The general poverty of discussion in Canada on security and defence matters can be explained by those who participate in it. For the most part, they consist of individuals in or near government defending the status quo, their political opponents seeking to damage them in the eyes of the electorate, a dozen or so commentators at major news outlets some of whom have monopolized “respectable opinion” for decades, and about as many academics. The latter two categories include a disproportionate number with undisguised partisan views. Little wonder so much of the talk is so polarized and ultimately so sterile — often not about consequential issues like the direction of policy but about trivial ones like the honesty or competence of politicians and officials.
The main outside influences have been the political parties and media commentators. A few university centres specializing in military affairs and an even smaller number of think tanks have produced reports hoping to catch the attention of decision-makers, though there is little evidence these exercise any real influence (Bland and Shimooka, Let Sleeping Dogs Lie: The Influence of External Studies on National Defence Policy 2000-2006, Queen’s University, 2011). Moreover, there is not one Canadian institution ranked among the world’s top 70 think tanks specializing in security and international affairs (Global Go To Think Tanks Report, Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, University of Pennsylvania, 2012).
What sustains such a low level of discussion is that neither the government of the day nor the bien-pensants need to worry they will be found out, that the tendentious character of their analyses of complex issues or the self-serving nature of the “options” they favour will be challenged by people with equal or greater knowledge and experience. Canada is not a stupid country; within it lies a vast reservoir of knowledge and experience in the person of many thousands of individuals with world-class credentials in security and defence affairs, gained through careers at the centre of decision-making in Ottawa and on the front lines of diplomacy, military campaigns, counter-terrorism and counter-espionage, internal security, peacekeeping, and international emergency response. Nothing causes more heartburn in government and does more to improve the quality of debate on security and defence matters in Canada than for those currently responsible for these matters having to contend with the informed opinion of people who once held their positions and did their jobs.
The mission of the Board is to capture “the voice of experience” of individuals and groups with professional backgrounds across the spectrum of security and defence matters, to bridge the gap between the political parties, media commentators, and universities and think-tanks. Members of the Board are mostly individuals with decision-making and field experience in government and public policy, diplomacy, the military, security and intelligence, international peace support operations, and humanitarian relief, along with some of Canada’s most distinguished historians and academic analysts. It is this group which forms the “digital think-tank” behind the Vimy Report.
More specifically, the Board includes individuals with experience in:
- Government and public policy: leadership positions in federal departments and agencies including “central agencies” such as the Prime Minister’s Office, the Privy Council Office, the Treasury Board Secretariat, and the Department of Finance.
- Diplomacy: diplomats and officials with career profiles featuring strategic policy development, the foreign and defence policies of the great powers, assignments in major capitals and at NATO and the UN, regional specialization particularly in Middle East and Asian affairs, and international negotiation.
- Military: officers and NCOs with command responsibilities and war-zone experience with the Canadian Forces including NATO, UN and international humanitarian relief operations; DND civilians who have specialized in strategic planning and policy development.
- Security and intelligence: individuals with policy or high-level operational experience at CSIS, CBSA, Foreign Affairs, DND, Coast Guard and other agencies.
- Peace Support and Humanitarian Relief: police officers with HQ and field experience in international policing, military and civilian trainers who have helped build local capacity in war-torn societies, professionals in disaster response across the globe.
Members of the Board participate in a broad range of activities associated with the production of the Vimy Report, with individuals free to choose the nature of their involvement.