July 18, 2013
Title: Canadian general highlights budget mismatch
Subtitle: Army on “life support” says outgoing commander
Recent comments by an outgoing official have thrown glaring contradictions in Canada’s defence policies out in the open. Gains made during the Afghanistan have been put on “life support, said Lt-Gen Peter Devlin, commander of the Canadian Army to a local wire service this week. Devlin, a strong advocate for his department, has been a thorn in Harper Government’s foot for some time. Late last year he told a Senate committee that the Army’s budget has been reduced by more than 20 percent.
On paper, Canada’s $240 billion in defence infrastructure, equipment and readiness commitments are impressive. New land, sea and air purchases have been announced with great fanfare. That said, the Harper Government’s actions have not matched its rhetoric. The Canadian Parliament’s budget office recently revealed that national defence has not used $9.6 billion of its funding during the past seven years.
However according to David Perry, a policy analyst with the Conference of Defence Associations, the appointment of Rob Nicholson as the new defence minister, replacing the outgoing Peter MacKay, in the government’s cabinet shuffle announced earlier this week, provides a great chance to get a fresh start.
“If we include Nicholson, a new chief of defence staff and a recently appoint deputy minister, that now means the three top posts have been replaced,” says Perry. “There has been a disconnect between reforms discussed, to shift money form overhead into operations, and what had actually occurred. The new blood leaves the door open to getting off on the right foot.”
In fact while the future is hard to predict, there are strong indications that no boats will be rocked in the defence sector. The feeling on Parliament Hill in Ottawa is that the Harper Government’s recent cabinet shuffle was mostly done with an eye to the election it must call during the coming two years.
Indeed, although the Canadian Armed Forces do not like to regard themselves as traditional government bureaucracy, in many ways the analogy fits. For example while Canadian private sector companies looking to trim fat, would outsource as many operations as possible, when they cannot handle these more effectively than a sub-contractor, the CF is doing the opposite. Current “efficiency” plans target the largest cuts in the defence department’s sub-contracting, which ironically, is likely one of the more efficient uses of its funds.
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