The Current

Military aid should only be a last resort for natural disaster relief, says expert

There are more soldiers deployed within Canada than there are overseas right now, with many helping to battle the severe flooding in several provinces. But if climate change is going to make extreme weather more common, should instead create a new group to lead disaster relief?

More than 2,000 members of the military have been helping flooded communities across N.B., Que., and Ont.

Members of the military try to shore up a home in west Ottawa. (Andrew Lee/CBC)
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Canada should create a civilian force to deal with domestic disasters like flooding, in order to free up the army's finite resources to be used elsewhere, according to a military expert.

"We should rely on the Armed Forces when we have no other mechanism to help, respond or stabilize this sort of situation," said Christian Leuprecht, a professor of political science at the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen's University.

However, he said that while Canadians "want their armed forces to be there for them when their house is flooded, or being burned down by a large forest fire," they also want the army "to be doing peace and stability operations such as the ones in Mali."

"If we built a more competent and systematic civilian capacity … we could be doing more of both, with a better allocation of these off the assets that we have," he told The Current's guest host David Common.

More than 2,000 members of the military have been helping flooded communities across New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario in recent weeks. That number means there are currently more personnel deployed on Canadian soil than overseas.

Leuprecht explained that the army can help like this by mobilizing reservists, but it must also keep equipment and vehicles — such as helicopters — on standby to do so.

"I think we need to ask ourselves whether this is the best allocation both of our tax dollar, and of the extremely highly trained and skilled resources that the Canadian armed forces bring to bear," said Leuprecht.

A Chinook helicopter delivers sandbags during a training mission in Horton Township, Ont., May 2, 2019. (Cpl. Michael J. MacIsaac/Canadian Armed Forces)

Serge Cormier, the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of National Defence, said that climate change could make events like the recent flooding more frequent. But he argued that our focus should be on being better prepared, and working to limit the resulting damage.

We should be "rethinking where houses are being built, rethinking about our infrastructure along the river," he said.

"If we are better prepared, maybe we'll rely less on the Canadian armed forces."

To discuss the role of the Canadian Armed Forces in natural disaster relief, Common spoke to:

  • Josh Bowen, a former Canadian Armed Forces member and current manager at the Centre for Applied Disaster and Emergency Management at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.
  • Christian Leuprecht, professor of political science at the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen's University, and an Eisenhower Fellow at the NATO defence college in Rome.
  • Serge Cormier, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence.

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.


Produced by Julianne Hazlewood and Danielle Carr. 

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