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

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

OTTAWA — 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.

“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.”

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

Just Posted

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, announced more than 1,500 active cases in Alberta Monday afternoon and five additional deaths. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
New COVID rules coming

Central zone active cases up by 100 in last 24 hours

(Black Press file photo.)
Rocky police charge three suspects after pellet gun shootings

Three incidents results in several injuries

Red Deer city council gave final approval to a mask bylaw that will go into effect on Nov. 30. (Black Press file photo).
Red Deer city council approves mask bylaw that takes effect on Nov. 30

It could be ‘superceded’ by a provincial mask bylaw, if one is announced Tuesday

Lynn Van Laar, chair of this year’s Christmas Wish Breakfast, said the event was planned outdoors to minimize the risk of COVID. Photo by Mamta Lulla/Advocate staff
Outdoor Christmas Wish Breakfast helps central Alberta families this holiday season

The coronavirus pandemic isn’t going to stop children from having a merry… Continue reading

Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey (20) knocks a pass away from Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) during the first half of an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 23, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)
Goff throws for 376 yards, 3 TDs in Rams’ 27-24 win vs Bucs

Goff throws for 376 yards, 3 TDs in Rams’ 27-24 win vs Bucs

New York Red Bulls midfielder Dru Yearwood, left, fights for the ball against Toronto FC midfielder Jonathan Osorio during an MLS soccer match in Harrison, N.J., on November 8, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Eduardo Munoz Alvarez
Experienced Toronto FC ready to take on upstart Nashville SC in playoff action

Experienced Toronto FC ready to take on upstart Nashville SC in playoff action

Canada's head coach Dave Lowry during practice at the IIHF World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland, on Wednesday, December 30, 2015. The Winnipeg Jets have hired Lowry as an assistant coach. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Former WHL head coach Dave Lowry joins Paul Maurice’s staff in Winnipeg

Former WHL head coach Dave Lowry joins Paul Maurice’s staff in Winnipeg

Felix Auger-Aliassime, of Canada, returns a shot to Dominic Thiem, of Austria, during the fourth round of the US Open tennis championships in New York on September 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Seth Wenig
A steady if unspectacular season comes to a close for Canada’s Auger-Aliassime

A steady if unspectacular season comes to a close for Canada’s Auger-Aliassime

Sacramento Kings' Alex Len (25) collects a rebound against Brooklyn Nets' Jarrett Allen (31) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Aug. 7, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Ashley Landis
Raptors continue to shore up frontcourt, signing Alex Len to one-year deal

Raptors continue to shore up frontcourt, signing Alex Len to one-year deal

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Freeland says Liberals will deliver economic, fiscal update on Nov. 30

Freeland says Liberals will deliver economic, fiscal update on Nov. 30

Canadian Joint Operations Commander Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau speaks during a news conference on the recent Canadian Forces helicopter crash, Tuesday, May 19, 2020 in Ottawa. The Canadian Armed Forces is preparing to formally apologize to victims of sexual misconduct. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canadian Armed Forces to formally apologize to victims for sexual misconduct

Canadian Armed Forces to formally apologize to victims for sexual misconduct

Alberta Liberal Party David Khan at a campaign stop in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, April 11, 2019. The Alberta Liberal Party says its leader, David Khan, is stepping down. A news release from the party on Sunday evening says Khan is accepting a new job in law. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Alberta Liberal Party says leader, David Khan, stepping down to accept new job in law

Alberta Liberal Party says leader, David Khan, stepping down to accept new job in law

Most Read