By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
OTTAWA–A Conservative MP recently nominated by the federal government to sit on a secretive Canada-U.S. committee on continental defence told U.S. officials he was hoping a downturn in the economy would lead to increased recruitment for the Canadian army, according to a “confidential” U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks to APTN National News.
Edmonton Centre Conservative MP Laurie Hawn said he saw “hope” that the rising numbers of unemployed would lead to an increased in army recruits, according to the diplomatic cable from March 12, 2009.
Hawn, who was parliamentary secretary for defence at the time, also told U.S. officials that the deployment of U.S. troops in Kandahar would help the Canadian military keep the soldiers it already had.
“He expressed the hope that rising unemployment rates at home on one hand, and the welcome new deployment of U.S. troops in Kandahar on the other, would help the Canadian Forces to recruit and retain troops, at least in 2009 and 2010,” the cable said, which was based on a March 4, 2009 conversation.
Hawn could not be reached for comment. His office said he was tied up in back-to-back meetings most of the day.
Hawn, a former fighter pilot, was recently nominated to be Canada’s representative on the Permanent Canada-United States Joint Board of Defence, according to his MP website.
The board is described as “the highest-level bilateral defence forum between the two countries” focusing on continental defence, according to the Department of National Defence’s website.
Hawn’s MP website also said he was given a “historic” appointment to sit on the Treasury Board cabinet subcommittee tasked with finding billions of dollars in cuts throughout government operations.
APTN National News obtained the diplomatic cable from whistleblower website WikiLeaks. It was part batch of hundreds of confidential and secret cables originating from or sent to the U.S. embassy in Ottawa and consulates across the country.
CBC-Radio Canada also obtained the same batch of documents.
WikiLeaks has already released over 2,000 cables dealing with Canada on its website.
The cable, titled Challenges to the Transformation of the Canadian Army, noted some of the difficulties the Canadian Army faced in the recruitment and retention and its troubles with procurement.
The cable was based on conversation with and public remarks by current Chief of Transformation of the Canadian Forces Staff Lt.-Gen Andrew Leslie, who was Chief of the Land Staff at the time, along with conversations with Hawn and former Alberta Conservative MP Rick Casson.
Hawn told U.S. officials that the army was also having trouble processing new recruits, because the “Canadian Forces’ best trainers were often on deployment in Afghanistan,” according to the cable.
Hawn noted, however, that the more pressing problem was the early retirement of “NCOs and officers” as a result of the “prospect of serving multiple tours in Kandahar.”
The cable notes that “despite recurrent pledges” by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s “government to re-build the capabilities of the Canadian Forces,” the army faced a series of challenges including procurement and recruitment.
“The Canadian Army still faces serious funding, recruitment and procurement challenges as it seeks to meet pressing requirements in Afghanistan while also transforming itself into a medium-weight service capable of conducting both major combat and counterinsurgency operations,” said the cable.
Casson, who Hawn is replacing on the Canada-U.S. defence board, told U.S. officials during a March 2 meeting that the Conservative plan to create a separate military procurement agency to avoid the interdepartmental turf wars would have to wait until the party formed a majority government.
“Casson….complained that every defense purchase involved a complicated tug-of-war among the Department of National Defence, the Department of Industry and the Department of Public Works,” the cable said. “He admitted that the Conservatives’ hopes to establish a separate DND procurement agency had disappeared, at least until the Conservatives one day might for a majority government.”
Casson did not run in the last election.
After the May 2 election which gave the Conservatives a majority, Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed former OPP commissioner Julian Fantino as associate minister of defence responsible for procurement.
Check out APTN’s WikiLeaks website