Canadian Forces members build a wall of sandbags at the underpass on Alexander Street to try to keep back floodwaters in Pembroke, Ont., on May 11, 2019. Canada’s top soldier is warning that as the Army gets called out to a growing number of floods, wildfires and other natural disasters, there is a risk that work will hurt the force’s ability to defend the country. An analysis by The Canadian Press last May showed the military had been asked to help with 10 weather-related disasters over the previous two years. That’s compared to 20 such calls between 2007 and 2016. The number of soldiers involved has also increased as the size of the disasters has grown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Growing natural-disaster response risks dulling Army’s fighting edge: Commander

Canadian Forces over the weekend deployed 300 troops to help St. John’s dig out from a massive snowstorm

Canada’s top soldier is warning that as the Army gets called out to a growing number of floods, wildfires and other natural disasters, there is a risk that work will hurt the force’s ability to defend the country.

The Canadian Armed Forces has a long history of helping provinces and municipalities with natural disasters, with soldiers filling sandbags, evacuating citizens and fighting fires, among other things. Recent trends suggest those requests are growing in both frequency and scope.

An analysis by The Canadian Press last May showed the military had been asked to help with 10 weather-related disasters over the previous two years. That’s compared to 20 such calls between 2007 and 2016. The number of soldiers involved has also increased as the size of the disasters has grown.

While those efforts have been warmly welcomed by residents and local governments, Canadian Army commander Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre said in an interview last month: “I can conceive, if this becomes of a larger scale, more frequent basis, it will start to affect our readiness.”

The Canadian Forces over the weekend deployed 300 troops to help St. John’s, N.L., dig out after a massive snowstorm walloped the city, the latest disaster for which the military has been called out to help. Another 125 soldiers are expected to arrive by Tuesday.

Readiness is the term militaries use to describe their ability to do their jobs at a given moment. For the Army, that means being ready to fight. That might not seem important during a time of relative peace, and Eyre says: “When the people of Canada call, we are there.”

But training for war is essential to ensure the Army can respond whenever and wherever a threat to the country emerges.

READ MORE: Armed Forces being mobilized to help Eastern Newfoundland dig out

“It’s like a hockey team that would never train, never play on the ice together, and then all of a sudden being thrown into an NHL game and be expected to win,” said Eyre. “You’ve got to keep doing that (training).”

Training has not been affected to a significant degree yet, but Eyre says commanders are “watching closely.” The concern is that disasters often occur in the spring and fall, which are also the Army’s primary training periods.

The Liberal government’s defence policy, unveiled in June 2017, set aside money specifically for brigade-level training, which involves bringing together thousands of soldiers as well as artillery, armoured vehicles and aircraft to simulate a large-scale military operation.

Exercise Maple Resolve, as the brigade-level training is called, is conducted at Canadian Forces Base Wainwright in Alberta in May. That was around the same time last year as more than 2,000 military personnel were helping with floods in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.

“I’m not too worried if we missed it for a year or two,” Eyre said. “But if we missed it, that type of training, for a significant period of time, the cost down the road is where we would pay it.”

The military is the force of last resort when it comes to natural disasters, called upon when municipalities and provinces are unable to cope on their own. However, while some new training, such as the basics of fighting wildfires, has been added, disasters are not the Army’s primary focus.

There are many countries where the military is the first responder when it comes to everything from natural disasters to civil unrest. And Eyre says one of the main benefits of the Canadian Armed Forces to the country is its ability to respond quickly — and in a self-sustaining manner, not placing demands on limited local resources — when called upon in emergencies.

However, he worried putting too much emphasis on disaster response could hurt the Army’s ability to fight, which would ultimately hurt Canada.

“That’s very dangerous. If we become focused on solely humanitarian-assistance, disaster response, when the country really needs us, when the stakes are very high and we have to fight and we’re not ready, that’s going to cause casualties and it’s going to cost loss of national interest.”

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

snowstorm

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Permitting process pushes back completion for Slocan fibre-optic line

Work may not be done until summer 2021, more than a year after initial completion date

New ‘hub’ model takes regional approach to doctor recruitment in West Kootenay

Kootenay-Boundary a provincial leader in effectively attracting doctors to work here

Missing Slocan City man found dead

Douglas Morrison went missing in mid-January

Early-morning phone scam annoying Nakusp residents

Hang up if you get a call, say police

Organic waste pick-up expected by 2022 in RDCK

But there are many unanswered questions in Nelson about cost and details

Blair says RCMP have met Wet’suwet’en conditions, calls for end to blockades

The Wet’suwet’en’s hereditary chiefs oppose the Coastal GasLink project

Petition seeks to remove local police department from Lindsay Buziak murder case

American woman starts online petition in hopes of helping Buziak family

Health officials confirm sixth COVID-19 case in B.C.

Woman remains in isolation as Fraser Health officials investigate

Study says flu vaccine protected most people during unusual influenza season

Test-negative method was pioneered by the BC Centre for Disease Control in 2004

Saskatchewan and B.C. reach championship round at Scotties

British Columbia’s Corryn Brown locked up the last berth in Pool B

B.C. lawyer, professor look to piloting a mental-health court

In November, Nova Scotia’s mental-health court program marked 10 years of existence

COLUMN: Not an expert on First Nations government structures? Then maybe you should calm down

Consider your knowledge about First Nations governance structures before getting really, really mad

Meet the Wet’suwet’en who want the Coastal GasLink pipeline

Supporters of the pipeline are upset only one side is being heard nationwide

One dead in multi-vehicle collision involving logging truck on northern B.C. highway

DriveBC says highway expected to remain closed until 8 p.m.

Most Read