What changes might their second term bring?


The election of a reinforced minority Conservative government might seem to indicate few changes in broad defence policy.  I expect, however, some minor alterations and some major new pressures.

The greatest pressure may involve a need to divert tax dollars towards remedies for the current financial crisis although initial indications are that Canada may escape lightly.  In a worst case scenario, a Conservative government faced with a deficit as a result of such spending may well reduce defence dollars.  The actual relief this will provide will be laughably small. A halving of the current capital budget would likely generate less than $800 million per year.   Note, of course, the U.S. alone will be spending at least $800 billion on its financial crisis response.  Further, one cannot take money from the defence personnel budget (now approaching 50 % of the defence budget) as personnel reductions will not provide relief this or next year.

Pressure to cut defence will also come from the Opposition.  However, one needs to remind the Liberal party that its election document declared that it was "committed to the money allocated in the fiscal framework to the Canadian Forces."  We should expect heavy criticism of any new capital projects outside of the announced framework, however.

I would also expect the government to continue to have over 70 percent of the incremental expenses in Afghanistan come from DND's baseline budget. There will not be "extra" funding for the department here given the views of the four opposition parties.  This means over the "incremental" or extra $700 [- 1300] million dollars that DND spends in Afghanistan will come from its future capital plans despite the warnings from Senator Colin Kenny and David Perry.  As The Torch has pointed out yesterday, this will specifically mean that the past relatively 'liberal' approach to buying special equipment for Afghanistan operations will come to a rapid halt.  One hopes, however, a careful hand is able to guide through those equipment critical to the soldier.

The arctic has captured all the parties.  Therefore, capital projects focused on the arctic are likely to fare well, although the NDP appears to favour Canadian Coast Guard ships over the navy's Arctic and Offshore Patrol Vessel. Given the continued accelerating rate of ice depletion, the latter vessels look to be increasingly needed and well suited to the task in my view.  Equally, all the opposition parties favour significant defence involvement in disaster relief and our naval activities off Somalia and Haiti should suggest the Joint
Support Ship's strengths in that work could gain wide support. Further, all parties have also vociferously insisted ships be built in Canada.

I also expect the government will have to re-look at its Canada First Defence Strategy.  Here the most glaring problem is a fixation on increasing the forces' numbers to 70,000. This is enormously expensive and will drive that portion of the defence budget devoted to personnel costs to over 50 percent.  This vector is the specific reason why the Conservative plan only devotes 10 percent of the defence budget to capital when all defence studies suggest you need 23 percent to maintain the status quo and over 30 percent to modernize.  This disconnect will not, I suspect, get the attention it deserves until much later.

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