As has been widely reported the Liberal government’s first budget has no new money for big-ticket military items and instead shrinks funding by $3.72-billion over five years to account for major delays in plans to buy new fighter jets and ships.
In a pre election position paper entitled “Real Change, a plan to strengthen the economy and create jobs with navy investment.” the party argued that; “The Canada First Defence Strategy is under funded and out of date. We will immediately begin an open and transparent review process to create a new Defence White Paper that will replace Harper’s failed Canada First Defence Strategy.”
The same paper suggested that “A Liberal government will take immediate action to ensure that Canada’s Armed Forces have the equipment they need – and the support they require – to protect Canada and its sovereignty, while also growing local economies and creating jobs”
Of course that was then, before an election, and this is now, in a real budget, and it would appear that both “immediate action” and the idea of using increased defence funding to “strengthen the economy and create jobs” will have to wait. In fact the government has reallocated $3.761 billion from the 2016-17 to 2020-21 fiscal periods to future years so as to “align better with timelines for large-scale procurement projects, such as the replacement of Canada’s aging fleets of CF-18 fighter aircraft and maritime warship”
Of course there is nothing new about a Canadian government of any stripe finding it advisable to postpone defence spending. In fact this practice, like the Leafs disappointing their fans or Quebec running out of step with the rest of the country, could be considered one of the great verities of Canadian life.
The budget did however re-state the Liberal campaign commitment to develop a new defence strategy that the government says will include measures for accurate costing for major defence procurement, as well as providing Canadians with regular updates on project costs and timelines
If it is true that the government hopes to develop a new defence strategy, by which we take it to mean they plan to write a new Defence White Paper, then perhaps the time has come to adapt “Sunny Ways” process.
There are a lot of questions that need to be answered: "What role will the Canadian Armed Forces play in the defence of Canada? Where and how will the Canadian Armed Forces cooperate with United States military forces in the defence of North America? Why, how and where will the Canadian Armed Forces be deployed abroad? What are the Canadian interests that will guide our military deployments? What kind of military do we need?"
But before these questions can be answered a fundamental change has to occur. The government must consult the public, industry and the other political parties and find agreement from all on the essential ingredients a of Canadian defence policy.
What is needed is all-party consensus that military defence is in the national interest. To achieve this Canadians must convince their politicians that there is a strong public expectation that political parties and their leaders will work together to achieve a common vision on security which will inform choices on strategic policy, defence budgets and procurement
Canada has not had a broad public or political consensus on major military matters for some years and there is no chance that will happen as long as Canadians and their elected representatives do not regard national defence as a priority. If there is any good to come of this budget then it may be because this will be a chance for that to happen.
Military left waiting on big-ticket items as Liberals shrink funding in budget
Real Change, a plan to strengthen the economy and create jobs with navy investment
Military equipment gets no extra funding
Why Canada's New National Defence Policy Matters