Switching uniforms from the current Canadian-designed CADPAT to a U.S. Multi could cost taxpayers $500 million, according to a document prepared for current Chief of Defence Staff General Jon Vance.
The American pattern used by the majority of their forces has already outfitted our special forces for years. It matters greatly how our forces feel about how they dress for battle. Yet, how we arrive at the decision is also important.
It may indeed be time to examine modernizing the combat uniform after almost 20 years of use, post Afghanistan.
The distinct desert uniform was a respected one as was the Canadian flag flash on the shoulder of our defenders and promoters of democracy. During 12 years of compassionate work and ferocious combat in that theatre of operations, the Canadians in their tan desert units were broadly admired and viewed among the best of NATO allies.
Enormous sacrifice and hard lessons learned saw a loss of 158 CAF lives and thousands more forever altered by their service-oriented injuries. Closing out that era might lead some to believe upgrading the uniform worn by our finest is needed.
Lots of shapes and sizes and more women in combat roles calls for that consideration. Comfort and protection surely remain the primary consideration.
The uniform of our armed forces has indeed changed over the years. The Pierre Trudeau government in an extremely unpopular move amalgamated the armed forces, removed the distinct uniforms of army, navy and air force and issued a generic bland garbage bag green style despised by those forced to wear it.
The distinct branch uniforms were restored by the Brian Mulroney Tories as were several other historic insignia and ranks under PM Stephen Harper. What has not changed over time was the pride and purpose of those who wear it and the confidence it instilled in our citizens and those who they liberated during expeditionary missions throughout the last 100 plus years.
One issue I recall hearing about frequently during my tenure as minister of national defence was the issue of combat boots. There were some 17 different styles made available, yet some soldiers still preferred to purchase their own.
Within reason, soldiers over the years have personalized and altered their kits. Adaptations and alterations for maximum comfort and fit were made for combat zones where optimal performance and safety outweigh all else.
In the current context what jumps out is the possibility of our government adopting an American design and even outsourcing the production. I believe the textile industry in Canada would be outraged as it is more than capable of continuing to design and manufacturing uniforms for the Canadian Armed Forces. A call for tenders and open competition could occur quickly for this prized contract.
Given the current state of NAFTA negotiations and the heightened rhetoric coming from both sides, it would be strange to buy American.
Like the courageous members who wear it, those who make them should also be Canadian, providing good jobs here at home.
Yet, there is also a question as to the timing and prioritization of fashion over practical needs. It occurs to me that increased capability, compensation, housing, readiness and infrastructure all rank much higher.
I seldom, if ever, heard armed forces members clamouring for better uniforms during my time as minister of defence. A lot can be done to improve the working conditions of our CAF with half a billion dollars.
The remarkably proud history of our forces and all they have accomplished in Canada’s name demands they be properly outfitted. The CAF uniform, short of our flag itself, which adorns that uniform, is a distinct and distinguishing symbol of our country. Soldiers in true Canadian character tend to be understated but patriotic to the core. What they wear on their backs should be a reflection of what we are as a nation. Independent, true quality and in keeping with current needs including fashion (though I doubt soldiers spend much time thinking about this when serving abroad).
Gen Vance is one of our finest military leaders of this generation. An honourable, sensible officer. Having spent significant time with him, I know he puts the interests and needs of those in the CAF first.
Military procurement is difficult, detailed and critically important. Principle, not optics, must rule the day in a decision such as this.
Let’s insure we make a sensible one that provides maximum benefit to our soldiers and those citizens they serve when we purchase their uniforms.