In a time when Canada’s defence is under intense scrutiny, the country’s leading soldier, along with independent specialists, have expressed concerns about the imminent cuts of nearly a billion dollars in the Department of National Defence budget. They worry these cuts will affect the operational competence of the armed forces, even as the Defence Minister asserts that the budget is not being slashed.
The Deputy Minister of the defence department, Bill Matthews detailed the plan to the parliamentary defence committee, asserting the identification of over $900 million in spending cuts over a period of four years. However, the impact on military readiness is to be minimized, with necessary prioritization of these decisions to reduce negative outcomes.
Canada’s top military official, Gen. Wayne Eyre, revealed the difficult conversations among top-tier commanders. He emphasized the undeniable effect of withdrawing nearly a billion dollars from the defence allocation, pressing that it is impossible to avoid an impact.
Meanwhile, Defence Minister Bill Blair’s spokesman, Daniel Minden, dismissed any suggestions that defence spending is being cut. In Minden’s statement, he underlined that overall defence expenditure has been and will continue to grow.
The latest federal budget anticipates the Defence Department’s budget will escalate to $39.7 billion by 2026-2027, from the current $26.5 billion. Much of this budget for the forthcoming years is tied to long-term expenditure commitments, including the procurement of 88 F-35 fighter jets.
The government’s plan for more than $15 billion in comprehensive savings over the next five years was also announced. This will include a reduction of 15% in consultation and professional services and travel, along with a 3% decrease in the departmental spending.
Anita Anand, recently transitioned from defence to the president of the Treasury Board, impressed the necessity of decision-making by October upon her colleagues. Anand’s new designation was determined shortly after she attended the NATO conference in Lithuania, along with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Here, members concurred on allocating a minimum of two percent of GDP on defence.
However, this may induce some pressing procurement projects like the shipbuilding strategy to be delayed, and the dependency on older equipment will increase, warned Blair.
Yet, the present defence budget of Canada is still just 1.3% of the GDP. Strikingly, the Liberal government never presented a plan to reach the agreed-upon two percent.
David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute sees a discrepancy in Anand’s approach, from advocating increased spending to now arguing for cuts. He explains the complexity of these cuts, emphasizing the uniqueness of the defence consulting contracts.
Defence policy expert Philippe Lagassé believes the planned savings may not be sufficient. He argues that defense spending increases when the economy is well, but as governments look to cut back on spending, the military often ends up in the firing line.
The Armed Forces also have to pay attention to the increasing gap in positions, with nearly 16,000 positions vacant and another 10,000 untrained soldiers.
As these shocking revelations emerge, members of the Conservative party voice their frustrations. Conservative MP John Brassard condemns the actions as a “disgrace” and accuses the government of dishonesty towards NATO allies.
Amidst the political melee, allied nations maintain a strict stance of non-interference in budget decisions but uphold their support for the NATO pledge. Yet, there is a persisting concern among Canada’s allies that local politics may trump international commitments.