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J.L. Granatstein: Weapons for Ukraine—and Canada

Commentary

The war in Ukraine galvanized the West to assist Kyiv in fighting the Russian invaders. NATO nations and others sent munitions, artillery, armoured vehicles, medicines and personal weapons. The United States in particular has provided more than US$9 billion in military aid, including HIMARS—High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems—that have proved to be precise and devastating in eliminating Russian supply dumps and command centres.U.S. pledges largest Ukraine arms delivery yet with $1 billion more in rockets and other weapons https://www.pbs.org/newshour/world/u-s-pledges-largest-ukraine-arms-delivery-yet-with-1-billion-more-in-rockets-and-other-weapons Other NATO members have provided tanks and other armoured vehicles, mobile artillery, vehicles, and supplies.

Canada too has done its part. The government has provided $1.87 billion in grants and loans, imposed sanctions on a host of Russian individuals, banks, and commercial entities, and it is seizing assets of sanctioned Russian individuals and companies that are to be used to assist Ukrainian reconstruction. 

Before Moscow’s invasion on February 24, the Canadian Armed Forces trained 33,000 Ukrainian soldiers in tactics and military skills.Operation UNIFIER https://www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/services/operations/military-operations/current-operations/operation-unifier.html After the fighting began, Ottawa committed $626 million in military aid already delivered or planned. This includes two C-130 aircraft and 40 to 50 service personnel to deliver supplies provided by allies; 150 military personnel in Poland to assist refugees with humanitarian aid; 18 drone cameras and maintenance and repairs for these cameras; 39 armoured combat support vehicles; and 4 M777 artillery pieces, 10 replacement barrels, and 20,000 M777 rounds (purchased from the United States for $98 million).

There is more: high-resolution satellite imagery; eight commercial pattern armoured vehicles; 4500 M72 rocket launchers; 7500 hand grenades, 39,000 meal packs, 1600 fragmentation vests; and 100 Carl Gustav recoilless rifles and 2000 rounds of ammunition. The government has also provided night vision gear, helmets, body armour, pistols, carbines, machine guns, sniper rifles, and 1.5 million rounds of ammunition.

While some of the Canadian-supplied military assistance is top of the line, some aren’t. The Carl Gustav anti-tank weapon was developed in the late 1940s in Sweden. It has been modernized since, but the Canadian Forces use 1964 and 1986 variants which are not, as more modern Swedish NLAW anti-tank weapons are, “fire and forget” but “line of sight.” In other words, the shooter must be able to see the armoured vehicle to have a chance of knocking it out, and this exposes him to enemy fire. The Swedish weapons can be fired from cover and will track the target as it moves. Similarly, the M72 rocket launchers are a Vietnam-era weapon with a maximum range of 200 metres. On the other hand, the M777 artillery, used by Canadian gunners in Afghanistan, is first-rate and capable of hitting targets up to 25 kilometres distant. The CAF had 37 of these 155mm guns before the government sent four to Ukraine.

The first question now is what more Canada does for the Ukrainians. The answer unfortunately is not much, so strapped for modern equipment are the Canadian Armed Forces. The Chief of the Defence Staff, General Wayne Eyre, actually urged Canadian industry to go on a war footing to produce munitions. There is no sign as yet that industry has responded, and absolutely no indication that the federal government is going to provide Canada’s military with extra funds to replace what has been gifted to Ukraine.

This matters. The CAF is now without an effective antitank weapon. It needs something like the Swedish NLAW in quantity. The military has no anti-air missiles for soldiers to use against helicopters and aircraft. The British Starstreak is a man-portable air defence system that is proving very effective in Ukraine, and it is something that the CAF might adapt. The CAF also lacks an anti-aircraft system to deal with faster fighters; once again the British Star Sabre system or the American NASAMS can provide short- or medium-range protection. Canada should consider acquiring these or something similar as a matter of urgency.

And what are the chances of the Canadian military getting this new weaponry—or even replacing its obsolescent equipment that it dispatched to Ukraine? In most countries, replacing donated weapons would be a no-brainer. In this nation, however, the defence procurement system is completely broken, and there is no indication that the government will provide the necessary funds.

Defence minister Anita Anand has generally received good reviews for her performance at the Department of National Defence. But her previous Cabinet post was minister of public services and procurement, and she had no success there in getting the military what it needed when it needed it. That was not wholly her fault, of course. Defence procurement in Canada is tied in knots by departmental infighting, insistence on Canadian sourcing, or demands for industrial offsets. The result has been huge cost overruns and years of delay. The costs of the Navy’s planned new vessels are, at a minimum, five to ten times the cost of similar ships built in Denmark, Poland, or Korea.New navy supply ships face more delays and cost increases, federal officials confirm https://ottawacitizen.com/news/national/defence-watch/new-navy-supply-ships-face-more-delays-and-cost-increases-federal-officials-confirm#:~:text=article%20continues%20below.-,Article%20content,it%20went%20to%20%244.1%20billion. Even pistols took years to be acquired for the CAF.Delivery of new pistols for Canadian Army delayed until 2023 https://ottawacitizen.com/news/national/defence-watch/delivery-of-new-pistols-for-canadian-army-delayed-until-2023#:~:text=The%20Canadian%20government%20had%20hoped,was%20designed%20to%20favour%20its

Now, however, the military has been stripped even of much of the obsolete gear it had. It is essential that replacements—or preferably more modern weaponry—be acquired. The world is a dangerous place right now with Russia, China, North Korea, and other states making threats. We might hope we can continue to be sheltered by the oceans and protected by the Americans. But we cannot count on that.

The soldiers, sailors and airforce personnel that Canada has are well-trained and capable. But they need the best equipment there is, and they need it now.

Jean-Paul R. Soucy: Canada needs better data to confront our health-care crisis

Commentary

When Ray DeMonia of Cullman, Alabama had a cardiac emergency in August of 2021, he was turned away from 43 hospitals in three different states. He later died after being transferred to a hospital 200 miles away in neighbouring Mississippi. Public dataHHS Protect Public Data Hub https://public-data-hub-dhhs.hub.arcgis.com/ assembled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) quantified the circumstances that led to this individual tragedy. By mid-August, ICU capacity had fallen below 10 percent in five states, including Alabama and neighbouring Georgia and Mississippi. COVID-19 patients filled about half of the available ICU beds in these states.

The HHS dataset enumerates inpatient and ICU bed occupancy by COVID and non-COVID patients for each state and most individual hospitals. This impressive tracking system, derived from an effort by the U.S. federal government to better understand and manage hospital capacity during the pandemic, was first released in July of 2020. Despite a rocky start, Americans have had access to this high-quality overview of their country’s health-care capacity for over two years.

Canada has no shortage of individual tragedies: Canadians are dying in hospital waiting rooms, emergency rooms and ICUs are shuttering, and chronically stressed health-care workers are burning out and quitting. What we lack are the hard numbers to see beyond this growing collection of anecdotes. The kind of comprehensive, near real-time information about the state of our health-care system that Americans enjoy is almost unthinkable in Canada.

This is not to say that useful health-care metrics are not collected in this country. For example, the Canadian Institute for Health Information offers annual reportsYour Health System https://yourhealthsystem.cihi.ca/hsp/?lang=en on an array of valuable indicators for health facilities across the country, such as emergency room wait times, hospital readmission rates, and measures of patient experience. But real-time metrics, even for something as simple as COVID-19 hospitalizations in each province, are unavailable at the federal level. Scouring provincial websites or consulting third-party aggregators will net you only a fraction of the information routinely available to Americans for their whole country.

The limitations of health-care data in Canada will come as no surprise to those who have worked closely with COVID-19 data throughout the pandemic. In early 2021, the lodestar for discussions regarding health restrictions in Ontario was the number of COVID-19 patients occupying the province’s ICU beds. Despite being the most watched value in the province, the publicly presented numbers were misleading and obscured the full impact of COVID-19 on the health-care system. Patients no longer testing positive for the virus were removed from the public total of COVID-19 patients in ICU, despite the fact that they still required critical care as a consequence of the disease. While the true count of patients in ICU due to COVID-19 was used internally, these values could only be gleaned by copying the numbers from slide decks occasionally released on social media. These more accurate numbers would only be officially released to the public in April of 2021, well into the province’s third wave.

In another example, British Columbia acquired notoriety throughout the pandemic by its habitual opposition to transparency. The province played up concerns regarding “privacy” and “stigma” to avoid disclosing more localized and relevant data about COVID-19 risk and vaccination and at one point even decided to stop reporting data to the federal government.

Inadequate data collection, arbitrary secrecy, and other barriers to information access are nothing new in Canada. But the problem is particularly acute in the health sector. The excuse is predictable: health is the sole jurisdiction of the provinces, so we are forever doomed to sift through a patchwork of inconsistent provincial data sources.

This argument rings hollow. The federal government regulates drugs and devices (via Health Canada), is empowered to contain the spread of communicable diseases (via the Quarantine Act), and has a mandate to collect statistics via Statistics Canada and other federal agencies. Most importantly, the federal government transfers tens of billions of dollars annually to the provinces through direct health system funding and through a handful of health research granting agencies.

These cash transfers are given with nothing in the way of health data reporting requirements. This is a mistake, especially since provinces have little incentive to publish data that may be embarrassing or cast them in an unfavourable light relative to other jurisdictions. The United States enforces health data reporting by tying it to the receipt of federal dollars through Medicare and Medicaid. If our neighbour to the south was able to corral its fragmented health-care system to produce a set of coherent, standardized, up-to-date metrics within a few months of the COVID-19 pandemic beginning, surely we should be able to do it after a few years.

The limited data that are available from provincial or local health system websites paint a bleak picture. For example, at the time of writing, 11 of Montreal’s 21 emergency rooms are over capacity, with the worst operating 55 percent above maximum. Overall, the number of patients in the system exceeds the number of beds available across the whole island by 14 percent.

Long wait times in the emergency room are a longstanding issue in Canada, but the depredations of the pandemic and the resulting wave of resignations and burnout have brought the system to a breaking point. The steady stream of stories about deaths in waiting rooms and the desperate attempts to keep hospitals staffed and open illuminates the health-care crisis we often lack the data to describe more concretely.

Canada’s health-care system is in desperate need of reform. Better data will help make this case and careful analysis will help to separate policies that work from those that don’t. The critical issue of staffing will get more difficult to solve: the World Health Organization projects a shortage of 15 million health workers worldwide by 2030.Health Workforce Overview https://www.who.int/health-topics/health-workforce#tab=tab_1 Canada is now competing against every other country in the world to train, recruit, and retain health-care workers. Canadians deserve to confront this crisis with eyes wide open. Only the failed status quo is served by our inability to produce detailed, timely, and accessible statistics about the state of Canada’s unravelling health-care system.