Last weekend’s National Post published a letter from Senator Pamela D. Wallin questioning the independence and expertise of three critics of the Department of National Defence’s purchase of F-35 fighter jets on the basis that all of them have ties to the Rideau Institute.
Dismissing the Rideau Institute as an organization that “routinely criticizes Canada’s military spending”, Senator Wallin insinuated that the opinions that disseminate from the “basically anti-military organization” cannot be trusted.
The letter criticized the Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star for failing to mention Michael Wallace and Michael Byers’s affiliations with the Rideau Institute in recent articles. In Wallin’s view, failure to mention the Rideau Institute risks causing confusion in the public about who is a “defence expert” and who is a mere “peace activist”.
The Senator was herself confused about about few things. Dr. Michael Wallace, a respected Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the University of British Columbia, is in fact not a member of the Rideau Institute’s Board of Directors; he is a Senior Advisor. Michael Byers, on the other hand, is a member of the Board of Directors, not merely “with” the organization. In addition to his role on the Board of Directors, Byers is a Professor and Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia and the respected author of Intent for a Nation, What is Canada For?
As Leonard Kuchar subsequently commented in the National Post‘s response section, Wallin herself has a few affiliations that could be pointed out in the name of full disclosure. Senator Wallin is a member of the Board of Directors of the DND-funded Conference of Defence Associations Institute. She is also an Honourary Colonel in the Air Force.
More to the point, Wallin’s proposed dichotomy between “defence experts” and “peace activists” is nonsense.
- So-called “defence experts” gave Canada the 1987 Defence White Paper, which claimed, just two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, that the “Soviet threat” would go on indefinitely and that negotiations with the Soviets provided only a false hope of peace. “Peace activists” disagreed and were right.
- “Defence experts” supported that same White Paper’s claim that Canada needed a hugely expensive fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. “Peace activists” disagreed and were right.
- “Defence experts” told us after the cancellation of the nuclear subs project that Britain’s Upholder-class conventional submarines were a once-in-a-lifetime bargain and that Canada should buy those instead. “Peace activists” disagreed and were right.
- “Defence experts” supported (and many continue to support) Canadian participation in the Afghanistan War. “Peace activists” disagreed and were right.
- “Defence experts” called for Canadian participation in the Iraq War. “Peace activists” disagreed and were right.
- “Defence experts” assured Canadians that Canada needed to join U.S. missile defence efforts or we would be thrown out of NORAD. “Peace activists” disagreed and were right.
- More recently, we have seen supposed “defence experts” inform Canadians, incorrectly, that there are no UN-led peacekeeping operations “left in the world today” and that “there are no Chapter 6 peacekeeping operations going on out there right now“. You don’t need to be a “peace activist” to know that those claims were nonsense.
As the witness list of the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence’s farcical recent report on Afghanistan demonstrated, Sen. Wallin seems to believe that she and other people interested in defence policy issues have nothing to learn from “peace activists”. It’s a curiously incurious view for a former journalist to take.