Canada needs to deliver on a fully-funded defence policy


Tony Battista is the Chief Executive Officer for the Conference of Defence Associations and CDA Institute. Charles Davies is a fellow with the CDA Institute.

Next week the federal government will likely present its Defence Policy. Many observers will ask the question – how much money will be made available, both in the near-term as well as in the long-term, for the military?

To shape the discussion, the Senate’s Standing Committee on National Security and Defence released its second report titled, Reinvesting in the Canadian Armed Forces: A Plan for the Future this week. It proposes to cancel the government’s planned interim purchase of Super Hornet fighter jets in favour of a complete replacement plan, acquire a second supply ship to support the Royal Canadian Navy, acquire attack helicopters as well as a drone fleet, and support the Army to maintain capabilities acquired during the operations in Afghanistan.

The same committee released an earlier report in April Military Underfunded: The Walk Must Match the Talk, which is a call for fundamental change in how the Government of Canada manages defence.

The two reports need to be read together. The April one sets out five fundamental reforms necessary to correct chronic mismanagement by successive governments.

The first is the politically unpopular proposal to progressively increase defence spending to the agreed NATO target of 2% of GDP. All NATO allies, including Canada, have agreed to this 2% target, but few are meeting it. Today, if spending 2% of GDP can be afforded by Australia, the UK, France and others, then it can be afforded by Canada. It is simply a matter of political will.

The second reform is to make DND fully responsible for defence procurement. This would eliminate the current problem that “everyone is responsible so no one is responsible” for delays, cost overruns, and other failures. The Senate proposal for a single point of accountability has merit and should be implemented, while defence spending is increased to meet the capability gaps.

The third proposal is to put more focus on cyber security and the protection of critical infrastructure. These areas are recognized in the report as having a wider continental and, in the case of cyber, a global dimension.

The Senate’s fourth proposal is to require the government to review defence policy cyclically, with a clear set of rules under which it will do so and be held accountable. It is time Canada got on board.

The fifth reform builds on the fourth by calling on the government to work with the House of Commons and Senate to build an enduring consensus on defence policy. This will create more stability and reduce waste in defence spending. Politically-driven direction changes every time a new government comes to power produce unnecessary waste of precious defence funds.

It is within this important context that the second report issued on May 8th needs to be read.

The world is going through a time of tectonic change in the global order, and even the most optimistic observer will acknowledge the unpredictability of future security challenges for Canada. The increasing willingness of Russia and China to act outside international treaties and mechanisms, North Korea’s rapidly developing nuclear weapons and missile programs, Iran’s ballistic missile and possibly only temporarily deferred nuclear weapons programs, and the continuing spread of terrorism represent real threats to Canada and its interests.

These reports are important contributions to the defence discussion. They are serious reads for Canadians and their Government. Putting into effect a credible Defence Policy – fully funded in both the short and long-term – is a priority for Canada and crucial for the men and women who answer the call to serve.

This article was originally published in the Toronto Sun

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