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Politics of Base Selection

Minister of National Defence for Air, C.G. Power.The act of political patronage has often been alluded to in the process of base selection during the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). However, until recent years, no one had taken a close look at official files and found any sort of conclusive evidence. In 2000, Carleton University student Rachel Lea Heide completed a paper entitled “The Politics of British Commonwealth Air Training Plan Base Selection in Western Canada”. Through her research of government documents, she came to realize although many believed ridings that elected Liberal candidates were awarded air bases, evidence to support that claim simply does not exist.

Parliament HillHeide reconstructs the base selection process through researching Department of Transport (DoT), Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and Aerodrome Development Committee (ADC) files. 

It seems that communities were awarded bases only if their sites met technical criteria and were cost effective. Officials would not budge on their decisions, even with extensive lobbying efforts. This did not, however, stop various communities from trying. In fact, Heide discovers lobbying occurred to such an extent that she breaks it down into segments. In what she calls the early lobbying years, Heide describes lobbyists as altruistic. The correspondence on file documents community sentiment to be eager to participate in the war effort by hosting an air base. As base selection continued, correspondence from communities became more insistent. The people in the lobbying communities wanted to participate in the war effort, but expressed that this opportunity was inaccessible to them because the government had not presented them with an air base from where to do so. Later still, these communities lobbied on the premise that they simply deserved a school because of their political affiliations to the Liberal government. When this approach didn’t work, lobbyists became even more aggressive, threatening to discontinue their support for the government if they did not receive an air base. Even still, base selection officials did not waver.

RCAF SymbolAnother reason for Heide’s conclusion of lack of partisan politics in base selection is that decisions about base selection were made by RCAF officers and elected officials merely signed their recommendations. The site selection reports, final decisions and reasons for awarding or rejecting a site illustrate the effort to meet technical criteria, not political ends. In evaluating which constituencies were awarded aerodromes, no political pattern can be found. Liberal ridings were not awarded air bases any more or less than ridings that had elected members of other parties. 

Heide, Rachel Lea. The Politics of British Commonwealth Air Training Plan Base Selection in the West, M.A. Thesis. (Ottawa: Carleton University, 2000).

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