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Budget 2006: Reinvigoration, or Empty Promise?
May 2006 | Scott Noseworthy

The 2006 federal budget on May 2, 2006, promised the Canadian Forces a cash infusion of $5.3 billion over the next five years. It is notable that this promise by the Conservative government is largely empty, as the government included only $1.126 billion in guaranteed funding over this fiscal year and next. The is no legal requirement for the government to provide the remainder of the promised $5.3 billion – there is only the word of the politicians to come through with the funding in the next federal budget, or another thereafter.

The bulk of the guaranteed $1.126 billion allocation to the military will be put towards the Conservative’s “Canada First” policy. This policy is meant to reform the Canadian Forces, through internal processes and new capital procurements, to provide a more efficient response to disasters and security situations on Canadian soil (in comparison to the 2005 federal budget, in which the previous Liberal government focused mainly on equipping the Canadian Forces for overseas emergency response). The other $1 million, which is to be spent this year, is to assist in the construction of the Royal Canadian Air Force Memorial Museum in Trenton, Ontario.

What We Can Hope to Expect

If the Conservative government should stick to its commitment to provide $5.3 billion in additional defence spending, an adherence dependent on whether the minority survives to see another budget, there are eight key objectives of the Budget 2006 defence commitments:

  1. Proceed with the transformation of military operations and defence administration.
  2. Accelerate the recruitment of 13,000 additional regular forces and 10,000 additional reserve forces personnel.
  3. Expand training, reduce rank structure overhead, review civilian and military headquarters functions, and increase front-line personnel.
  4. Increase investment in base infrastructure and housing for the Canadian Forces.
  5. Acquire equipment needed to support a multi-role, combat-capable maritime, land, and air force.
  6. Restore regular army presence in British Columbia.
  7. Increase the Canadian Force’s capacity to protect Canada’s Arctic sovereignty and security.
  8. Initiate the establishment of territorial battalions.

One of the most important points noted is the commitment to reduce rank structure overhead and review the headquarters functions. Currently, in the Canadian Forces, there exists a bloated officer corps’ (in comparison to other nations) which has caused problems at a time when there are too few non-commissioned members in the Forces. The Canadian Forces have more flag officers per-capita (~100) than any other NATO nation, with a military of barely 59,000 personnel. Reducing the officer corps and redirecting recruits to non-commissioned positions is critical to fixing this imbalance.

At National Defence Headquarters (NDHQ), the complexity of a military command headquarters (the Canadian Forces) being wholly intertwined with that of a civilian command (the Department of National Defence civil staff) has been a bane of unification since the 1970s. Duplication of functions exists in both commands at NDHQ, resulting in a huge staff – more than is necessary for a military of Canada’s size. Critics have lambasted the Department for having such a large staff at NDHQ during a time when the non-commissioned ranks are quickly thinning and loosing qualified soldiers to the private sector and retirement.

Many of the commitments, while part of the Conservative election platform during the January 2006 federal election, have had no indication of being developed at this time. The latter three involving the restoration of regular army presence in British Columbia, the establishment of territorial defence battalions, and Arctic sovereignty, are not expected to be tackled until at least the next federal budget (once again, if the Conservatives last to give another) due to other priorities. Those priorities include creating a more efficient and effective recruit training system to handle the authorized influx of new personnel, and the acquisition of critical capital equipment, such as replacements for the CC130 Hercules fleet.

Overall, the commitment of the Conservative government is welcomed, but the allocated funds do not come close to showing a serious commitment, at least for this budgetary year, by the minority government. The 2006 federal budget, make no mistake, was about cutting taxes (and thereby cutting income to the federal government), not about ensuring that much needed spending reached critical areas such as national defence. It can only be hoped that the massive tax cuts in this budget will not hamper cash flow and future spending commitments vital to the stability and effectiveness of the Canadian Forces.

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