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OTTAWA - The Canadian Army is marching into its past.
As part of the ongoing image makeover of the military, Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced Monday that the army will replace the Maple Leaf rank designation on the shoulder boards of officers with the traditional "pips" and Crowns in a nod to the country's past.
The ranks of non-commissioned officers will also be returned to the original British Army and Commonwealth designations.
The decision means the rank of private, within the army, will be virtually eliminated and replaced with trooper, bombardier, fusilier, rifleman or guardsman, depending upon the unit.
The designations were in place throughout the First and Second World Wars, when Canada achieved some of its greatest military triumphs, and the changes don't strip away any Canadian identity, but rather strengthen the bond with the past, MacKay said.
"This takes nothing away from the Maple Leaf," he said. "There are other places which the Maple Leaf is honoured. On the uniform, for example, our officers who accepted the (German) surrender, were wearing pips and Crowns. This in no way diminishes Canadian identity, and I would suggest we are returning to the insignia that was so much a part of what the Canadian Army accomplished in Canada's name."
MacKay pointed out that the Australians have always kept their army rank and insignia closely allied with the British tradition, despite a strong republican movement in that country.
The army is not alone. There have been subtle changes to the uniforms of naval officers, returning a distinctive curl to the cuff rings.
The Harper government, over the last couple of years, has returned different branches of the military to their 1960s pre-amalgamation names, re-introducing the Royal designation to the air force and navy.
In addition, it changed around the placement of flags on warships, moving the naval ensign — which is closely associated with the Royal Navy — back up to the mast and flying the Canadian flag from the bow whenever a ship was in port.
MacKay also announced on Monday the elimination of the geographic designations within the domestic army command, organizing different regions of the country into their historic "divisions," replacing the somewhat bland-sounding land forces designation.
Liberal defence critic John McKay was mystified by all the attention being paid to pageantry, and described it as a distraction from some of the real and substantive issues, particularly funding concerns, that are in front of the military.
"It is an announcement that is not substantive," he said from Toronto on Monday. "And I am not unmindful they would love to expunge anything Liberal out of Canadian history."
The unification of the military branches and common ranking system were introduced by the Liberals in 1968.
McKay said he's not heard a "hue and cry" from the ranks for a return to the old system, and suggested it might even be insulting to immigrants, especially those from countries that resented British colonial rule.
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