Just enough defence spending to keep them happy?

An article from the Sunday edition of the Ottawa Citizen by Colin Kenny, Chair of Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, "Stephen Harper is a toy soldier: Our gung-ho PM talks a good game on the military, but he is quietly selling out its future" provides a great synopsis of what some are considering to be the current state of defence policy under the Conservative government. As Kenny details, while the Conservatives did indeed announce a $5B multi-year increase in defence spending, and have already announced several equipment purchases, in the long run, they have yet to make any kind if significant down payment in actually revitalizing the Canadian military:

  • The current federal government is taking a sly approach to military spending. It has announced just enough equipment purchases over the past year to create the illusion that it is determined to resuscitate Canada's military capacity, without committing nearly enough money to make that promise come true.
  • In one breathtaking week last summer, the government designated money for trucks, helicopters, transport planes and replenishment ships. A few weeks ago, it purchased tanks for Afghanistan.
  • These all constitute reasonable purchases, and - for those not paying attention - they help create an image of a no-nonsense government that believes that military strength is essential to sovereignty. Not like those creepy Liberals, who let Canada's defences run down in their drive to shrivel the national debt.
  • Well, at least those Liberal governments were honest - they simply didn't attach that big a priority to the military. This government, on the other hand, is hypocritical. It pretends to be strengthening our defences, but what it is really doing is buying just enough equipment to fill the most alarming holes and to get Canada through its commitment in Afghanistan.

Given the significant shortcoming in the Canadian military, and the budget crunch occasioned by Afghanistan, the Tory announcements to date amount to fixes for some pressing needs today that will not solve anything in the long run. Adding to this, is the fact that the Incremental Cost of Operations in Afghanistan, estimated to be $848.6M and counting, is set to account for almost 5% of total Defence spending this year, according to the 07-08 Report on Plans and Priorities, roughly the same percentage of defence spending as the year before. Thus, while rumour has it that the Prime Minister feels that he has 'fixed' our military problems with his cash infusion, a close look at the mission's Incremental Costs - 800+ Million last year, and the same this year and the next, one wonders how much of the recent increases to the defence budget will be left over when our military commitment to Afghanistan is over.

In the meantime, let's hope that the Senator's assessment is wrong, and the government actually has a long-term vision for a reconstituted Canadian Forces.