The North Side entrance is one of the main ways into the old NDHQ building.  It’s opens on a busy street with several bus routes stopping right outside the doors, that is frequently busy with pedestrian traffic (although this is usually people going to the Rideau Centre shopping mall across the street).  Heading west from NDHQ you will cross cross the Rideau Canal and pass between the National Arts Centre on the north and Confederation Park on the south.  I talk about the details about the scenery here.

So why is this important?

General Bishop left NDHQ by the Mackenzie Street entrance, hardly acknowledging the salutes of the soldiers passing him in the doorway. He stepped into the back of his waiting staff car, while Colonel Dobson slid into the front seat beside the driver. For the first time in his appointment as CDS, Bishop had accepted a military police escort, even though he was only travelling the short distance to Parliament Hill.

I’m not 100% sure where exactly this is taking place.  The Mackenzie-King Street & Bridge is the road on the north side of the old NDHQ building.  So probably he means this place here:

Mackenzie King Bridge
NDHQ (centre) as seen from the Mackenzie-King Bridge, facing east. The Bus Stops are just beyond the traffic lights. The corner of the Rideau Centre shopping mall can been seen to the left.

It’s a bit of an odd location to meet with a staff car, since it can be a high traffic area filled with civilians and buses.  Plus you’d have to cross the street to get to a car waiting in the west-bound lanes (which is the direction Bishop is travelling).  It seems to me that a better option would be either the Colonel By or Nicholas St entrances, where Bishop could get into his (hopefully unmarked) staff car and leave unnoticed.

Colon By & Nicholas St Entrances
The Colon By (top) and Nicholas St (bottom) entrances to NDHQ.

Anothing interesting point: Because the Mackenzie-King entrance is such a high traffic zones where literally hundreds of CAF members entering and leaving every day, it is considered a ‘no saluting area.‘  This spares the daily commuters from having to walk around with their hands permanently flying up and down as they deliver and return salutes.  It’s one of those pragmatic things that you have to do to get by on a day-to-day basis.[1]

That having been said, if you’re the boss, you always return a salute. That’s a given. No matter how much of a hurry you’re in, you return the salute.

This isn’t a case of me nitpicking here, and you’ll see why in a moment.  Saluting is a gesture of professionalism.  It shows that you are a committed soldier who respects the chain of command even if you might not respect the specific commander. If you’re the commander, then returning the salute is the acknowledgement of that soldier’s professionalism.  It’s a way of saying ‘I recognize your gesture of respect and return it’ and it’s important.

Historically there’s always been generals who were famously casual in their demeanour.  Or at least, generals who seemed that way.  To use a Canadian example Gen Julian Byng (the British officer who commanded the Canadians at Vimy Ridge) was famous for returning salutes “only as far as his hand would move in its pocket,” which is saying something given that even today putting your hands in your pockets is considered crass and unbecoming of a soldier.[2]  But it’s worth noting, even Byng returned a salute.

So why is this important?  Let’s take a look at the scene Bishop surveys as he arrives at the Langevin Block to meet with the Prime Minister.

The prime minister had called a meeting in his office to plan the government’s response to the crisis in Quebec. As he entered the room and looked around the table for his allotted seat, Bishop noted that the gathering was unusually grand. The deputy prime minister and the five cabinet ministers of the Defence and Security Committee were huddled in a corner; their deputy ministers stood about or consulted hurriedly with the clerk of the Privy Council, the governments’s chief bureaucrat and their real boss. Three senators from Quebec joined the meeting and moved uninvited to the head of the table. Bishop nodded to RCMP Commissioner Jean Richard and the director of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service, Heidi Gunter. Several lesser bureaucrats sat in or hovered about the chairs lining the conference room walls. As the CDS set his notes and files in front of his allowed seat at the table, Jack Hemp strode through the door and motioned everyone to their places.

‘Lesser bureaucrats.’ Fuck off, Bland.

There’s a mindset that’s popular with a certain class of officer/NCO (and I’m sure that’s it’s common in the public service too) that equates a person’s rank with their knowledge and ability. That somehow the officer is automatically more capable than all of their troops combined. After all, that’s why they’re in charge, right?

I shouldn’t need to be said, but this is not a healthy mindset.

A quick refresher: In the Canadian government, a Minister is the elected member of Parliament who is assigned to a particular portfolio (such as Finance or Environment) and heads up the entire Ministry. They hold ultimate decision making power, and take responsibility for anything the Ministry does.

This does not make them the smartest people in the room. Just that they’re the elected officials who hold responsibility.[3] The Deputy Minister, on the other hand, is a life-long bureaucrat who has served in their Ministries for most of their career and (ideally) is an expert in their field. So in a meeting like this, the Ministers are making the call, but it’s the Deputy Ministers who are the experts.

As for those lesser bureaucrats? Odds are they’re at this meeting explicitly because they are experts as well. Likely they hold the very specific, very specialized knowledge that their respective DMs have deemed important for this meeting (like someone from Infrastructure who’s an expert on the Québec power grid). That potentially makes them some of the most valuable people in the room.

Also, it’s true that – technically – the Clerk of the Privy Council is the leader of all public servants.  This does not mean that they commands some kind of fifth column within the government which needs to be viewed with suspicion. Public servants…serve Canada, the same as soldiers.  It’s kind of in the name.  Clerk of the Privy Council is the public servant (of Canada) who is the boss of public servants (who also serve Canada) as they serve Canada.  That’s about it.

Now Senators in Canada are a bit of an interesting bunch. Around these parts, Senators are not elected, but appointed by the government and hold the position for life. The Senate is referred to as “the sober House of second thought” and they have the power to delay, modify and expand on legislation that the House of Commons (where the elected people are) tries to pass. Probably the best comparison is with the British House of Lords, except that instead of an inherited title, their Senatorship comes by political patronage.

In theory the system can work out fine. Appoint intelligent and experienced individual to a position where they will have the budget and authority to do long-term legislative work without the burden of having to chase the latest trends in order to survive the next election. Some of our better Senators have dedicated years of their life to studying complex issues and drafting appropriately complex legislation to deal with it.[4] The popular image might paint the Senate is as a bastion of croneyism (everyone brings up how Brian Mulroney appointed 8 new Senators in order to force through the GST), filled with clueless embarrasments (Lynn Beyak, I’m looking at you) but at the most basic level the Senate’s full of Canadians with a great deal of seniority and experience, and that’s not nothing.

If there’s three Senators from Québec at this meeting, it’s a safe bet that they have something in particular to contribute. Perhaps they’re from the affected areas, or they know some of the key people involved in this latest phase of the uprising. Bland never considers the possibility in his novel but in real life but we have a few Senators who are Indigenous. While they might be more from Al Onanole’s generation than from Molly Grace’s, people like that could be vital in a crisis like this.

But as far as Bland is concerned, there’s the Ministers (important), Deputy Ministers (most important of the underlings), followed by the underlings themselves. Meanwhile the Senators are obviously intruders, given that they couldn’t possibly have anything worthwhile to contribute. The fact that the Senators are from Québec only serves to make them suspicious.  Because…you know…they’re French

Standing behind his own chair, gripping the seat back, Hemp began speaking. “We are facing a damn serious national crisis. I intend to show that this government is fully capable of resolving this matter and that we will not allow lawless actions by anyone to direct the affairs of the country.” He turned his chair back, sat down, and leaned forward with his elbows on the table. “Having said that, however,” he continued, “you know that in international affairs I’m a peacekeeper – talking is better than fighting and all that. But that’s for domestic consumption and it keeps us out of difficult commitments and, General Bishop, the army out of the treasury.” A few politicos at the table and around the room snickered, but Bishop ignored the laboured and inappropriate joke.

It is an inappropriate joke, and also kind of clueless too.  The NPA has just taken control of downtown Montreal (as well as Québec City, and Trois Rivières) essentially bringing the entire Province to a screeching halt ecconomically.  They are also in control of the Robert Bourassa hydro electric dam (aguably the single most valuable piece of infrastructure in the country) and have just turned off the electricity to most of eastern Canada.

Balancing the budget should be the last thing on Jack Hemp’s mind.

Like if they get lucky, and the cold weather holds off for a couple of months, they might be able to avoid too many civilian deaths from the power outtages.

If it doesn’t get too cold before they can retake the dam.  Or too hot for that matter.[5]  We’re seeing right now just how bad things can get when a heat wave sets in?  A cold snap without electricity can be just as bad. Especially if there’s fighting in the streets.

If Bland wants to portray Jack Hemp as the quintessential slimy politician he should have him screaming at General Bishop, demanding he crush the uprising NOW, then acting surprised that throwing money at the problem won’t produce instant results.

“All right then,” said Hemp, going into his gruff, theatrical, take-charge tone, “what do we know for sure? Perhaps, General Bishop, you could bring us up-to-date on the military situation.”

The next several paragraphs is a re-hash of what we already know.  Montreal and Québec City are under attack, as are several other smaller towns throughout southern Québec.  James Bay has been taken over and the Robert Bourassa hydro electric dam is in the hands of the Movement and the power has been turned off for a good chunk of North America’s east coast.

“…I should stipulate that my actions were discussed with the minister of national defence and he has, so I understand, you concurrence with our preliminary deployments.”

Hemp nodded. “Yes, that’s right – for the preliminary deployments.”

Bishop let the remark hang in the air briefly then continued. “I have ordered the Commander Canada Command, Lieutenant General Lepine-”  Here he looked directly at the senators from Quebec. “He’s the commander responsible for domestic security and emergency management – to deploy the 5 Brigade from CFB Valcartier supported by troops from CFB Gagetown to aid the civil powers in Quebec…

Uh…I think the implication here is that Gen Bishop is assuming that the three Senators from Québec are likely to be hostile to him on principle. So he takes care to draw attention to a General with a French last name to…placate them?  Challenge them?  I’m really not sure what this hairy eyeball thing means.

The fact that General René Lepine is Indigenous and that the people seated around the table might raise some ugly questions about the man’s loyalty never seems to occur to Bland.  I mean, it shouldn’t be an issue.  A man with a lifetime of loyal service to the army should be above suspicion (except there’s Will Boucanier as a counter-example), but human nature is an ugly thing.  My point is, General Bishop seems to be fighting somekind of non-existent Anglo-French conflict while ignoring the fact that his man Lepine is vulnerable from to a whole different angle of attack.

“…That deployment is underway. I have also ordered the Special Service Regiment, our airnr battalion now assembled at CFB Trenton, to retake the James Bay facilities and to secure the region. That operation will begin this evening, and other units from the West are being readied to move into Quebec as transport assets become available.”

Too bad the ITAC hasn’t bothered to pass on any warnings to the CDS.  We’re still only two days into their five day contemplation!

Bishop was intentionally vague on these deployments simply because he had no way of knowing who in the room he could trust. He paused, looked around the table, then raised a pointed forefinger. “I must warn the cabinet,” he said solemnly, “that these are combat operations and although I have issued stringent rules of engagement, we expect to meet resistance in all sectors and to take casualties and to inflict casualties on the renegades.”

I’m…actually surprised that there aren’t a bunch of casualties already.  I mean, they had that crazed stampede in Montreal where people were literally crashing through storefront windows and warriors were hosing down incoming police cars with automatic weapons’ fire.  Are you telling me that there were no fataities from this?  Even suspected fatalities?

Does anyone remember Fred McTavish?  That was earlier this week!

Hemp smiled and held up a hand. “Whoa there, general. The CBC will never allow the word ‘renegades’ on air. We’d best think of something neutral.”

Eddie Geldt took the cue. “I’ll work on it.”

Andy Bishop frowned and closed his notes. “Thank you, prime minister. As soon as your staff finds a suitably polite word to describe the people who are attacking the country, disrupting our economy, and killing our citizens and soldiers, please let me know and I’ll incorporate it into our next briefing.

_sigh_  So this is obviously a reference to an incident when real-life CDS Gen Rick Hillier got into hot water (actually more like uncomfortably warm water) when he referred to the Taliban as ‘scumbags‘ and people got upset about it.  For some ultra-sensitive types, this was a classic ‘politically correct‘ reaction by weak-kneed liberals who ‘have more sympathy for the terrorists than the soldiers defending their freedoms!‘  Or something like that. In reality it was little more than a tempest in a tea pot.  In his memoires Gen Hillier dismisses the whole event with a little more than a paragraph of text.

Personally, I find it a lot creepier when a general uses impersonal, clinical language to describe the people that are being blasted to pieces by an industrialized war machine.  But that’s just me.

_______________

[1] The CFSU(O) (Canadian Forces Support Unit – Ottawa) main clothing store used to be located in the NDHQ building’s basement, which made for an intimidating experience for a new recruit when they first got their uniform and equipment issued.  You have to go in with an escort (since you don’t have your CAF ID yet) and after passing through a security checkpoint and getting warned that you’re not allowed to wander off on your on.  You then end up in a sketchy looking basement where a Service Battalion guy gives you a pile of barely serviceable second hand kit while acting like you’re wasting his time.  It’s an experience.

[2] Yes, even today.  We wear uniforms with dozens of pockets and if you put your hands in any of them you are a slack & idle bag of shit.

[3] About half of Canada’s Defence Ministers have military experience, though not all of them served in wartime.  As an illustration Harjit Sajjan, our current Minister of National Defence is the second Minister to have actual wartime military experience was a LCol in the Afghan War. The first was Others include Barney Danson (World War II veteran) and Sir Sam Hughes (Boer War). [Edited to correct previous error.]

[4] As an example of a Senator I personally have a lot of respect for, Senator Roméo Dallaire (retired CAF General who commanded the UN’s ill-fated mission to Rwanda during the genocide) has dedicated his career to confronting the problem of child soldiers in conflicts, as well as promoting mental health programs within the Canadian Forces.

[5] Plus it’s only a couple of years ago that we had a Brigade range weekend get shut down for several hours because of a freak September heat wave that pushed temperatures into dangerous ranges.  While it’s true that Canada is famous for her winters, the summers here can be brutal as well.

3 thoughts on “62-“Lesser”

  1. Nitpick – 20 of the 42 MNDs have had prior military service. And the %only gets higher when you look at the Ministers of Militia who often had simultaneous ranks in the militia while being the elected official in charge (Sam Hughes).

    Anyways, the Characterization of the CDS here reeks of a really bad 80s take on military-civil relations based off of grade C movies. All we needed was the hyper skilled soldier/sailor/pilot that just can’t accept limitations by lesser folks on their genius to show up (usually shown by the out of regs hairstyle) and win the day singlehanded while their more conventional plod along lot nearly lose the war by staying within the lines.

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    1. Hmmm…
      Maybe I’m thinking about MND who had actual combat experience. Although that would include Sir Sam Hughes as well (Boer War veteran). Dang. Should have double checked that point.

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      1. Ralston, McNaughton, Clayton and Pearkes (at least) had WWI and WWII combat experience.

        After Korea we didn’t do much ground combat, or near combat for about 45 years.

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