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
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.
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
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.