Thursday, 28 February 2013


The government has announced budget cuts which affect the Department of National Defence.(1)  A spokesman for the minister of National Defence said reductions were to be anticipated after the Afghan war.

"Canada ended its combat mission in Afghanistan in 2011 and will end its military training mission in 2014," said Jay Paxton.

"Naturally taxpayers would no longer be absorbing the costs associated with our training mission to Afghanistan when the deployment of our military members is complete."

In this same vein it has been suggested that the effect of not anticipating future deployments in the new budget is that the military will have to scramble to find the funds when something does happen.

This is not strictly true. As a general rule wars and other major operations are not funded in by the Department of National Defence out of their own budget. At least in theory its annual spending plan is designed to maintain the readiness of the Canadian Forces by training and equipping them.

In point of fact, the government funded much, but not all, of Afghanistan through special appropriations. National Defence was forced to raid some of its program budgets in order to cover the difference.

Since the Armed Forces became involved in Afghanistan, and since the Conservative government decided to cast itself in the role of savior of the Armed Forces, the budget for the DND has grown substantially.  From a budget of roughly $15 billion in 2005 to a high of close to $23 billion in 2012 the department has been on a spending spree. While billed as necessary to make up for previous parsimony, it is also true that weaning the military off this comparative windfall of cash will not be easy.

The idea that the nation can’t trim its military spending back to previous levels is one not shared by the general public. The Conservatives have discovered, as many governments before them, that, lacking an obvious threat or the deployment of Canadian forces in harms way, the Canadian public is not interested in spending money on defence. They have found that for all their rhetoric about supporting the troops it is far easier to cut military spending then to cut the various entitlement programs so close to Canadian hearts. ( While "entitlements" is not a phrase as common in Canadian discussions as in some others, it still fits.)

While it is true that the Armed Forces will have to make do with less in the future, it is not impossible. Making do with less, in Canadian terms, means that the department must make clear to its political masters that with fewer resources they can do fewer things. As easy as it will be for them to present politically unpalatable alternatives, “no more Snowbirds, no more search and rescue” in hopes that the politicians will reject these suggestions it is a mistake. There will be less money. The Generals are going to have to take a hard look at which capabilities they can save by downloading to the reserves, even if it is at the expensive of the regular forces budget, and those which they are genuinely going to have to forgo rather then impact the readiness and training of those forces that are available.

 (1) Canadian military may slash overseas spending