After around a year and a half of consultation, review and analysis, it appears that the Trudeau Government’s Defence Policy (DP) will be released in the coming weeks. At an event hosted by the CDA and CDA Institute, Minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan gave us an initial idea of what’s to come with a speech that outlined the origins and contours of the incoming DP. The following are some CDA Institute thoughts on the key themes of Minister Sajjan’s speech.
Given the pressure from the United States for its allies to spend around 2% of GDP on defence, the elephant in the room yesterday was to what extent the government will commit the money necessary to work towards that admittedly aspirational goal. The Minister addressed this indirectly, saying merely that the investment in defence spending promised in the DP will be “significant”. How significant? With what effect anticipated? We must wait for the formal DP release to get the answers to those questions. Fundamentally however, the message that has been almost a mantra of Canadian governments recently—that Canada’s actions matter more than what it spends on defence—seems likely to remain the guidepost for defence spending in large measure and with it, little significant change in at least the near future.
Certainly, it was a brave admission that that successive governments (and here the CDA Institute wishes to consider this as a broad statement rather than partisan dig) contributed to the dire state of affairs of the Canadian Armed Forces through cycles of short-term decisions, constantly varying levels of funding as well as outright under-funding. However, the assertion that the incoming DP will be a long-term plan to assure the capability level of military raises a couple of issues.
First, the DP will need to be very specific in explaining the context and circumstances that provide the logic that is yet to be apparent for the interim Super Hornet purchase. At a cost of $7 billion for 18 aircraft and the delay of the competition to replace the current fighter fleet until after the next election, it is difficult to see the long-term logic that was at work.
Second, if successive governments were responsible for the current difficulties of the CAF, it’s likely that it will take successive governments to resolve them. Having acknowledged that the CAF needs a stable resource line as a fundamental principle, the question is how the Liberals intend to create a substantial consensus that will endure past the mandate of their own government(s), not to mention of future governments. The Minister has made some confident statements on not only the commitment that they intend to make, but also its long-term nature. This would imply not only a minimum level of consensus within Parliament, but also amongst Canadians that has not been evident to date. Without a plan to achieve that agreement in an enduring manner, we may well find ourselves back to the starting point well before that long-term plan has a chance to effect real change.
While those in Canada who want to spend more on defence may not get their wish, transparency and rigorous planning were a key theme of Minister Sajjan’s speech and welcome ones at that. According to the Minister, six different accounting firms participated in the Defence Policy Review, evaluating the costing methodologies used by the Department of National Defence. When combined with the public consultations conducted during the review process, there are clear indications that there has been positive progress in making defence policy a key concern; the true test of the government resolve to make good on this key initiative will be in what are sure to be active and very difficult discussions once the policy is released. This will be as much the case at the Ministerial level as for the Deputy Minister and Chief of Defence Staff, identified specifically by the Minster as the two individuals who will be responsible for the design and implementation of the plan to achieve the DP expected results.
While the Minister’s speech and responses to questions were short on specifics, they provided an interesting glimpse into what’s to come, such as ‘cyber warriors’. The CDA Institute will be continue to follow developments, with comment and analysis, as we move towards the release of, and implementation of the Defence Policy.