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A budget boost now, please, Prime Minister Harper

While The Ruxted Group is inclined to believe that the recent (17/18 Jan 07) flurry of public and political outrage at the Canadian Navy’s financial problems is contrived, it does not obscure the fact that defence funding is inadequate.
By way of background: Canadian defence spending grew rapidly between 1950 and 1953 in both actual (budget year) dollars and in values adjusted to a base year (2000) and then declined precipitously, in base year terms, until 1959. In actual terms spending was, roughly, level at about $2 Billion per year, year after year, from 1955 until 1975 although inflation took a huge toll in the 1965 to 75 time frame. Spending, in actual (budget years) terms, began to grow in about 1975 and continued to grow, sometimes quite rapidly, until 1992/3. But, when adjusted for inflation the increases were ‘zeroed’ from 1975 until about 1980. The last four or five years of the Trudeau regime (1980-84) were the only years in the entire 1955 to 1985 period to show marked growth when the data is adjusted for inflation. Spending began to grow again in 2000 and has grown ahead of the inflation rate since then.

Today the Government of Canada spends more than $1.25 per day for each and every man, woman and child, citizen or not, in Canada on the nation’s defence – approaching $15 Billion per year. That may seem like a large amount, but as the Navy’s financial problems demonstrate, it is still not enough when spread across all the commitments which Canadians have demanded of their armed forces. In fact, the defence budget is only about 1.5% of Canada’s $1 Trillion GDP, or merely 10% of what Canadians (individually and through provincial and federal governments) spend on health care.

As Ruxted pointed out on 8 Jan 07 in A New Year’s Resolution while some Army and Air Force projects are moving forward with commendable speed, others, especially some crucial Navy and Maritime Air projects, languish.

Ruxted hopes that the Canadian Forces will not fall into the funding trap bedevilling our British cousins wherein the Royal Navy’s fleet has shrunk by more than 40% since the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. The imminent loss of their carriers with no viable, firm replacement in sight will obligate the RN to face the possibility of only deploying under the protection of either French or US carriers. The entire fixed wing fleet air arm was recently amalgamated into the air force as a cost saving measure. The cause is not a lack of money within the UK’s Ministry of Defence - it is the diversion to the army of funds previously allocated to the Navy, and the funding of projects of questionable value. The British are, in classical fashion, robbing Peter to pay Paul and, thereby, eating their seed potatoes, too.

Defence budgets require more flexibility than any other Department, given that the nature of the defence “business” requires the ability to cope with a constant series of unforeseen crises. In this business robbing Peter to pay Paul is fair and normal, so long as Peter gets repaid in a timely manner. This process must occur, however, without doing too much serious and long term harm to the military services. Like the UK, Canada may be perilously close to doing just that. Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan is a popular conflict. It is understandable that elected politicians are reluctant to come back to parliament seeking supplementary funding for the military, only to see the opposition further inflame public opinion with spurious rhetoric against the government of the day. Perhaps it is appropriate that, in the fourth-quarter of a fiscal year, expenditures have to be controlled to keep spending within the limits imposed by Parliament. It certainly is a refreshing change from the orgy of last minute binge spending to empty the public purse before the books closed that characterized other administrations.

There is an absolute crisis looming for the Canadian Navy. In Canada, a maritime nation with the longest coastline in the world bordering three oceans, such a crisis is scandalous. The Joint Support Ship program needs to be accelerated, the government must speed up the Halifax-class frigate modernization program, and get on with replacements for destroyers and maritime patrol aircraft - now, not 10 years from now. There is too much emphasis on the General Hillier’s “Big Honkin’ Ship” right now and not enough on the basics. Canada needs effective capabilities in both home waters and for global joint naval and maritime air deployments. These capabilities are just as necessary as effective, combat ready, globally deployable, joint land-air forces. Canada must prepare its forces, all its forces, for war – not just for ‘this war.’ Such preparation costs go beyond the glossy, big-ticket procurement items; the nickle and dime costs of daily operations, training and maintenance are also a critical requirement that, as the Navy has brought to the public's attention, cannot be ignored. That, again, is the nature of the defence “business.”

It would be highly inappropriate and, indeed irresponsible, for the Government of Canada to fail to provide very substantial, timely increases to DND’s budget. Elected governments, under different party's leadership, have found common purpose in committing the Canadian Forces to numerous domestic and foreign missions. This generates a responsibility, however, to follow through and allocate adequate funds to accommodate urgent and necessary increases and upgrades to the CF’s people, equipment, logistics' base, training and operational capabilities – for all three services and their support elements too.

The current government may, with considerable justice, claim that it ought not bear the blame for a dozen years of inaction, even ‘budgetary vandalism,’ by former Prime Minister Chrétien. But Jean Chrétien retired a few years ago, shortly after he began to set things going in the right direction. Prime Minister Martin, during his short stay in office, moved farther in the right direction. Canadians, generally, did not object to increased defence spending which Messers. Chrétien and Martin assured them were necessary. They are now even more necessary and Prime Minister Harper should continue on the trail previous governments blazed.

If governments wish to continue using the Canadian Forces as an effective option within the diplomatic toolkit, sufficient money must be spent on replacing worn-out tools and keeping them up to date. Such spending must come soon, even in advance of an urgent and comprehensive defence review; given the world situation, one must assume such a review will call for large, long term increases in Canada’s defence capabilities and the concomitantly large and long term increases in defence spending needed to effect them.

Ruxted calls upon Prime Minister Harper to make a substantial increase in defence spending in the 2007 budget and to continue that in following years.


The Ruxted Group on : Canada Day

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Happy Canada Day In a recent article in the CanWest newspaper chain journalist David Pugliese reported that the “government's long-awaited defence strategy paper could be released as early as next month but there are growing concerns among some analys


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