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Michel Maisonneuve: Cutting $1B from our already underfunded military is preposterous

Canada has national defence crisis. What are the Liberals thinking?

Military personnel aboard the Canadian frigate HMCS Halifax take part in an exercise in the Mediterranean in a file photo from 2019.
Military personnel aboard the Canadian frigate HMCS Halifax take part in an exercise in the Mediterranean in a file photo from 2019. Photo by Cpl. Braden Trudeau / Canadian Combat Forces Camera

The unthinkable has been confirmed — Canada’s long-neglected Department of National Defence is facing nearly $1 billion in cuts by the Liberal government.

Speaking to the House of Commons’ defence committee on Thursday, Deputy Minister of Defence Bill Matthews admitted there will be an “impact.” Ya think? Does this announcement not strike everyone as preposterous in light of the ongoing crisis in our military and the continuing deterioration of the international security situation?

National Post

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Let’s see what might be the results of these cuts. First, all procurement projects will be revised and most likely several will be descoped — meaning they will be delayed or the spending spread to further out years. This would be less of a problem if the need for new equipment was not as dire as it is now. We’ve all heard of our soldiers in Latvia having to buy their own equipment and I have heard reports of the tank fleet being 95 per cent unusable. The announced Norad modernization project will likely be delayed, which is sure not to impress our U.S. allies.

Second, spending on operations and maintenance of the department will be reviewed with a view to reducing activities to the bare minimum: cutting training, reducing travel and participation in international forums and exercises, and reducing once again the maintenance of infrastructure and equipment. In the past year alone, Canada could not provide troops to Haiti and did not participate in NATO’s Air Defender exercise in Europe.

Then we move on to personnel. It has been widely reported that the CAF are missing 12,000 to 16,000 military personnel. If that is the case, DND has not had to pay these people for several years so there should already have been huge savings as personnel costs are about half of the entire DND budget. Nevertheless, a further billion-dollar reduction may mean there will be reduced recruiting efforts: less money for recruiting drives, appearance in events, etc. Budgetary pressure may mean empty civilian DND positions will remain unfilled, and contractors — who support DND because of a lack of permanent personnel — will be cut or not hired. And let us not forget the reserves, already the poorest of the poor in terms of budgets. They will be asked to cut, which means less training days available for our part-time personnel who serve at the same time as holding down a job, and are usually the first to be tasked in support of domestic emergencies such as floods and forest fires.

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This is simply not good news and there should be huge outrage about this situation. DND is one of the largest discretionary budgets available for cutting in the entire government. Discretionary means that the government has the freedom to fund or not fund the department. Health or pensions for example, are non-discretionary: the government must fund these programs. So DND gets hit once again. That in itself is ludicrous; the defence and security of Canada and Canadians should NOT be a discretionary budget item for any government. Canadians should never have to worry about their security or our sovereignty.

As minister of defence, Anita Anand vowed to bring “aggressive options” forward for budget increases above two per cent, at two per cent or below two per cent. But she was shuffled out and replaced by Bill Blair, undoubtedly a less aggressive minister. Anyone with their head out of the sand would have protected the defence budget; it would have been the first sign that defence is important and maybe the first effort in promoting recruiting.

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It seems that no one in cabinet or indeed within the defence department has been able to question these cuts, which come after this government’s profligate spending on everything but the military over the past number of years, with no regard to deficits or the national debt. In spite of this situation, spokespersons still parrot the old line that Canada has the sixth largest defence budget in the NATO alliance (although it famously fails to meet the NATO defence spending target of two per cent of GDP) and “will continue to make landmark investments to equip our armed forces.”

It is long past time for a whole-of-government effort led by the prime minister to sort out the crisis in national defence. It is also time for the DND budget to go into the category of non-discretionary, stable, multi-year funding so that the men and women of our armed forces can plan and manage long-term spending without fear of annual cuts. That’s the very least they deserve.

National Post

Lt.-Gen. (retd) Michel Maisonneuve spent 35 years in the Canadian Armed Forces and 10 more as academic director of RMC Saint-Jean. He was named the 30th laureate of the Vimy Award in 2020.

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