The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan was designed Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand and Australia in 1939 and fully implemented in 1940. Its purpose was to handle all of the Allies’ air training programs within Canada. This included training programs for pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, wireless operators, air gunners, and flight engineers. More than 130 000 people in total were trained at these bases across Canada from 1940-1945. This is one of Canada’s greatest contributions to the Second World War. A total of 231 sites were stationed all across Canada in every province except Newfoundland that would train these aircrew. Canada funded the majority of these training operations, spending $1.6 billion dollars of the $2.2 billion total (unadjusted for inflation). This was a massive amount and went way over the proposed $600 million total budget. However it was necessary to focus many of Canada’s resources on this project as the Allies needed lots of trained aircrew.
At the time, this program changed Canadian social, political and economic values and norms, not just because it was a vast enough project that happened to cover all of these, but because it both was changed by these ideas, and changed the idea of Canadian identity afterwards. The first key factor going into this was the massive amount of money spent. This is an economic factor, as it caused a lot of tax dollars, however it also was a political decision. When the plan went over budget, Canada’s government paid more than a billion dollars than the original budget. This was a big political decision and because of this, we can infer something about how the Canadian government valued an indirect war effort like training all of the Allies aircrew. This is a very Laurier like decision, as it focuses on not putting Canada right in the action, but rather helps their allies in a support role. This decision, also changed a lot of the Canadian populations opinion on Canada at the time for the better; a social change happened. People were proud that Canada was helping with the war effort and when the plan first launched, many Canadians visited the new airbases and held community celebrations in support. Some of the more extravagant celebrations such as the one at Regina included a marching band, an afternoon of sports, and a roast beef dinner. This shows the support that Canadians had for this new program.
This program furthered Canada’s autonomy by showing that Canada was able to fight in the war in their own way; through the support of troops overseas. The many training bases across Canada were celebrated by the Canadian citizens. The approach Canada took by focusing many of their resources on this project is different than most other countries. Canada wanted to help and be involved in the conflict, but wasn’t ready to send out massive amount of troops (they still sent some) overseas. They rather played a big support role that furthered their autonomy. Canada wasn’t reliant on other countries during this war, other countries were reliant on on Canada. This was a political autonomy given to Canada, as this left us more free to make political decisions and gave us bargaining power when making them.
However, this political autonomy didn’t necessarily translate to a changed social autonomy. Canadians were very supportive of this program, however they were less autonomous due to it. When being supportive of the program, they were so focused on it that they didn’t change their initial supportive opinions of the plan over the years of World War 2. Because of the high stakes and pressure put on most people during World War 2, they were quick to support new movements like the British Air Training program, but didn’t reflect on changing their opinions. This limited their social autonomy, however, it was beneficial due to the war times requiring a lot of support from everyone.