There was a revelatory moment over the weekend when Defense Minister Bill Blair sought to bridge the gap between rhetoric and reality in the Liberal government’s spending plans for the department and the Canadian Armed Forces.
Asked about the expected (and long overdue) update to defense policy (allegedly brought to a halt two years ago by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine), Prime Minister Blair said the reset was now called fiscal. He admitted that he was being watched through a lens.
“We said we were going to bring forward a new defense policy update. We’ve been working on that,” Blair told CBC. rosemary burton live on sunday.
“The current fiscal environment facing this country requires an update to defense policy… We need to recognize the fiscal challenges and that… will be part of the future budget process. It will be.”
This is an important statement in light of today’s federal fiscal update. This also raises questions. Has the Trudeau government, which initially billed itself as an “evidence-based” government, viewed its current defense policy through an affordability lens?
In recent weeks, Prime Minister Blair has been called upon to defend the planned $1 billion annual cut to defense spending – part of the federal government’s overall spending cuts plan – at a time of geopolitical turmoil.
The government initially denied cuts to defense spending, but its message has since focused on fiscal health and accountability to taxpayers weighed down by high living costs.
Last week’s federal budget estimates and announcements of additional spending effectively led to a surge in claims that defense spending cuts are not worth the cuts. Questions also arose as to whether the original goals of defense policy were being achieved.
What the estimates are saying, what the minister is saying
In 2017, the Liberal government estimated it would spend $29.8 billion on national defense in the current budget year.
Meanwhile, the supplementary budget estimates total defense spending for this year at $28.9 billion, of which $500 million will go to the Ukrainian military rather than the Canadian Armed Forces.
Add up the difference and you’ll find a cut of “almost $1 billion” as warned by the country’s top military commander, or “$900 million plus change” as the deputy defense minister put it.
Nevertheless, at the Halifax International Security Forum last weekend, Prime Minister Blair struck a decidedly hawkish tone in front of a hawkish audience.
“We are already investing in major new military capabilities in all areas, but I reiterate that additional investments are needed and will continue,” he said in his opening remarks Friday. . “We know we need resources to realize our aspirations.”
Later, in a series of media interviews, the minister became more specific.
“We need to spend more money on the right things,” he told CBC News.
“We need to spend more on munitions. We need to spend more on military platforms, aircraft, submarines and ships. We need to spend more on the equipment, resources and training that the Canadian Armed Forces need.”
The problem with Prime Minister Blair’s statements is how they continue to conflict with reality. A huge cash injection to buy 88 new F-35 fighter jets, a new patrol frigate and even an MQ-9 Reaper drone is still three to five years away.
Them This is the “aspiration” that Prime Minister Blair was talking about.
what’s happening now is also very clearly stated in the same recently released federal estimates. These indicate the Liberals intend to cut $500 million government-wide this fiscal year, amounting to $211.1 million at the Department of Defense alone.
The current mini-budget may tell you what future cuts will look like. Given that current defense policy foresees a sharp increase in spending related to the purchase of big-ticket items such as new fighter jets and new naval frigates.
The latest signals from Prime Minister Blair have been unmistakable.
“We may not be moving as fast as we hoped, but we have to keep moving forward,” he said.
Some defense analysts question whether the new defense policy makes any sense, given that even the goals set out in the 2017 policy document have not been met.
The military is ‘unable’ to meet the conditions of the 2017 National Defense Policy
One of the policy objectives of the current defense plan is to Powerful, Safe, and Aggressiverequired the military to be able to carry out “two sustained deployments of 500 personnel simultaneously.” [to] The 1,500 troops are stationed in two different theaters of operations, one of which is the lead nation. ”
The footnote notes that recent estimates indicate that the Canadian Armed Forces is “currently unable to conduct multiple operations simultaneously in accordance with the requirements set out in the 2017 National Defense Policy. CAF force readiness has continued to decline throughout the last year and this “It got even worse,” he said. This is due to a reduction in personnel and problems with equipment and vehicles. ”
Some analysts believe that even if the federal government achieves its overall budget reduction targets, despite ministers’ pledges, what has been and will be taken from defense will not be replaced. He says he thinks there is.
Geordie Jeakins said: “Reversing the trend of deficit reduction does not guarantee a significant increase in defense spending, because many other issues, from living costs and housing affordability to health care and climate change, “Many domestic issues will be major competitors for additional spending.” Defense and aerospace analysts at consulting firm Oliver Wyman said in a policy paper published by the Canadian Institute for Global Affairs.
“This is all despite the fact that a recession or other external shocks could further complicate the fiscal situation.”
Mr. Jekins went on to say that the Liberal government’s policy goal of “reorienting CAF’s mission to something more proactive” would likely be a costly endeavor.
“The new National Defense Strategy requires careful consideration of whether Canada wants to take on this role and, if so, how it intends to marshal its resources to make it happen.”
It’s unlikely that Tuesday’s mini-budget will bring such dizzying clarity. Prime Minister Blair implicitly acknowledged this point in an interview with CBC News when he explained his own assurances to the security forum:
“I simply acknowledged to the venue that there is a lot of work to do, and first and foremost we need to secure the funding necessary to make those investments,” he said.