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Luke Skywalker was the daring young man in Star Wars who took on the Evil Empire, zipping about in space, destroying the bad guys and bringing peace to his world.
Luke Skywalker was the daring young man in Star Wars who took on the Evil Empire, zipping about in space, destroying the bad guys and bringing peace to his world. His equipment looked a little out of date, somewhat like our Canadian Armed Forces use, but he got the job done.

The CAF is having a difficult time attracting new pilots. It seems we are short some 80 or so daring young men and women for our flying machines. Why are our young people not applying for one of the most exciting careers in the world?

At first DND thought that their requirement that all pilots must have a university degree was holding back applicants. In a bold move, they reduced the educational requirement to completion of secondary school. One might think this would open a flood-gate of young people rushing to the recruitment centres. Wrong. Two. Yep, they got two potential pilots.

What is keeping our young people away from flying? Are they not as adventurous or daring as the generation ahead of them? Are they satisfied with arcade games, motorcycles, sea-doos and other make-believe adventure toys? Or is it something else?

The odds of becoming a helicopter pilot after training are quite high since the forces needs helicopter crews. Is the specter of flying a Sea King too much? By the time Martin and his Liberals take delivery of the new helicopters, a new recruit could be thinking of retirement!

How about flying an aged Hercules into short strips in a foreign land while taking ground fire? Really, what’s wrong with flying an airplane that is older than you are? Of course, a new recruit could eventually end up being the pilot of the Prime Minister’s new Challenger, but you need a lot of hours to qualify for that position.

What used to be the goal of all recruits was to fly the CF-18, but even now these old aircraft, tired of pulling high G’s, badly in need of upgraded electronics, are not sought-after prizes. Fighter pilots need many hours to become proficient but budget cutbacks keep the high–maintenance old fighters on the ground much of the time.

I suppose the thrill of ‘piloting’ an unmanned spy plane from a computer in Afghanistan isn’t all that appealing unless you like Flight Simulator. Those hours on the joystick will not count when a pilot applies to Air Canada for an airline pilot position.

The pay is not bad, although not anywhere near what experienced airline pilots earn. So maybe it’s the danger. Flying at any time has its own risks, but flying in old equipment is perhaps pushing the risk/reward envelope.

If it is the risk/reward, then we might want to look at other careers. I wonder how we are going to attract new health workers – nurses and doctors – when we have dangerous contagions like SARS. No amount of money will be enough when the risk of death or permanent disability faces you (and your family) in the workplace.

Where are we going to get our nurses and military pilots? Or the people who work in health care support services? Or find soldiers and seamen who will go into places like Iraq and Afghanistan where soldiers are suffering physical and mental stress beyond what they expected?

Can we hire people to take over these dangerous tasks? It is one thing to hire someone at minimum wage to clean our hotels, work in fast food dispensaries or care for our aged, but do we want to hire mercenaries whose loyalty is to a dollar, not Canada?

It is not as if we might be attacked by anyone other than the Americans, but we do have international responsibilities for peace-making and peace-keeping. We do need a trained force here at home to assist in natural disasters or maintaining order in time of crisis. I prefer to have our own troops do this, not hired mercenaries.

What of the health care workers? How can we improve their working conditions to reduce the risks they now face in a world where diseases can spread at the speed of airliners? For one thing, we can better manage crises by improved training for health care workers and their managers in the recognition and containment of viruses like SARS. We can ensure that the funds are available to do this.

The Dalton Gang promised 8,000 new nurses for Ontario, but like all election promises there was little thought on just how to make this happen. It takes years to train a nurse – you just can’t run an ad in the local paper and expect to have qualified people lining up for the job. DND tried that with their pilots.

Because the cupboard is bare, the Dalton Gang will have to find the annual $600,000,000 to pay these people. (I think they said something about more teachers too.) One answer may be to allow the many doctors and nurses who have trained in their native land to get into our system much faster. We could call them Mercy-naries until they get their full Canadian citizenship.

Healthcare, education and defence have all been under-funded in the past years and it is time to focus again on these basic needs of Canadians. Our governments at all levels must manage our resources more effectively. We need some accountability, every day, not every three or four years.

We need the equivalents of Luke Skywalker or Princess Leia to fill our critical needs in health, education and defence – willing young people to step into these demanding jobs. We need our politicians to take charge, root out waste and help this generation get us back on track to being Number One again.

Bill Walton

About the Author: Bill Walton

Retired from City of North Bay in 2000. Writer, poet, columnist
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