who they will be dealing with.
  • There are no consequences for mission failure (the attitude is: keep your head down, don’t risk your own people, ride it out until you get to go home).

MGen Cammaert, who is no stranger to peacekeeping and what it takes to run a successful operation, had strong ideas of what is required if future UN missions are to be successful.

  • Political will and a firm direction needs to be in place before there can be any peacekeeping. A political solution needs to be hammered out, communicated and implemented ahead of the mission.
  • Peacekeeping nations need to ask the local populations: “what do you need of us and how can we help you accomplish your goals”, instead of the usual: “we’re here and this is what we’re going to do.”
  • There needs to be a holistic approach that involves the diplomats, NGOs, police and military.
  • Commanders in the field are key to success. They need to be competent and fearless. They need the tools and authority to make decisions that cannot wait for authorities back in the UN.
  • Pre-deployment training is crucial, with a heavy emphasis on scenario-based problems (it’s already too late to learn when boots hit the ground).
  • The local population needs to see activity, movement and engagement by the peacekeeping forces. Similar to a cop walking the beat, the local population and adversaries need to see a continuous presence and constant interaction.
  • Mobility and decisive action can be critical. Sometimes a quick, pivotal action to a threat will thwart years of subsequent strife.
  • The concept of ‘No Consenting Adults’ needs to be 100% enforced in conflict zones.
  • Finally, there needs to be substantially more women deployed in the field. A woman is invaluable when dealing with other women or children in these conflict zones. It isn’t sexist, it’s plain fact that a woman can diffuse tense situations involving women and children better than a man.

Quality is better than quantity, asserts MGen Cammaert. As Peacekeepers, you need to gain the trust of the people, you are there to help. You need to do it right, you need to be seen doing it right, and you have to be there long enough to make sure it will continue to be done right. Otherwise, don’t bother with half-hearted attempts which will do more harm than good.

The CAF lacks the type of peacekeeping soldier and doctrine that MGen Cammaert described during his presentation. During the event, the Foundation screened a short film from DHX Media entitled ‘Checkpoint’. The powerful short film illustrated how the ‘old’ way of running the business of peacekeeping is not adequate for the 21st Century. Drawing on my own experience, military members are trained to take decisive and, if necessary, lethal action. For example, back in 2007 during Basic Training, our platoon was introduced to a bayonet drill. A pair of Royal Canadian Regiment sergeants got our bloodlust to the point where we were quite willing and able to impale and kill the enemy. This is the job of the infantry, who are often “up close” to the action. You kill or are killed. This was how a child soldier ends up dead when the film first ran a checkpoint scenario manned by two young armed boys.

Peacekeepers of the future require more complex skills. They need to be part diplomat, social worker, police, soldier, and definitely more gender- and racially-diverse. They also need better pre-deployment scenario-based training that will give them the tools to deal with the likely situations for the particular conflict zone they’re headed for. The CAF prepares as well as it can, and has excelled at pre-planning for battle since Vimy Ridge – but I cannot stress enough that today’s peacekeeping missions need a different approach. When the ‘Checkpoint’ mission scenario ran a second time, the child soldier did not die, and the UN peacekeeper was not traumatized by the experience of killing a child.

The CAF does what it can to keep up with their better-equipped NATO allies. But realistically, Canada is not going to be a major player during a World War III. However, we can be effective at dousing the hotspots that lead down that path. Our military has a long history of doing amazing things with somewhat less-than-adequate tools, manpower and equipment. They really shine when it comes to niche military areas of expertise such as our Sniper program, our Clearance Diver units, our Search and Rescue program, our Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), our expertise with Nuclear Biological Chemical Warfare (NBCW), and our JTF-2 team. We know how to specialize and become world experts. The next thing we need to become expert in, is Peacekeeping.

There is a need for the CAF to stand up a dedicated peacekeeping unit similar to the Special Operations Forces or Maritime Tactical Operations Group (MTOG) models. They need to recruit from across the spectrum of the CAF for dedicated men and women who will become experts in the field of peacekeeping. Give them the diplomat, social worker, and soldier training.

There may be a necessity to recruit directly from civilian sectors to bolster personnel shortfalls, particularly females. When the Search and Rescue technician trade had personnel issues, they went directly to paramedic associations for qualified people. Perhaps the CAF could target women in police forces or social workers associations to help fill personnel gaps. Bring in leading edge organizations such as VTECS to keep training and techniques fresh and innovative. Give this core group the best tools and training before they end up on mission. Then once we’re experts, similar to the men and women graduating from the VTECS program, the knowledge can be passed to allies and the local populations. Partnership with world-renowned and universally recognized external organizations, like the Dallaire Initiative, may add an important perspective. New threats and complex scenarios call for new and innovative approaches by the CAF, moving beyond the insistence that only they can train themselves, and leveraging the capabilities provided by civilian organizations that can blend advanced education, military experience and real-world approaches to address these complex realities.

The second scenario presented in the ‘Checkpoint’ short film resulted in three children dropping their weapons and no one being shot. A simple psychological technique diffused a deadly situation. Modest solutions and techniques pay significant dividends; no dead child, no angry opposition force, no angry parents, no anti-peacekeeper propaganda fodder, and no soldier living with a kid’s death on his conscience.

Hope and honesty is how you sell Canadians on UN peacekeeping. Be straight with the costs and the reasons. Give our CAF members the correct tools and equipment to do the job. Incorporate innovative techniques, training and leading edge research to give our people the best edge to be successful.

What’s happening in places like Mali is horrendous, and Canada could make a difference. We just need to be forward thinking enough to make a quality impact.


Preserver alongside Her Majesty’s Canadian Dockyard Halifax, 28 July 2017, ready to be towed to the ship breaker. Photo credit, Blair Gilmore, RUSI(NS)

The Sun Dips on PRESERVER, Last of the Protecteur-Class AOR

Originally published with RUSI(NS), Bourque Newswatch, and Ottawa Citizen

August 2, 2017, marked the end of an era for the Canadian built Protecteur-class AOR (Auxiliary Oiler, Replenishment) when Preserver transfers from the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) to her new owners, Marine Recyling Corporation. Navy tugs will tow the vessel one last time a short distance off of her berth at Her Majesty’s Canadian Dockyard Halifax, from where she will then be transferred to a civilian tug and towed to a special facility in Sydney, Cape Breton for breaking and recycling.

As I toured the flats taking part in the last official tour of the vessel, I reflected on the bygone era represented by the ship and her predecessor, Protecteur. Standing on top of the bridge next to the Officer of the Watch’s station by the Engine Room speaking tube, I could envision the numerous ‘sundowners’ that area had witnessed. How many times had the Captain and his ship’s officers spent a few quiet contemplative minutes up in this spot? How peaceful it would have been on some far off ocean, sipping a beer and perhaps indulging with a cigar, quietly contemplating life at sea as the fiery orb sank once again into the abyss. As we traveled through the stripped out 555 foot long ship, I wondered how many Duty Roundsmen had followed these paths? How many thousands of times had the decks been scrubbed or the brass fittings polished? How many dignified cocktail gatherings, ‘channel fever’ parties, baptisms, summary trials, mess dinners, RPC (Request the Pleasure of your Company), and countless other functions were held in the Officers’ Wardroom, Chief & POs’ Mess, Hangar and the Main Cave? What were the number of sea ditties floating about the fleet generated from decades of good natured Preserver sailor’s high jinx? The old ship’s motto was ‘Heart of the Fleet’ but it was the continuous presence of thousands of RCN sailors serving, living and toiling aboard her over all those decades that brought life to inanimate steel. Their salty souls permeate the bulkheads and deck plates.

But the old lady’s time has come, and she is scheduled meet her fate at the breaking yard. Back on July 30, 1970, when she was put into commission at the New Brunswick Saint John Shipbuilding yard, it was still common for ships to be powered by steam, and she ended up as the last boiler powered vessel in the RCN. In addition, many materials used in her construction are long gone from today’s modern ships. Miles of PCB coated copper wiring run through her hull. Much of her interior surface is covered with the old ubiquitous Navy red lead paint. Marine Recycling will have a challenge to safely removing all those toxic substances. Helping to ensure their proper disposal, our RCN tour guide explained that the Department of National Defence will continue to play a watchdog role until the last fifteen feet of the ship is left. The building and ultimate breaking of Preserver represents a true ‘cradle to grave’ Canadian shipbuilding process.

Preserver faithfully functioned as a vital force multiplier for the RCN. But as the world moved forward, parts for the old ship became scarce and tightening environmental regulations would have kept the single hulled fueling vessel out of most ports. But Preserver’s usefulness has not entirely waned as she will perform one last useful task for the Navy. The military always ends up in possession of material and equipment that has become obsolete or too expensive to dispose of. Much of this material ends up warehoused to collect dust. There is a unique item still onboard the ship that epitomizes this dilemma of how to dispose of items that have outlived their usefulness, namely the Wardroom piano. Years ago, an upright piano was presented to the ship’s officers as a gift. It is said to have taken four days of work pulling up hatches and making openings to bring it to its home onboard. The time and effort to remove this unique musical instrument is now not worth the bother. So as is common in the military recycling business, the new owners will receive a ship full of extra bits and pieces of military surplus including a piano. Wouldn’t that be a rare find a few months from now on EBay?

There is always a touch of sadness and nostalgia when you say good-bye to a ship, especially when it is the last of her type. The countless eyes who have witnessed innumerable sunrises and sunsets from her decks and stared across the thousands of miles of endless oceans are long gone. All that is left is for the graceful old lady to take her final voyage into the setting sun.

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Members of the Royal Canadian Navy, US Navy and Sierra Leone Navy watch as HMCS Moncton comes alongside HMCS Summerside in Freetown, Sierra Leone during Obangame Express on March 19, 2017.
Photo: MCpl Pat Blanchard, Canadian Forces Combat Camera

RCN innovation furthers Canadian diplomacy in West Africa

Recently, I had the pleasure to participate in a ‘round table’ group discussion regarding the Royal Canadian Navy’s (RCN) spring 2017 deployment to West Africa, NEPTUNE TRIDENT 17-01. The Commanding Officers of the participating vessels, Lieutenant-Commanders (LCdr) Nicole Robichaud of Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Moncton¸ and Paul Smith of HMCS Summerside, plus the head RCN planner, Commander (Cdr) David Finch, spoke at length about the tremendous success of the endeavor.

Participants of the exercise included the two Kingston-class patrol ships, often known as Maritime Coastal Defence Vessels (MCDV); a RCN Maritime Tactical Operations Group detachment (specialists in boarding); and ships and personnel from Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, France and the US. The RCN has produced numerous descriptive articles about the deployment, some of which can be accessed at:

The continent of Africa has significant strategic importance for Canada in relation to future security, humanitarian and trade missions. The RCN has participated in similar deployments in North and East African waters but this was a first for these West African countries. Keeping with the tradition of Canadian ingenuity, the RCN planners came up with an innovative solution to building a positive presence in the region.

Lieutenant-Commander Paul Smith, Commanding Officer of HMCS Summerside talks to students at the all-girl Saint Joseph’s Primary School in Freetown, Sierra Leone during Neptune Trident 17-01 on March 23, 2017.
Photo: MCpl Pat Blanchard, Canadian Forces Combat Camera

To begin with, why was a vessel designed to operate locally be sent all the way across the Atlantic? These 55 metre coastal vessels have been pressed into service on voyages well past their original design. They have been given ice ratings and regularly sail in Canada’s Arctic Ocean. They frequently sail the East and West Caribbean on Operation CARIBBE drug enforcement patrols. They have been across ‘the Pond’ (familiar navy name for the Atlantic) participating in NATO European exercises. Put into perspective, these ships are not much smaller than the 62.5 meter Flower-class RCN corvettes that were on Second World War convoy duty, so it is not that much of a stretch to have them sail so far afield. Thankfully, with today’s technology, alternate southern routing and forecasting tools, a Kingston captain can do a proper risk assessment before attempting the crossing. According to the Commanding Officers, the ships handled the voyage well. The only significant maintenance issues centered on excessive African heat as RCN ships are primarily designed for cooler northern climates.

Once the ships voyaged across the Atlantic, there were several justifications that led to their being the perfect platforms for the mission. There are challenges inherent to operating in less-than-optimal African ports. Kingstons, with their smaller size and crew complement, alleviate many of the practical issues that would have prevented the efficient use of a larger ship such as a Halifax-class frigate. Many of the African ports would not have been able to accommodate a larger vessel with berthing, fuel or supplies. Kingstons generally do not need tug assistance. While alongside, a higher percentage of personnel can participate in community relation events. Lastly, expenditures on Kingstons come in at approximately $5000 a day for operating costs vice $35000 a day for a frigate. As LCdr Robichaud stated, Kingstons are excellent for this type of deployment.

Lieutenant-Commander Nicole Robichaud, Commanding Officer of HMCS Moncton speaks to guests onboard the ship in Freetown, Sierra Leone during Obangame Express on March 20, 2017.
Photo: MCpl Pat Blanchard, Canadian Forces Combat Camera

As the RCN officers assembled at the round table explained, there were strong psychological components to their mission that helped contribute to their resounding success. For centuries, the world’s navies acted as their country’s diplomats. A ‘ship of the line’ would appear at a port, drop anchor and send a delegation ashore to make contact with the local dignitaries. Fancy receptions would be held at the local government houses with reciprocating parties held onboard the vessels. The practice continues to this day. For example, as part of Canada Day 150 celebrations, several US Navy ships including the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D Eisenhower were present in Halifax, Nova Scotia. One of the hottest tickets in town was to be invited to Eisenhower’s reception party. The Kingstons were used in a similar fashion during their port visits as there were plenty of opportunities for parties, hands-on training and day sails for guests. Canadian embassy staff remarked that more ‘diplomacy’ happened over these get-togethers than what they could accomplish in months.

Another point favouring the use of the Kingstons was the fact that they are not overwhelming ‘weapons of war.’ Many of the African navies are in the nascent stages of development. During joint training, they were still mastering basic seamanship and security skills. Boarding exercises are easier to accomplish with a smaller vessel. The guest navy personnel were happy with hands-on firing of the Kingstons’ .50 caliber machine guns with no need to learn about missiles or large naval guns. The African navies have limited resources, and if you don’t take an air of superiority, then they can relate and be greatly cooperative.

Another aspect to the deployment that is a result of the Canadian Armed Force’s (CAF) push for diversity was the coincidence of LCdr Smith being black with matriarchal ties going to Freetown, Sierra Leone, and LCdr Robichaud being a woman going to Liberia whose president is the first elected female head of a state of Africa. Cdr Finch joked that he couldn’t have planned the circumstances better. It is a testament to the dedicated efforts of the RCN for inclusivity that these types of situations will become normal, and the focus is on the person and the mission, not their race or gender.

This led into an important point that LCdr Smith wanted to stress. The Canadian flag and reputation were very powerful in that part of the world. Unlike the Americans and French who also participated in the exercise, the RCN was perceived to have no ‘history’ or ulterior motives. Canadians are seen as helpers wanting to do the right thing regardless of who you are. This built-in good will helped the RCN accomplish its outreach goal to such a point that next year’s mission has already been approved.

Members of the Christian Young Adult Fellowship of Sierra Leone go for a ride aboard a rigid hulled inflatable boat during a visit of HMCS Summerside to Freetown, Sierra Leone during Neptune Trident 17-01 on March 22, 2017.
Photo: MCpl Pat Blanchard, Canadian Forces Combat Camera

I asked Cdr Finch if there was any downside to this RCN success story. He replied that the only negative was they could not get to all the nations that asked for the Canadians. African nations want to be part of the wider world and are hungry for training and expertise to be able to secure their maritime interests. While Summerside and Moncton were present in the area, illegal fishing fleets kept their distance. With training, local navies will be able to build their own ‘Recognized Maritime Picture’ (plot of the situation at sea) to first document these criminals and then move towards interdiction and prosecution. Furthering that, the RCN is considering demonstrating during next year’s deployment of Kingston-class ships a number of ‘maritime domain awareness’ capabilities that would progress maritime security capacity building within the Gulf of Guinea. The concept of ‘like’ methods and training used to train ‘like’ capabilities coupled with affordable technology appears to be paying dividends.

The CAF is renowned for doing more with less. If there is a job needing doing, the men and women of the Forces will find a way of doing it with what they have. The Kingston-class ships not only accomplished this latest mission admirably but it was done cost effectively. Even though the recently released government’s Defence Policy contained no mention of replacing these 1990s era vessels, I predict that these workhorses of the RCN will be called upon for years to come. They are proving their worth, and a serious conversation is needed to either extend their lifespan or to start a replacement program.

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Blair is a personification of a ‘Jack of All Trades and Master of None’. He has held several careers and has all the T-shirts. Time to add the title Blogger to the list.


Governor Edward Cornwallis, the founder of Halifax, Nova Scotia

No Balance

When Canada’s social experimenter, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, repatriated the Constitution of Canada on April 17, 1982, he famously made the remark, ‘For if individuals and minorities do not feel protected against the possibility of the tyranny of the majority, if French-speaking Canadians or native peoples or new Canadians do not feel they will be treated with justice, it is useless to ask them to open their hearts and minds to their fellow Canadians.’ It was a laudable goal to ensure that Canadian minorities felt protected but there were rumblings at the time that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the first part of the Constitution would cause unnecessary strife to Canada. In fact, Canada almost blew apart because of a Manitoba MLA, Elijah Harper’s opposition to PM Mulroney’s Meech Lake Accord. As a minority of one, the Oji-Cree politician opposed the Accord due to First Nations issues. His obstinate rejection ultimately led to the 1995 Québec Referendum which narrowly was won by the pro-Canada side. The tables have turned and present day Canada has been gripped by the tyranny of the vocal minority.

On July 10, 2017, a local Halifax Mi’kmaq activist threatened in a Facebook post that her group was ‘REMOVING CORNWALLIS’ the next Saturday at 12 pm. Uttering threats to destroy property is an offense according to the Criminal Code of Canada Section 264.1(1)(b) punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment. The group repeated their threat right up until the morning of the event. The authorities, led by Halifax’s mayor, Mike Savage, had no intention to uphold Canadian law prior to or on that day but instead caved to the strident minority and draped the beleaguered statue of the city’s founder in a tarp. The few police officers present appeared to be there in case of a counter-protest. Regardless of ample evidence that Governor Edward Cornwallis was not a Hitler-like tyrant bent on Native genocide, the statue’s days are numbered and it will probably be quietly removed in the dead of night similar to Confederate statues in the US Southern states. The press has been complicit in pushing the narrative because except for one excellent counter-balance article on the full history, all they focus on is the Governor’s 1749 bounty on the Mi’kmaq. Zero mention is made of the war that was being waged or of the atrocities committed by both sides. A person has to dig deep to learn of the rescinding of the decree in 1752 in an attempt to make peace. Revisionist zealots flaunt the law at will and the silent majority are being fed one-sided stories to keep them quiet.

There are a few rare individuals and groups who dare point out the hypocrisy and lawlessness of minority special interest groups. They are quickly condemned as neo-Nazi, alt-right, misogynistic, hate groups by the press and minorities in question. A group that publicly identified the threat uttering members of the July 15 event was taken to task by the press for ‘doxing’. The activist group’s transgressions were swept aside but the angle to charge this alt right group with a criminal act was fervently pursued. It was the same for members of the Proud Boys group that peacefully confronted a prior Cornwallis protest. The men were pilloried nation-wide and have probably irreparably harmed their military careers. Taking a recent example from Quebec, the rejection of a Muslim only cemetery was condemned as a racist, far right act that disappointed PM Justin Trudeau. Instead of raising the question about religious discrimination over the fact that it was going to be a Muslim only cemetery, the top politician of the land went straight to siding with the minority who will be claiming their human rights have been infringed. The message is loud and clear to the majority. If you oppose the edicts of the politically correct monoliths of the power elite and mainstream press, you will be set upon. As the vast majority of the majority just wants to go about their lives, nary a brave soul will pop their head above the wall for fear of having it lopped off in a frenzy of social media powered righteous justice.

It is only occasionally, that the majority rises up in indignation over particularly egregious decisions of our political masters and their minions. It was telling when a poll saying 71% of Canadians opposed the Amar Khadr $10.5M payout. The elites and the press came out telling us to put up with the decision. Trudeau cited Charter issues as the justification and a sudden fervor to reign in government spending. But like in a hotly contested hockey game, savvy, regular folk cried foul because they know cherry-picking when they see it.

Hypocrisy is hypocrisy and people notice. Anti-establishment splinter groups dictating who can participate in LGBT(assorted letters and numbers) parades are giving black eyes to a movement that was accepted by the mainstream for promoting inclusivity. Collectively, the rest of us are going, ‘Hold on there, we’re supposed to bend to your will but it doesn’t go the other way?!?’

Another hotspot that strikes a common chord with the masses is the occasional spat over vanity license plates. If only one person finds your plate to be offensive for whatever reason, the authorities will revoke it. ASIMIL8, GRABHER, and this list of ICBC rejected plates are all verboten for various arbitrary reasons. The rejections are all done anonymously by some triggered individual or by some faceless bureaucrat. The plaintiff faces long court battles against the politically correct State who feels free to trample on their rights of free expression on the off chance that some minority group or individual may feel offended.

This full on censorship of sensitive subjects that may ‘trigger’ minorities has been aided and abetted by our national broadcaster, the CBC. They are acting as a proxy propaganda arm for these minority groups as they have put a lock down on any sort of conversation regarding certain ‘subjects’. There is zero commenting allowed regarding the Native, LGBT, or Muslim communities. Granted, there is enough hate speech directed towards these subjects and the moderators would have their hands full deleting inappropriate opinions. But pretty much every Trump story is opened for comments which are dripping with vitriol. Supposedly, an old, rich, American white guy and his ‘privileged’ supporters are fair game for hate speech. I do not believe in free speech that masquerades as a method of cyber attacking but when you shut down all conversation, it kills any sort of dialogue designed to move an issue forward.

Maybe I should put in my own complaint for my Charter Rights of free expression being suppressed. I regularly make comments on the CBC forum boards and fairly often my content is ‘disabled’. The moderators can block it or after someone has flagged my comment, it can be blocked and deleted. For example, this particular comment was disabled four times as some individual decided to keep flagging it: ‘Trudeau is addicted to playing the Showboater Extraordinaire. All politicians enjoy the limelight and attention, it is part of the process of relentless self-promotion. But he’s all pot smoke and fancy socks with little substance. He’s been jetting around being seen by the ‘right’ crowd and making sure to march in all the politically correct parades. His office was able to shoehorn in a brief trip to the Stampede when literally a few hours away in BC there are 40,000 evacuees in a province in crisis. You can debate the value of the PM visiting a disaster scene but he was quick with the selfies while filling a sandbag in Quebec and ran up to a Northern area to discuss the emergency issues up there. But he hasn’t said word one about the BC Wildfires. I guess he’s more comfortable with special interest, in vogue causes instead of the plebian mainstream issues that affect the bulk of Canadians.’ The Ministry of Truth is making sure that only their dialogue and message makes it out to the masses.

Similar to the grassroots phenomenon that brought Trump to power in the States, I predict that Canada’s masses will eventually rise against the elite politicians, mainstream censoring press and vocal minorities who seek to push their narrow minded, special agendas. Eventually, the nail which is the tyranny of the minority will hurt the old dog enough that he/she/it/some gender neutral pronoun will get up and shake out some common sense where the needs of the few do not outweigh the needs of the many.

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Blair is a personification of a ‘Jack of All Trades and Master of None’. He has held several careers and has all the T-shirts. Time to add the title Blogger to the list.


Men to Aspire To

I was fortunate this week to meet three men whom I would confer celebrity status to. What is depressing is in all likelihood very few Canadians would be unable to identify them and what they are known for. How about you, could you name the Leader of the Official Opposition, the CDS and the former senator best known for his work to rid the world of child soldiers?

I drove an hour to meet Andrew Scheer at a Conservative BBQ out in Brookfield, NS last Monday. He was in my top three for my balloting choices for the new leader and I wanted to see what kind of man he was in person. Well, he’s a tall fellow. For some reason that doesn’t come across when you see him on TV during House of Commons question periods. He’s definitely a family man who has a passel of kids, five, all about 12 and younger. I had a chance to say hello to his wife and had a few words with the older son, who I found to be quite intelligent and able to hold a conversation. Mr. Scheer did the obligatory speech for the crowd but kept it short and light. When I shook his hand, I had to rib him about his Roughriders losing to my Bombers during the inaugural game at the new Regina stadium. All in all, he seems like a decent prairie boy and I am happy he is the new Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Through my Royal United Services Institute of NS connections, I was able to attend the Chief of Defence Staff’s unplugged talk about the new Canada Defence Policy. General Jonathan Vance has an impressive pedigree starting from joining back in the 80’s, to commanding troops in Afghanistan, to making it as the top soldier in the Canadian Armed Forces. He is not a tall man but neither were his army predecessors Gen Rick Hillier or Gen Walt Natynczyk. I have met a few CDS’s over the years, the first one at CFB Summerside, PEI. I got to carry Gen John de Chastelain’s briefcase for a short period of time while he was visiting the air base. Gen Hillier was attending an Officer’s Mess function at 19 Wing Comox in support of a Boomer’s Legacy event. He definitely held rock star status. As for Gen Natynczkk, I was the OPI for a large mess function in his honour. He had been up for a flight with the Snowbirds and was a little green around the gills from the experience. It is always good to hear from these movers and shakers of the military as their vision by definition shapes the future of the military. Gen Vance is a consummate public speaker and was firm in his belief that contrary to the skeptics, the Defence Policy will hold the CAF in good stead for the next twenty years. I also liked the fact that he had little patience for a retired Major who was spouting nonsense over the recent ‘Proud Boys’ incident. I liked what I heard from the CDS and I feel the CAF is in good hands.

The last man that I was honoured to meet in person for the third time in my life, was LGen (Ret’d) Roméo Dallaire. It was close to a decade ago when I first met him giving a talk about Rwanda and child soldiers at the Syd Williams Theatre in Courtenay, BC. He took the time to greet as many people as he could to sign copies of his ‘Shake Hands with the Devil’ or to listen to your comments. It was obvious to me that he had the ghosts of a million Rwandans on his conscience. I met him again when he and a group of fellow senators came through Venture, the RCN training school in Esquimalt, BC for MARS officers, for a tour. Now, a few years later, I jumped at the chance to meet him again as he was giving a talk about his Dalhousie University program, Veteran Trainers for the Eradication of Child Soldiers (VTECS). Again, it must be a thing with army officers, he is not a large or tall man. Simultaneously, he comes across as frail and tough as nails. You can tell that he memorized his talking points long ago and they come off his tongue as old, familiar friends. He is also a man who doesn’t brook any guff and adroitly told a questioning twerp to ‘F’ himself after accusing him of war crimes. It has become popular for the supporters of the Rwandan perpetrators of the genocide to twist the massacre to shift blame to the retired general. This conspiracy theory has been thoroughly debunked along with the blame that the general was responsible for the deaths of ten Belgian peacekeepers at the start of the genocide. It is disheartening that along with the ravages of his PTSD, the man must put up with these unfounded accusations. As for his PTSD, according to his last book, ‘Waiting for First Light’, it seems as if death may be his only final release. I was quite impressed with the book and felt it was the best of his three works to date. I made a point to handwrite a thank you note and was able to deliver it to him at the end of the presentation. There was recognition in his face when we shook hands, even though our past meetings were very brief. I would have to say that he is a hero of mine and it has been a pleasure to make his acquaintance.

I have been a student of leaders of men for many decades. Hence, I have no interest in the show boaters or narcissistic selfie takers. It is a good week when you can meet powerful men in person to see what they are made of.

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Blair is a personification of a ‘Jack of All Trades and Master of None’. He has held several careers and has all the T-shirts. Time to add the title Blogger to the list.


Amanita muscaria v. formosa

Mystery Mushrooms

Growing up on a Manitoba farm, we were always gathering wild fruits, berries and wildlife to supplement our food supply. I doubt there are many people who have netted suckers in a ditch for canning or preserved the considerable amounts of wild berries that my mother did. As an avid outdoorsman, I constantly graze as I move, sampling what nature has to offer. The breasts of a prairie chicken taste particularly good cooked over a wood fire, meat from a squirrel less so. Later in life, I had the chance to discover the various tastes from the oceans and had some formal training from Air Force survival training. Outdoor tip: if you are bored with lots of time on your hands, rock lichen can be dried into ‘chips’ to fill a rumbly empty stomach.

When I first moved to BC, I became interested in mushrooms. Sure, everyone immediately thinks of the ‘magic’ variety but I didn’t know anyone with a horse paddock. Horse manure helps with the psychoactive ingredient for these ‘little brown’ shrooms. Instead, as I hiked through the mountain trails, I was curious about the dozens of varieties I came across and if they were edible. I recommend picking up The Field Guide to Mushrooms’ by Marie F. Heerkens as a starter book for those interested in fungi.

As most people are aware, you have to be careful with mushrooms and it is helpful to be 100% sure of what you are eating. I am going to talk of the Amanita muscaria v. formosa which is a close cousin of a look-alike mushroom called the Poison Amanita or Death Cap. Descriptors of the Amanita family include destroying angel, deadly, poison, possibly poisonous, edible but eat not, unknown edibility, etc. I think you get the picture. You indulge in wild mushrooms at your own risk.

But I am an adventurer when it comes to tasting new foodstuffs, so when these amazing orange mushrooms kept popping up in my front yard, I was curious of their edibility. To start with, I got out my field guide and was quite sure it was the Amanita variety known as Fly Amanita, Fly Agaric or Fly Poison. There seemed to be a theme with the names and indeed, flies seemed attracted to the little stand and were dying. Google is also your friend and I found helpful advice and research on How to Safely Eat Amanita Mushrooms.

  • Step One

Find some newly sprouted buttons and take a sharp knife to the stem. Give the mushroom a little shake to seed the ground with spores. Normally, you don’t want to yank out the entire mushroom so they will come back another season. But, big caveat here, the large bulb of the Death Cap just under the surface helps to give it away.

A nice stand of Fly Poison mushrooms in the button stage
  • Step Two

Wash the mushrooms off to rid them of dirt and the white spots on the caps. Then slice them into at least quarters or eighths.

Anything that is such a pretty orange is good to eat, right?
  • Step Three

Boil the orange out of them. The water soluble poison in the mushroom is called muscarin and can be boiled or steeped out of the flesh. The process turns the water a dark yellow pee colour. If you feel like vomiting, passing out or having a total body high, then eat a couple of these raw.

15 minutes of hard boiling rids them of their colour and hopefully the muscarin poison
  • Step Four

Fry them up in a little bit of butter and enjoy! Like all new foods, especially mushrooms, eat a little bit and wait. Survival books preach a period of 24 hours between small amounts. Take it easy and see how your body reacts. I nibbled on a purple mushroom out in BC that had obviously been nibbled on by the little woodland creatures. When my mouth instantly went numb, I felt it wise to spit it out!

Mmmmm, all food tastes better after it has been fried up with butter!
  • Step Five

Evaluate the taste and whether all the bother is worth eating more. I tried one mushroom first to see if there were any bad side effects and as there were none, I tried a larger batch a few days later. I did notice a slight numbing of my tongue after about 15 minutes and a bit of an upset stomach after about an hour. I did sleep it off partly because I wanted a nap and I think I had some overall body tingles. The mushrooms tasted okay but nothing to really write home about.

Moral of the story: be curious but careful especially when it comes to mushrooms. I probably won’t bother eating them again but I am going to see if they can help rid my garden of the bugs eating my cucumbers.

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Blair is a personification of a ‘Jack of All Trades and Master of None’. He has held several careers and has all the T-shirts. Time to add the title Blogger to the list.


The average Canadian’s idea of a CAF peacekeeping mission

Canadian Dithering on Peacekeeping Mission

Three items related to Canada’s supposed promise to send troops on a UN peacekeeping mission happened this week. Outfits like the CDA Institute have submitted analysis on Canada’s New Defence Policy, the Globe and Mail has reported that a CAF sniper once again holds the record for the furthest kill shot and the MPs of the House of Commons are expected to rise for their summer break from June 23 to September 18.

Prime Minister Trudeau (in?)famously declared a day after the election on October 20, 2015 that “Canada was back!” This partly referred to our country’s readiness to get back on to the world stage as a peacekeeping nation. The CAF had been regrouping after 12 years of operations in Afghanistan and had taken an operational pause. The Liberals (cynical thinking) just wanted a coveted seat back on the UN Security Council or (altruistic thinking) wanted to bring Canadian ‘sunny ways’ to downtrodden portions of the planet. Looking at a calendar, this promise to our allies to help with the ‘heavy lifting’ is going on two years with no fulfillment in sight.

Reminiscent of The Economist’s take of a former Liberal PM, Trudeau is turning into ‘Mr. Dithers’ The Sequel. He is hedging his bets by judiciously spending Canada’s blood and gold on select hellhole missions around the world. The CAF has Special Operations Forces in hotspots sprinkled here and there and as evidenced by the record breaking kill shot, we are turning the ‘bad guys’ into pink mist. But these operations are by necessity shrouded in secrecy so if personnel are hurt or killed, the PR fallout is minimized. We also are making a big deal of a contingent of 450 soldiers being sent to bolster Latvia, CF 18s patrolling Iceland’s air space and a frigate in the Mediterranean under Operation REASSURANCE in an effort to blunt Russia’s burgeoning re-emergence as an aggressive military world power. The world may be sliding back into another Cold War but potential for onesies or twosies of Canadian flag draped coffins coming home is minimal. The government pumped out a comprehensive Canada Defence Policy which impressively lays out the CAF’s focus for the next 20 years along with substantive budget increases. There have been immediate results like overdue pay increases but the large expenditures will not kick in until after the next election cycle. Lots of good words and promises but very little in the way of solid rubber meeting the road.

About a year ago, the Minister of National Defence (MND), Harjit Sajjan made the rounds of African countries for potential Canadian peacekeeping missions in an effort towards due diligence before fulfilling the PM’s promise. The scuttlebutt has been Mali was the lead contender of Canadian peacekeeping largesse. Mali is a particularly nasty quagmire with open Islamic civil warfare, use of child soldiers, frequent and numerous peacekeeper casualties all with a liberal dash of IEDs. As a former Intelligence officer, the MND is no dummy. I think he and the PM got the shit scared out of themselves and they know dead CAF men and women will be regularly travelling the Highway to Heroes route if we send troops out on these peacemaking missions. This is why they dither when pressed on when the government is planning on making a decision.

I am no fan of sending CAF personnel into harm’s way. I have family and friends in uniform. I have lost military friends doing their duty. Frankly, in my opinion, some parts of the world are burning and that’s just the way it is. Let them sort their own crap out because all we seem to do as Western powers is muddy the water and waste our efforts. The government knows there is no upside to sending troops to a place like Mali, so they are stalling like mad hoping other world events or opportunities will come up. As reported by Murray Brewster of CBC, Canada has been presented with a long list of UN ‘marquee command roles’ missions and has turned them all down except for a plum position in New York. But with the rising of the House, the Liberals will push any decision further to the right by months until at least the fall session. Opposition MPs will rightly want a debate before sending CAF troops into obvious peril and this will be another excuse to, in military parlance, mark time.

There’s an old military adage related to the concept of leadership when it comes to making a choice. Either make a decision whether it is yes or no, follow or get the hell out of the way. Our allies like the Dutch in need of a tag-out in Mali and the Germans who wanted the use of our helicopters instead of theirs are probably pissed that Canada is all talk and no action. Perhaps the innocents who are being killed, tortured, raped, and maimed would like to stop holding out false hope that blue beret wearing Canadians are coming to their rescue. The world and our defence partners are realizing that Canadian ‘Sunny Ways’ and ‘Canada is Back’ talk is only so much blowing sunshine up their collective behinds.

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Blair is a personification of a ‘Jack of All Trades and Master of None’. He has held several careers and has all the T-shirts. Time to add the title Blogger to the list.