A report by David Perry of the Conference of Defence Associations Institute entitled Defence after the Recession analyses the effect of decreased spending on the Department of National Defence. Widely reported and little read that report deserves further examination
The Government of Canada spends a little less then 8 per cent of its budget on Defence. At something like 1.3 per cent of our gross domestic product this works out to about $560 per capita. These figures, contrary to the claims of both the Conservative Government and the Peace movement are not high for a country like Canada and well within our historic norms.
The economics of Defence spending are debatable. While the government likes to believe it can be a positive factor for the economy there is no reason to believe that Defence spending is inherently any better economically then any other form of government expenditure.
Over the last few years the Government has increased the deficit to deal with the recession but now believes it is in a position to cut the budget to deal with that deficit. As a result, defence spending which peaked in 2011/2012 will decline over the next three years.
By 2014/2015 the required reduction will be $2.1 billion, or 10.5 per cent of the budget base. The Government and the DND have determined that they do not want to cut spending for personal or for capital equipment projects.
The strategy embraced by the government and the DND of concentrating spending cuts on operations and maintenance will have the two consequences. It will affect the ability of the DND to complete its re-equipment plan and it will affect readiness.
The Canada First Defence Strategy (CFDS) was built on a promise of predictable, long term funding. In truth the CFDS was never adequately funded. General Andrew Leslies’ “Report on Transformation 2011” made this clear. The combination of the original inadequate funding and the new budget reality means the CFDS is no longer a realistic goal.
In fact, as Ughurhan Berkok, a policy studies professor and adjunct chain of Queens University’s defence management studies has noted, many of the major procurements the Conservatives have pushed forward on decisively-such as buying new Hercules transports and Cyclone helicopters-were initiated by the Liberals. It might even be argued that the Conservatives haven’t signed a contract for any major purchase beyond those planned by previous governments.
According to General Walter Natynczyk, Chief of the Defence Staff, readiness “is the degree of preparedness and responsiveness of our forces that allows me to deploy them with little notice in response to government direction. It's the ability to get the right people, with the right skills and the right equipment, into the right place at the right time and to sustain that for as long as government requires.”
The new budget acknowledges that with the end of the combat mission in Afghanistan the Canadian Forces will “transition to a lower pace of operations”. I suspect that most people assumed that this meant that that the Forces would be “good to go, but not going as much”. It would appear that given the new reality of less money being spent on readiness related items what it really means is “can’t go as often with as much”
Canadians and their government need to understand these new realities. As David Perry calls for in his report “It is time for a new Canada First Defence Strategy”