08/15/2011 10:28 EDT | Updated 10/15/2011 05:12 EDT

Canadian Navy, Air Force Name Change Divides NDP Caucus


The federal NDP caucus is split over the Conservative government’s decision to return a royal label to the Canadian navy and air force.

As Huffington Post Canada first reported, the Conservative government announced Tuesday a name change for the air and maritime divisions of the Canadian Forces. Maritime Command and Air Command will be now be called Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force, monikers last used in 1968 when the three branches of the military were unified. The Canadian army, which was officially called Land Force Command, has also been renamed Canadian Army.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who was in Halifax for Tuesday’s announcement, said the change is intended to help those in uniform reconnect with their past. He said the government felt compelled to right a historic wrong.

"Our Conservative government believes that an important element of the Canadian military heritage was lost when these three former services were required to relinquish their historic titles," MacKay told a news conference in Halifax.

The change is mostly symbolic, won’t affect how the Canadian Forces are run and is expected to be "low-cost" as logos and items are naturally replaced over time.

Although the NDP has known a navy name change was likely coming for more than six-months, the party's caucus still showed signs of internal divisions Monday on the sensitive "royal" label.

See a slideshow of reactions from Twitter to the royal name change below:

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While some in the NDP support the move, officially, the party is against the Conservatives’ decision calling it "unnecessary and divisive."

NDP defence critic Jack Harris told The Huffington Post Canada Monday most Canadians, including many members of the navy, have been calling Maritime Command the Canadian Navy and Air Command the Air Force, and those are terms most are "happy" with.

"The re-introduction of the term royal is unnecessary and decisive. It has been the Canadian Forces for 40 years. A national institution should be unifying force and to call it anything but Canadian Navy and Air Force … should not be undertaken we are opposed to it,” Harris said.

But NDP veterans critic Peter Stoffer said he is full of praise for the Tories’ decision.

"Having the designation ‘royal’ … is a wonderful link to the past. It gives everyone who served in the army, navy and air force and served in various wars for King and Country and Queen and Country a real sense of pride," said Stoffer.

“I think it is a great thing for the government to do and I thank them for it," he added.

Stoffer denied that there was any dissent in his caucus on the issue, saying that if there were people opposed to the name change, he wasn’t aware of it.

The NDP, which has 59 seats in Quebec, may be following the Bloc Quebecois lead in calling the measure, which highlights Canada’s ties to the British Crown, divisive and insulting to Francophones.

"We have a wonderfully united NDP Party," Conservative Senator Don Plett, one of the proponents of the royal change, said tongue-in-cheek Tuesday.

"I have the highest regard for MP Stoffer…He is a great Canadian. I am not going to say that the others aren’t, but I think what we see is largely the result of the Bloc vote that the NDP got in Quebec (in the last election)," Plett said.

Tuesday’s decision "certainly strengthen ties to the Crown" but it’s about our history, he added.

Former Liberal Senator Bill Rompkey brought forward a motion last December calling on the federal government to rename Maritime Command the Canadian Navy. He later accepted a watered-down version of his motion that called only for a name change that included the word "navy," said Monday he had no plans to fight the new royal designation.

"It’s better than Maritime Command… I’m not going to cause a disturbance or a fight over it," Rompkey said from St. John’s.

“I think it reflects the fact that the Prime Minister is a monarchist,” he added.

Many in the military — including Defence Minister Peter MacKay — supported his position that "Canadian Navy" was most appropriate name change and that the ‘royal’ designation was an outdated label, Rompkey said.

"The government is the government of the day, it has the right to do what it wants to do it. It has chosen, and I don’t think we should cause an argument about least we have the word 'navy' back into it," he said. "Sometimes half a loaf is better than no loaf at all," he added.

MacKay told reporters last December that: "I am listening to various opinions on this but what I am hearing predominantly from the Canadian Forces, and from the Canadian Navy in particular, is they like the name Canadian Navy.”

An official told Huffington Post Canada Monday that the reason behind the Tories’ decision was simply to "restore the historic identities of the Canadian armed forces that were lost in (19)68."

But the Conservative government has recently shown its pro-monarchy side, notably with back-to-back visits by the royal family.

The Monarchist League of Canada said Monday it was “absolutely thrilled” about the name change.

"From a monarchist perspective it is always good to see the visibility of the crown restored…for me, it underlines the fact that the military is non-partisan and that the Queen is the commander-in-chief of the military, " said its chairman Robert Finch.

The decision may catch some Canadians by surprise. The country's maritime and air command units have been using navy and air force logos that were officially "unauthorized" but branded themselves in recognizable terms to most Canadians.

"I don’t believe that was the right way to implement change," Plett, the Conservative senator said.

Plett said he was aware that the man in charge of the navy, Vice-Admiral Dean McFadden, who has since retired, was not in favour of the royal designation but said "off-the-record comments don’t carry the same amount of weight."

"The bureaucracy don’t always run things, nor should they. People who are responsible for making decisions, should make them," Plett added.

He pointed to an online petition titled “restore the honour” that was signed by more than 6,000 people and sought a return of the royal designation to the navy and the air force in time for the Queen's diamond jubilee next year.

"A lot of people wanted that change," Plett said.

In 1968, however, the Royal Canadian Navy, the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian Army ceased to exist when they were unified through the Canadian Forces Reorganization Act — a move designed to improve the military’s effectiveness but resulted in bureaucratized names.

With a report from The Canadian Press