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Well Done, Sir! -Ruxted On Gordon O'Connor


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Well Done, Sir!

The Ruxted Group wishes former MND Gordon O'Connor well.

We have taken him – and his colleagues, especially Prime Minister Harper – to task for failing to communicate the raison d'être of the Afghanistan mission to Canadians, thereby securing their support for the mission. To the extent that the government did communicate the task was too often left to Minister O'Connor alone.  He did his best but it was not good enough.

Minister O'Connor served the armed forces well – as an officer and as a politician. The military is getting thousands of new people; Gordon O'Connor steered the requirement and the money through cabinet in competition with many other government priorities. The military is getting much needed new equipment. Gordon O'Connor took on some projects started by his predecessors and saw them to fruition. He started other important projects and managed them to approval and now new kit, necessary kit, is being delivered. Well done, Mister O'Connor!

Some critics in parliament and the press tried to sensationalize Mr. O'Connor's previous career as a lobbyist.  Gordon O'Connor was a man of integrity who served his country, then his clients, and then again his country when called, without unduly favouring anyone. His reputation for personal integrity is unsullied.

Much criticism of Mister O’Connor was related to the handling of detainees given over to Afghan custody. Without getting into the details of the criticism, Gordon O’Connor was less than clear in explaining his department’s position. However, it seems to Ruxted that in part for domestic political interests many of the critics appeared disproportionately concerned with the plight of the detainees over the long suffering people of Afghanistan.

It also was suggested that, as a former general officer, Mister O’Connor knew too much about the functioning of his department. That a minister could have excess knowledge of his department and job was a puzzling line of attack. Ruxted adds that having too firm a grasp of the defence portfolio was a charge that could rarely have been levelled at either his predecessors or his critics.

On balance Gordon O’Connor was an effective wartime Minister of National Defence. He had his faults, as do we and  his critics. He was the right person at the right time; Prime Minister Harper showed good judgement. That the time came for him to move on was more because of political imperatives than any failing on his part.

And so, paraphrasing Saint Matthew, we say: “Well done, good and faithful soldier. You have served your country well. You have earned its thanks.”

We also congratulate Peter MacKay on his appointment to the defence portfolio. Gordon O’Connor has left an admirable list of achievements and ongoing projects. There is still much to be done to reform the Department of National Defence so that it can better respond to the challenges which face Canada. There is still much to be done to transform the Canadian Forces into a flexible, responsive organization able to meet and defeat threats to Canada. There is plenty of room for a smart, hard working, ambitious politician to make a positive impression. 

The Ruxted Group thanks Gordon O'Connor for his hard work and his achievements; so should all Canadians.
+1 Ruxted!

Mr O'Connor, as an individual, I didn't much like you BUT, I respect you for what you have done for the Canadian Forces during your tenure as Minister of National Defense.

Thank you!

Ruxted's comments are apt, as are Geo's.  I thank General O'Connor for his service to Canada's defence and I hope that his successor can do even better.  I would note that his move to Revenue is hardly a demotion and I am sure that his particular skills will be useful there.


A toast to Mr. O'Conner if I may.

"It is time for us to stand and cheer for the doer, the achiever, the one who recognizes the challenge and does something about it".
Vince Lombardi

Cheers Mr O' Conner and a job well done.

I think Prof. Doug Bland (Queens) has it about right in this article which is reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act from today’s National Post:

O'Connor: A distinguished defence minister

Douglas Bland, National Post
Published: Monday, August 20, 2007

By any criteria that matters to Canada's national defence, Gordon O'Connor's brief time in office was an outstanding success. In less than two years, he reversed more than 10 years of Liberal neglect of the defence policy and the Canadian forces. He wrote the Conservative defence platform and then guided it through the defence establishment that at times fought vigorously against it. He wrestled a commitment of $20-billion for new military equipment to rebuild the Canadian Forces from Cabinet and a reluctant Finance Department bureaucracy.

On Aug. 10, the first of four new Canadian CC177 heavy-lift aircraft landed in Canada. The others will arrive within the next few months. It would have been noteworthy if Mr. O'Connor had only forced the notoriously dysfunctional defence procurement system to consider buying such major new equipment. The fact that he has the aircraft ready to fly operational missions in a mere 18 months is remarkable.

But there is more. New artillery weapons, drones and armoured vehicles are today in the field protecting Canadian soldiers. Medium lift aircraft and helicopters are about to be ordered. Most astonishing of all, a new fleet of the most modern tanks are on the way to Canada, a country usually allergic to the very idea of owning such a "war-like" capability. Mr. O'Connor began the process to rebuild the Canadian navy and rescued Canada's disappearing air force. Over the objections of some senior officers, Gordon O'Connor moved Canada's defence horizon into the high Arctic and he managed these fundamental changes without any credible allegation of corruption or administrative waste, in itself an unusual achievement in Canada.

True, there was friction between Mr. O'Connor and the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), General Rick Hillier. But there has never been a period in which military leaders have not clashed with their defence ministers. Even ministers who were "friends of the armed forces" complained continually about their inability to move the "brass hats" to accept happily unpopular policies. Those who tried too hard, like Paul Hellyer in the mid-1960s, often found their political careers wrecked. Others, such as Edgar Benson, Allan McKinnon, and John McCallum, were simply ignored. Robert Coates's well-deserved downfall was apparently engineered by the chief of the defence staff after the defence minister in December 1985 was discovered in a "strip club" during an official visit to Germany. The first CDS, Air Chief Marshal Frank Miller, summed up the military's attitude to Canadian ministers of national defence long ago: "If we could count on a reasonable person being appointed defence minister, we won't need a CDS. But that's not a good proposition on which to plan defence policy."

Much, too, is made of Mr. O'Connor's seeming inability to rally Canadians to the war in Afghanistan. Leaving aside the question of whether he was solely responsible for such a campaign, it's only fair to note that over the last five years or so, public support for governments' war policies have consistently hovered around 50%. This response is actually rather surprising given that in the peaceful days of the Cold War, for instance, ministers who could generate anything near 60% support for defence policy thought they were having a good day.

So what awaits the new Minister of National Defence, Peter MacKay? He is actually at once lucky and unfortunate. He is lucky because Mr. O'Connor has already accomplished everything of significance in Stephen Harper's first defence agenda. Surely, the major item, Canada's policy in Afghanistan after 2008, will be constructed in and managed by the Prime Minister's Office. Thus, Mr. MacKay will spend his time shepherding Mr. O'Connor's accomplishments through the defence establishment.

Mr. MacKay is unfortunate because the portfolio has shipwrecked every politician who ever had ambitions to be prime minister or longed to hold a senior government post afterwards. The brief exception to this iron law was Kim Campbell, whose career as prime minister would have been swallowed whole by the Somalia scandal if she had survived the Progressive Conservative debacle at the polls. The portfolio is too complex and too vulnerable to crisis and scandal and thus too vulnerable to aggressive oppositions. Inexpert ministers are always beholden to expert senior officers who have their own policy preferences. When the House reconvenes, the opposition will be waiting with plenty of ammunition to shoot big holes in the new Minister of National Defence.

Some commentators suggest that Prime Minister Harper's appointment of Peter MacKay to the defence portfolio is a sign of respect and trust. Perhaps it is. But a review of the political history of those who have held the office might suggest that the Prime Minister is just making certain that he won't have to worry about a political rival from the east coast any time soon.

Professor Douglas Bland of Queen's University is the author of Chiefs of Defence: Government and the Unified Command of the Canadian Armed Forces.

© National Post 2007

I think Prof. Bland could have gone a bit father.  It isn’t just ministers who can be a hazard to defence policy planning – their politically appointed staffs can, but should not, wield considerable influence.  Too often aides are given too much room on the 13th floor of Fort Fumble and too many of them have a tendency to see electoral politics issues in every decision – they are obvious and understood, although disliked, in major procurement projects, that’s why we have the regional-industrial benefits fiction, but politics should not, although it too often does, enter into the day-to-day management of the armed forces.

I think I understand why PM Harper is controlling the appointment of political Chiefs of Staff as he does ministers and deputies: it is part of the Americanization of politics about which some Milnet.ca members complain.  It (Americanization) is real and it is ongoing inAustralia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Estonia and so on.  Government is becoming more and more complex and the legislative branch – in either our Westminster or others' Washington model – is showing itself less and less able (or willing) to manage which, de facto strengthens the Executive.  Now, our system (Westminster and especially the slightly immature Canadian version of the Westminster model) already has a strong Executive – stronger than the more checked and balanced Washington model – but the American have led the way in Executive political management and other countries are following suit.

Here in Canada the PM appoints the minister and the deputy but, as Prof. Bland points out, ministers can be inept bunglers – sometimes that why they became defence ministers: they had to be there for regional representation, to appease a party power base or because of loyalty to the leader (e.g. James Richardson, Robert Coates, David Collenette).  Deputies are there to manage the departments – they are appointed by the PM and can be fired by him, too, but they have their own, unique power bases and a PM who mismanages the appointments of DMs can find himself in a policy swamp.  That leaves the political Chiefs of Staff who have appropriated considerable power of their own.  By taking them away from ministers and managing them much as he manages DMs Harper is both: Americanizing the political process and increasing the power of the Chiefs of Staff – by elevating them to a status they did not have in the past.  He is Americanizing politics and politicizing the machinery of government.  Neither is, necessarily, a bad thing, nor are they, necessarily, good things.

In any event: O’Connor did well at everything except communications and, as Ruxted has pointed out more than once, he carried an unfairly heavy share of that burden.

I cant say if he was the best of all time, but he was certainly the best since the Kim Campbell era...
GreyMatter said:
I cant say if he was the best of all time, but he was certainly the best since the Kim Campbell era...

You've narrowed your field of view a tad bit - haven't you?
You've set the bottom of the barrel pert low, haven't you?

You might not have liked the Liberal Gov't as a whole but, there are two Lib MNDs who were quite attentive to the needs of the CF.
The reference to Kim Campbell was tongue in cheek - her popularity among the troops was based on her 'sexy' cover on a Canadian magazine and little to do with her actual performance. 

Now, you say you liked two previous ones - which ones?

30. Kim Campbell under Mulroney January 4, 1993 – June 24, 1993
31. Tom Siddon under Campbell June 25, 1993 – November 3, 1993
32. David Collenette under Chrétien November 4, 1993 – October 4, 1996
33. Doug Young under Chrétien October 5, 1996 – June 10, 1997
34. Art Eggleton under Chrétien June 11, 1997 – June 25, 2002
35. John McCallum under Chrétien June 26, 2002 – December 11, 2003
36. David Pratt under Martin December 12, 2003 – July 19, 2004
37. Bill Graham under Martin July 20, 2004 – February 5, 2006
38. Gordon O'Connor under Harper February 6, 2006 – August 14, 2007
39. Peter MacKay under Harper August 14, 2007 –
It's already been mentioned in this thread but, FWIW, Bill Graham made every effort to work with the CDS and make things happen.  It is evident that, after umpteen years of neglect & spending the "peace dividend" matters could not be reversed overnight but, most if not all of the accomplishments we credit Mr O'Connor with were initiated during the Graham years.

Others have credited David Pratt as being a caring MND. 
However, given his short term in office, it "all" came to naught.
geo said:
Bill Graham
David Pratt

I thought you were going to say Art Eggleton.

Hmmm... can you convince me?  Can you name something that either of them implemented or did effectively?