Friday, November 20, 2009


By David Pugliese
Ottawa Citizen

Defence Minister Peter MacKay has politicized an international forum taking place in Halifax on the weekend by refusing to invite federal politicians from parties other than the Conservatives, says the head of the Senate defence committee.

Liberal Senator Colin Kenny said the forum, being funded by taxpayers through the Defence Department, should have been a non-partisan event as it was a key meeting of politicians and military leaders from a number of nations. He noted that Canadian MPs and senators interested in defence matters should have been invited but MacKay and Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin were the only Canadian federal politicians being allowed to attend.

In contrast, a group of U.S. politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, have been invited to the forum, Kenny said in an interview with Defence Watch.

“I would have thought that they would wanted a number of different viewpoints at the meeting but that doesn’t seem to be the case,” said Kenny, who in the past has angered the Conservative government by calling for more spending on the Canadian Forces as well as questioning whether the Afghan mission was meeting its goals.

The forum, organized by the German Marshall Fund of the United States will, according to the Defence Department, bring together approximately 300 world leaders, academics, policy makers, journalists, and business leaders for a “free-flowing discussions on defence and security issues of common interest.”

Dan Dugas, MacKay’s director of communications, said in an email that it was the German Marshall Fund who decided who should be invited to the forum, not MacKay.

The Chronicle Herald reported on Friday that MacKay, who represents the federal riding of Central Nova, has been behind the effort to hold the forum in his backyard.

Kenny said he requested that he be allowed to attend the forum and had received approval from Defence Department deputy minister Robert Fonberg. But then Kenny was told he could not attend.

“The restriction of the Canadian delegation to yourself and Ms. Wallin seems curious, because I cannot believe that you would wish to politicize an event that is of obvious interest to people of all political stripes who have demonstrated that they take Canadian security seriously, and have lobbied repeatedly for improved Canadian security,” Kenny wrote in an earlier letter to MacKay.

Defence Watch sent an email to the German Marshall Fund of the United States requesting comment but got no response. The Defence Department also did not respond to a request for comment.

Craig Kennedy, president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, has called the event “the first gathering of its kind in North America.”

The speakers and participants will come from the ranks of defence ministers, four-star generals, politicians, policymakers, academics, and opinion leaders from all over the world, he added.

“GMF does not take sides on the various issues being discussed at the Forum,” he recently wrote. “Rather, our goal is to get the appropriate players to the table to solve issues co-operatively and collaboratively. We feel this is best done in an environment that encourages debate and candour, and we achieve this through a format that does not rely on formal speeches but rather on discussions led by experienced moderators and with active audience participation.”

Among those attending are U.S. defence secretary Robert Gates, Senator John McCain, U.S. Admiral James Stavridis, the supreme allied commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Europe and NORAD commander Gen. Victor Renuart.

On Saturday MacKay will join Admiral Mark Fitzgerald, Commander of the United States Naval Forces Europe, Admiral Edouard Guillaud, Military Advisor to the President of France, and the Eimert van Middelkoop, Minister of Defence of the Netherlands, in a panel discussion on piracy.

Gates used the meeting on Friday to suggest that the U.S. could withhold some of the funding for Afghanistan if President Hamid Karzai government doesn’t crack down on widespread corruption in his administration.