If you have nothing good to say, don’t say it.

The federal budget was delivered yesterday. Along with the usual complaints about ‘repackaging’ and ‘rebranding’ of existing funding into 'good news' stories, which have become the norm for Harper-style announcements, there was a stunning lack of information on the defence budget. As the largest discretionary component of federal spending, defence always plays a major part in federal budgets. Not this time.

Elizabeth May was the only politician that I heard make the fundamental observation that the budget document tabled does not contain enough information about departmental spending for MPs to actually vote for or against the plan. This is a new approach to ‘tabling’ the budget in Parliament. Perhaps the protestations of Bob Rae and Thomas Mulcair about the budget document being “propaganda” and “false” would be more effective if they related the information contained or not contained to parliamentarians’ duty to vote on the propositions of the government.

The only snippet of information about what the Department of National Defence will be facing came via a comment from MND MacKay in an interview with Paul MacLeod in an article entitled “Defence, Fisheries under axe.” MacLeod repeats the view in Dave Perry’s reports (for CDFAI) “Defence After The Recession” and (for CDA) “Defence Austerity: The impact to date,” that forecast a cut to DND of approximately 13 percent or $2.5B. This will drop the defence budget to about $18B. MacLeod’s article cites MacKay as saying: “the savings will come from winding down the mission in Afghanistan, less contracting and slowing down procurement.”  This should have been a comment made in the speech by the Minister of Finance.  It would have been the biggest pronouncement in the budget.

It seems that ‘the wall of silence’ in Ottawa about anything related to the military now extends to the basic operations of the department. There is nothing more basic than the public purse and how the taxpayers of the country make defence operations feasible. For that kind of analysis we now have to rely on the incisive work of defence academics like Dave Perry.