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My Wish List For National Defence in 2014

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Like most Canadians, I'd love to have a New Year magic wand to fix things that are broken and make people's lives better! My wish for 2014 is a list of fixes for National Defence to improve the confidence and well-being of Canadians, Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members and their families, members of the military equipment and supply economy, and last but not least those who have left or are leaving CAF service and need support.

First and foremost, I wish for a sensible and forward-looking strategy that would anticipate the defence and security interests and obligations of Canadians here and abroad. This strategy would be innovative, not a plan to fight past wars or crises. It would have 360° support, thanks to wide consultation on Canada's history and identity, our values and priorities, and ideas for playing a constructive part in resolving international challenges. And it would be based on realistic but stable resourcing so as not to raise--and then dash--expectations, unlike Canada's "Failed" Defence Strategy of 2008.

Secondly, in 2014 I wish for the trusted non-partisan oversight and review of Canada's communications espionage and cyber-security activities. Protecting our country's strategic cyber networks, and conducting intelligence operations outside our borders to defend against threats to the security of our nation and our allies, is necessary work. Also necessary is having a process for systematic and confidential oversight and review in a way that is accountable to the Canadian public. Otherwise we are left to simply to trust that laws and norms are being respected and individual citizen privacy honoured.

Thirdly, I wish for a National Defence culture that puts serving and reserve operational Forces members themselves at the centre of every plan, program, and budgetary decision. The men and women in uniform are Canada's core defence and security asset, so training and supporting them properly is our primary obligation. That means the replacement of worn-out boots and WWII-era rifles gets done, not delayed. It means budgets for training and equipment maintenance are protected, not cut by half. And it means that service and sacrifices of CAF members' families is fully valued, so that decent housing, access to jobs, child care, and physical and emotional supports for partner and child well-being are generously and willingly provided.

Fourthly, I wish for a procurement process that is transparent, timely, cost-effective, innovative and accountable. Let's have clear responsibility for results, not multiple persons and agendas in charge. Conflicts, delays, re-sets, cost escalations, and program cancellations will be avoided. Think of it this way: if you were to undertake a major home renovation project, would you have five contractors equally in charge? One to take lots of photos and seek maximum publicity, another to define design and technical specifications, a third to set or cut the budget (regardless of impact), the fourth to contract out the work to the lowest bidder, and the fifth to guarantee all goods and services create local jobs? Sounds ridiculous and unworkable--and the past eight years of Conservative defence procurement have proven that it is!

Last and most important of all, I wish that every military person who serves Canada, willingly putting their life on the line, knows they can count on the full and continuing support of their government--for themselves and for their families--should they be killed or injured in service. Almost one in seven Canadian Forces members who served in Afghanistan has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder linked directly to their service, but peer and professional mental health services are inadequate, while demand is rising. Veterans from earlier wars are not all well served, and the most incapacitated among them risk aging in poverty.

Integral to this final wish is a new culture of acceptance that a wound may be in mind or heart, as well as in body. It includes a culture of fully supporting the injured in their transition to meaningful post-service careers, and putting an end to the conditions that breed the despair that drives someone's son or daughter to end their life.

My 2014 magic wand would conjure up honest and competent political leadership. It would transform into tangible form Canadians' deep respect and appreciation for the work that members of the Canadian Armed Forces do, the risks they assume, and the role they play, to protect our lives and our values--at home and around the world.

Joyce Murray is the National Defence Critic for the Liberal Party of Canada and Member of Parliament from Vancouver Quadra.

Remembrance Day 2013
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