The Honorable Robert Douglas Nicholson, Minister of Justice and Attorney General
of Canada, The Honorable Peter Gordon MacKay – Minister of National Defence,
Chief of Maritime Staff (CMS) Vice-Admiral Paul Maddison, and Chief Petty Officer
1st Class Claude Laurendeau, Chief Petty Officer of the Navy arrive for the media announcement that Maritime Command and Air Command, the official names of the
two Canadian Forces’ units, will now be called Royal Canadian Navy and
Royal Canadian Air Force. Photo Credit: Corporal Dan Bard Formation Imaging Services
On August 16th, 2011, the current Canadian Government restored the titles of Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force. The official announcement was made by Defense Minister Peter MacKay during a ceremony at CFB Halifax. In his remarks, the Defense Minister reminded those in attendance that on August 16th 1911 (100 years ago) his majesty King George V signed a letter granting a royal designation to what was then known as the Canadian naval services, effectively giving birth to the RCN.
Mackay went on to say "Our Conservative government believes that an important element of the Canadian military heritage was lost when these three former services were required to relinquish their historic titles." He explained that one of the reasons for this decision was to align Canada with other key Commonwealth countries who use the royal designation.
The government was quick to answer any criticisms by stating the name changes would not involve any major cost and the current command structure would remain in place.
The decision effectively reverses a plan instituted over 43 years ago. In 1968, military forces in Canada consisted of the Royal Canadian Navy ( RCN), the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and a collection of units and regiments known collectively as the Canadian Army. The Canadian government - then lead by Prime Minister Lester B Pearson put into motion a unification plan which joined the three together under one command - the Canadian Forces. Canada's air force and navy were officially given the names Air Command and Maritime Command respectively. The Canadian Army would be known as Land Force Command. The objectives behind the unification plan were to eliminate competition between the branches and cut down on bureaucracy.
Paul Hellyer, defense minister under the Pearson Government, was the man responsible for putting the unification plan into action creating the unified command structure in 1968, said that current government were making a mistake.
"We're not fighting the First World War over again, we're not fighting the Second World War over again," he said. "Those days are past, they're part of our history. … Today is different, and we have to think ahead … we've got to have an organization which is really in tune with the times, which eliminates a lot of the nonsense that happened back in those days." (1)
“I think this is appalling … it’s abject colonialism,” said Jack Granatstein, military historian and author of Who Killed the Canadian Military? “I’m a historian, I think history matters, but we don’t have to be slavish in following it and restoring it,” said Mr. Granatstein. (2)
Douglas Bland, chairman of Defense Management studies at Queen’s University and author of Uprising, fears the name designation could be the beginning of a fissure that could become a headache for future governments. Future defense ministers could find themselves facing off against divided air force, navy and army leaders “trying to exert their influence on defense policy in the interest of their service.”
“It’s absolutely nostalgia by members of retired naval and air force establishments who pine for this kind of environment in which they lived,” he said. “I don’t think it’s something that deeply excites young soldiers and sailors.” (3)
A number of veteran groups spearheaded the campaign to have the Royal designation restored. Representatives from the Royal Canadian Legion said the name changes are an "emotional issue" for veterans. An official statement issued by the Legion said "The Royal Canadian Legion is pleased that the government is recognizing long-standing traditions that have served us well during our military history."
One veteran I spoke with at the Warrior's Day Parade in Toronto was grateful to the Canadian Government for restoring the Royal Designations. "Putting the 'Royal' back in the names reminds us of the great heritage we share. That doesn't stop us from looking ahead to the future, it just means we are honouring the past", he said.
During visits to the Canadian Armed Forces Display at the CNE and the HMCS Montreal at Queen's Quay in Toronto, I had the opportunity to ask a number of currently serving members of the Armed Forces what they thought of the return of 'Royal' designation. Most thought it was just a name change and didn't effect anything they were currently doing.
One sailor commented, "Just means they'll change the names on the stationery and have to redo some of the advertising."
(1) Quote appeared in an August 15 online article on the CBC News website
(2)(3) Quotes appeared in an August 15 online article of the National Post by Tristan Hopper