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Senate debates whether Canada belongs in the Navy

Earthquake-relief troops from HMCS Halifax prepare to go ashore off Jacmel, Haiti, on Jan. 26, 2010.

Sgt Bruno Turcotte/Sgt. Bruno Turcotte/Combat Camera

Is it time to bring back the Navy?

Senators are studying a motion to change the working name of Canada's marine military force from the functional-sounding "Maritime Command" to the "Canadian Navy" – a title that's been defunct for four decades.

This is a compromise position however; some Conservative senators hope to go even further and add the word "Royal" to make it once again the "Royal Canadian Navy."

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The Senate's national security and defence committee deliberates the matter Monday, hearing from retired naval commanders, officers and a historian.

Few Canadians outside the military realize that Canada, officially, has no army, navy or air force today. Instead, Canada is defended by the awkwardly-named Land Force Command, Maritime Command and the Air Command.

These units are a legacy of the Pearson and Trudeau government's late 1960s shakeup of the military that merged the three separate services into one. On February 1, 1968 the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army, and the Royal Canadian Air Force were unified into one service: the Canadian Armed Forces.

This controversial unification and renaming never sat well with serving or retired soldiers, who argued it was a blow to the esprit de corps of the separate branches of the military.

It's fallen to a Liberal senator to serve as the driving force behind a push to undo what former Liberal prime ministers did. Bill Rompkey, the sponsor of the Senate motion to rename Maritime Command, says it's about restoring a piece of Canada's identity.

"Maritime Command is a bland nonentity that ... has no discernible character with which the Canadian public can identify," Mr. Rompkey said earlier this year in defence of his proposal.

"Everyone knows the navy. The time has come to institutionalize the name 'Canadian Navy/La Marine Canadienne'," he said. "Let us throw Maritime Command overboard and signal that the Canadian Navy will be called officially the Canadian Navy/La Marine Canadienne."

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Conservative Senator Fabian Manning, as well as Liberal Senator Joseph Day, would like to amend the Rompkey motion and instead have "Royal Canadian Navy" restored as the force's title.

Mr. Manning has argued it would be more consistent to revert to Royal Canadian Navy.

"Cadets in Canada graduate from the Royal Canadian Sea Cadet program. Our veterans are part of the Royal Canadian Legion. We have the Royal Canadian Mounted Police ," the Conservative Senator told an October meeting of the Senate defence committee.

"Believe me, I am not promoting going back to the British Isles things. My ancestors on all sides of the family are from Ireland. I just want to make sure I get that out. "

"In my own personal view, creating a brand name is very important, and getting back to that is important, certainly in the hundred-year anniversary of the navy. 'Royal Canadian Navy,' to me, sounds consistent with much of what we have in our country."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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