Defence Minister Peter MacKay's recent written response to questions tabled in Parliament reveal that 2006 federal Conservative promises for 5 Wing Goose Bay are no longer part of the military’s plans.
Prior to the election that brought the Tories to power, Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised to station a new, 650-member rapid reaction army battalion at CFB Goose Bay, plus a new long-range unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) squadron at the base.
The Conservatives also pledged to create a new territorial defence battalion of about 100 regular force and 400 reserve force personnel in St. John’s.
“Overall, the Conservative plan for national defence will result in a significant increase in employment in Goose Bay and the St. John’s area, resulting from a significant expansion of the federal defence presence in Newfoundland and Labrador,” Harper, Opposition leader at the time, wrote in a Jan. 4, 2006, letter to then Premier Danny Williams.
Earlier this year, Nova Scotia Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner put a question on the order paper in the House of Commons asking about the status of previous military commitments as they relate to Ottawa’s so-called Canada First Defence Strategy.
The government is required to answer such questions.
MacKay did so, in writing, last month. He confirmed “there are currently no plans” to establish a 650-member battalion at 5 Wing.
As for the unmanned aerial vehicle squadron in Goose Bay, there is nothing firm on the horizon for that either.
“As part of the [defence strategy], there will be a surveillance ‘system of systems’ that will be comprised of sensors, unmanned vehicles and satellites that will keep Canada’s maritime approaches safe and secure, including in the Arctic,” MacKay’s response notes.
That system, tagged with the acronym JUSTAS, is “currently being considered” for the Canadian Forces. “The JUSTAS project is currently in the Options Analysis Phase.”
And the 100-member territorial defence unit in St. John’s is also not part of the military’s current plans, according to MacKay’s response.
Territorial battalion groups will be stationed in 10 cities, the minister wrote, from Vancouver to Halifax.
MacKay notes in his response that the Canada First Defence Strategy provides a “long-term road map” to rebuild the military.
“This response addresses every element mentioned in the question and each sub-question.”
MacKay’s written responses to Parliament last month contrast with previous comments he has made on those promised investments in Goose Bay.
In 2008, MacKay said Ottawa remained committed to adding a battalion to the base in Labrador.
He indicated that the war in Afghanistan was his department’s top spending priority, but the Goose Bay expansion remained in DND’s plans.
In 2009, in announcing a $300-million cleanup for the Labrador base, MacKay cited the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan for the delay in implementing the previous election pledges. But he said the Conservatives would look at the promise again in 2012.
MacKay again travelled to Goose Bay in September 2011 to re-announce that cleanup money, but sidestepped questions on what was holding things up as the curtain was dropping on combat operations in Afghanistan.
“It's a very busy time of high-tempo of operations,” MacKay said at the time. “It's a summer that's seen floods and fires, we've seen a number of very important international gatherings, including Olympic Games and G20 and G8 gatherings over the last number of years.”
Earlier last year, Harper told reporters at a Conception Bay South election stop that his government’s commitment to Goose Bay remains strong.
"Our promise on 5 Wing Goose remains our commitment and we remain committed to the Canadian Armed Forces across this country," Harper said.
But in a letter to Premier Kathy Dunderdale written just days later, Harper made no mention of his previous promises to bolster troop levels and add unmanned aerial vehicles to Goose Bay.
The prime minister pledged instead to “make solid progress” on the future of operations in Labrador.
In an emailed statement, Newfoundland and Labrador’s rep in the Harper cabinet said the feds “believe more than ever in the strategic importance of 5 Wing Goose Bay and are committed to growing the base.”
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue cited the hundreds of millions in cleanup cash and $20 million to resurface the runway at 5 Wing.
But Penashue, who represents Labrador, did not directly address the 2006 promises.
“I continue to work with my cabinet colleague, minister MacKay, towards growing the base as the Canadian Forces' operational tempo permits,” Penashue noted.