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Art Eggleton

The Hon. Art  Eggleton, P.C. Senator Art Eggleton has served the people of Canada and the city of Toronto in public office for over 35 years. He was appointed to the Senate on March 24, 2005, by the Rt Honourable Paul Martin and represents the province of Ontario.

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Our military badly needs repair

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Published by Senator Colin Kenny on 10 June 2008

We can't defend Canada's sovereignty and advance its interests in the world for pennies on the dollar.

Don't get me wrong, General Rick Hillier is for real: a man among men, an inspirational leader and a Newfoundlander to boot. He's as close as you will get to a Canadian folk hero these days.

But if you think Lieutenant-General Walter Natynczyk, who is taking over as Canada's Chief of the Defence Staff from Gen. Hillier, is going to have big boots to fill, you're only half right. He is also going to have big boots to repair.

The Hillier brand sells: a rugged, no-nonsense straight-talker who stared down politicians and led Canada out of what he called a "decade of darkness" for the Canadian Forces.

I credit Gen. Hillier with instilling new pride among Forces personnel, and for restoring respect for the Forces among Canadians generally.

He has rightly prodded the Harper government to provide at least some of the equipment those troops need to survive the conflict in Kandahar - a conflict Gen. Hillier concedes is proving to be much more dangerous than he expected.

Under Gen. Hillier, the Canadian Forces have also added warrior credentials to peacekeeper credentials. That has come at a real financial and human cost, but toughness matters in the realpolitik of international affairs.

So why, with all those positives, is our military badly in need of repair? Two reasons: Stephen Harper and Rick Hillier.

First, the General. When Gen. Hillier took over, he promised to grow and transform the Canadian Forces even as Canada played a significant role overseas in one or more places like Afghanistan. To accomplish his vision, he was going to need two things: a transformation plan and money. Unfortunately, Gen. Hillier's transformation plan was flawed. Worse, he couldn't convince Mr. Harper to give him the money he needed, let alone transform the military.

Gen. Hillier's transformation plan superimposed a U.S.-style blueprint onto the Canadian military. Until a few years ago, the Canadian Forces had a Chief of the Defence Staff; a Deputy Chief of the Defence staff in charge of all operations, domestic and foreign; and a Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff who took care of internal issues and long-term planning. They pretty well did their jobs and stayed out of each other's way.

The new system featured a Chief of the Defence Staff, Gen. Hillier, and four commands reporting to him - in layman's terms, Canada Command, Overseas Command, Supply Command and Special Operations Command. Each built up its own sizable bureaucracy, draining the Forces of senior personnel needed for training and commanding troops. On top of that, Gen. Hillier's staff grew to more than 100 and too often micromanaged what should have been the work of the four commands.

Unfortunately, Canada's military is too small to carry an American-style command structure. Turf wars and duplication have abounded. A report brought down by three former senior officers recommended the new setup be blown up - but not until after the Olympics and Afghanistan were out of the way.

Anyone who thinks such organizational details are not newsworthy should understand that this muddle has created major problems, and Gen. Hillier's successor is going to have to untangle them or face unsustainable financial and personnel problems.

Meanwhile, Canada's commitment in Afghanistan has been sucking the marrow out of the Forces' bones. Skilled trades have been leaving for domestic jobs; recruitment has barely kept up with attrition; Ottawa cut its commitment to increase the Forces' regulars by 15,000 to 10,000, and cut its commitment to increase the Reserves to 10,000 down to 1,000.

The Harper government has announced it will increase military spending by 1.5 per cent per year until 2011, at which point increases will rise to 2 per cent annually. Even if military costs rose at the same level as the consumer price index, military spending would probably shrink every year under this plan, in terms of spending real dollars adjusted for inflation.

But military costs increase more quickly than the CPI, primarily because of ever-advancing technology, so spending after adjustments are made for inflation will shrink even more. We need to hold defence spending at a reasonable percentage of GDP, as other countries do.

There aren't a lot of votes in defence spending, and this government, which likes to parade around in fatigues, is the latest in a string of governments to starve Canada's military. Consider this: Pierre Elliott Trudeau was considered an enemy of the military, but some of his military budgets hit 2 per cent of GDP. Our current spending is 1.2 per cent of GDP - well below most middle-sized countries with similar interests, and second-lowest in NATO.

I estimate this government's stated budget plan for defence will drop that percentage to 0.87 per cent in 10 years. The Conference of Defence Associations estimates the percentage could fall as low as 0.77 per cent in 15 years.

In this year's strategic-needs reports, all three branches of the Forces projected dire deficiencies in their capacities to operate into the future under current funding projections. Whether you are a pacifist or a warmonger or somewhere in between, you should know that you can't defend your country's sovereignty and advance its interests in this world for pennies on the dollar.

This government will point to all kinds of expenditures it has made on expensive equipment. It will tell you that 1.5 per cent and 2 per cent annual expenditure increases are reasonable. But they are not reasonable when they won't even keep up with inflation, let alone get us out of the defensive hole Canada is quickly falling into.

The government, instead, should be committing to spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence, which would create a military budget of $35-billion in 2012. Its current blueprint won't get us to that figure until 2028. That means 16 years of serious underfunding.

Anyone who thinks Gen. Hillier succeeded in getting the government to revitalize our military better do the math.


Colin Kenny is Chair of the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence.

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