CANADIAN FORCES HIT BY BUDGET CUTS; DAVID PUGLIESE OTTAWA CITIZEN DEFENCE REPORT

Forces attack expenses to save $190M; Money to be redirected to Harper government’s Canada First defence strategy

The Ottawa Citizen

Dec 28 2009

By David Pugliese

The Ottawa Citizen

The Canadian military is looking for savings of more than $190 million by March to help pay for the Harper government’s defence strategy.

The navy will cut training for its reserve forces in January and reduce infrastructure maintenance and repairs while the air force will scale back on non-operational training, cut some of its flying time as well as scale back non-essential repairs.

The army recently revealed its cuts including trimming some training and reducing the number of reserve soldiers employed full-time.

The reductions come as the federal deficit has climbed to more than $55 billion this year and the Conservative government has signalled the public service will face cuts.

The air force is required to cut $59 million while the navy has $52 million in reductions to make, according to the Canadian Forces. It was recently revealed that the army’s portion of the reduction is $80 million.

The air force’s reductions represent seven per cent of its annual budget; the navy’s is six per cent. The army’s share is five per cent of its budget.

All three services are reducing travel and attendance at conferences.

The Defence Department could not say whether other organizations within DND are also facing reductions.

The Canadian Forces is not calling the reductions a “cutback.” Officers are instead referring to them as “adjustments” as the money saved is being redirected toward the priorities of the Canada First defence strategy.

The strategy, the Harper government’s blueprint for the future military, promises to spend tens of billions of dollars on new equipment.

Steve Staples, president of the Rideau Institute in Ottawa, said DND is in a better position than other departments to weather the expected cuts to the federal government. He said social, health and arts spending will likely be hit hardest as the Conservatives tighten budgets.

“These cuts that DND has to make are a drop in the bucket since the department has been enjoying large increases each year for many years,” said Staples, who has criticized what he calls excessive spending on the military. “Compared to other departments, DND is the teacher’s pet of the government.”

The money saved is to be “allocated to best meet responsibilities defined by the Canada First Defence Strategy,” an e-mail from the Canadian Forces noted.

Some defence analysts had questioned where the money would come from for the strategy, but in May 2009, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said the policy was fully funded. “The funding will be there, I assure you. It’s locked in,” he told an audience of hundreds of industry and defence representatives in Ottawa during a military trade show.

MacKay also assured the audience the recession would not affect Canadian Forces’ plans to spend billions on new equipment and that he had the support of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

Military officers characterized the “adjustments” as a normal part of the Defence Department’s financial management process.

A recently released report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, done in conjunction with the Rideau Institute, determined that for the fiscal year ending in March, Canada will have spent a little more than $21 billion on national defence. That’s nearly 10 per cent of all federal spending.

After adjusting for inflation, Canadian military spending this year was up 9.6 per cent compared to last year and is 15 per cent higher than Canada’s defence spending at the peak of the Cold War in 1952-1953, the report noted.

But other groups have argued that more money needs to be spent on the Canadian Forces to re-equip it for the future.

Air force spokesman Maj. Jim Hutcheson said most of the cuts for that service are based on its fuel and oil budget. “While some of this year’s budget adjustment is absorbed due to the fact that fuel prices have remained lower than last year’s average, there may be some selective reduction in flying hours,” Hutcheson explained.

He did not give further details on what aircraft flights might be reduced.

Although the navy is cutting its spending on petroleum and oil, those reductions will not affect ship operations, Lt.-Cmdr. Sue Stefko noted.

Normally the navy would use extra money at the end of the government’s fiscal year to buy additional fuel for its strategic reserve. As a result of the reductions, there will less fuel for that reserve.

Army spokesman Lt.-Col. Jay Janzen said the money saved by that service will be used to support other higher priority programs such as training soldiers for international and domestic operations and purchasing new equipment.

The army has a $5-billion plan to purchase several types of new armored vehicles as well as refurbish light-armored vehicles damaged or heavily used during the war in Afghanistan.

The reductions that hit the army reserves, however, have angered some of the part-time soldiers who said they left their civilian jobs for temporary full-time work with the regular forces, only to be told they are no longer needed.

FOR MORE NEWS SEE DAVID PUGLIESE’S DEFENCE WATCH

For more Canadian Forces and Defence Department news or articles by David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen go to David Pugliese’s Defence Watch at:

communities.canada.com/ottawacitizen/blogs/defencewatch/

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