Last week, in her address on the 2022 Federal budget, Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, the Hon. Chrystia Freeland stated that we now live in a world that is “utterly transformed” by Russia’s reckless and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The growing assertiveness and aggressive arms programs of Russia and China, including the recent deployment of hypersonic weapons, have indeed fundamentally shifted the international security landscape.
Quick action is necessary to address the serious nature of this aggression on European soil, but more broadly to prepare Canada for what NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg described as a the “new normal” during our recent Ottawa Conference on Security and Defence as assertiveness turns to aggression and international law and norms are ignored by revisionist states.
With this in mind, we applaud the government’s intent to promptly update our current defence policy, Strong, Secure, and Engaged (2017) in order to account for this new strategic environment. At the same time, however, we wish to highlight that, without the necessary resources and reforms to defence procurement to confront the enhanced security risks of our time, this policy revision is unlikely to meet its goals, leaving Canada dangerously exposed and underprepared.
We support the initiatives related to Canada’s defence and security that were mentioned in last week’s Federal Budget. In addition to the defence policy review, this includes initial investment toward strengthening continental defence through NORAD modernization and the long-overdue replacement of the CF-18 fleet. While acknowledging that these are important steps in the right direction, we remain seriously concerned about the adequacy of Canada’s defence preparedness.
In our view, the announced increase in defence expenditures is woefully insufficient to fill critical capability gaps and capacity shortfalls in our nation’s defences especially given the threats we, our allies and like-minded nations face. This underfunding is made even more evident when considering the increased recourse to the Canadian Forces to assist civil authorities in disaster relief and in response to non-traditional security threats, such as climate change and pandemics. We have seen the quiet professionalism of the Canadian Forces at home and abroad, and our soldiers, sailors, and aviators deserve to be given the tools to succeed in the critical missions they are assigned by the government. On this basis, CDA would like to highlight the following points:
- While welcoming the Government’s decision to undertake a new review of defence policy to update Strong, Secure, and Engaged (2017), the CDA emphasizes that defence policy must be closely linked to a country’s foreign policy objectives. It seems incongruous that a second review of defence policy is to be commenced, when Canada’s foreign policy has not been seriously reviewed since the Martin administration in 2005;
- A further review of defence policy would certainly have utility insofar as it brings with it new resources to address the additional challenges that such review is certain to identify, beyond the money provided in SSE or the recent budget.
- The budget did not announce any measures to increase the capacity of the Department of National Defence or Public Services and Procurement Canada to deliver critical capabilities in a more timely and effective manner. An improved defence procurement system that accelerates decision-making and delivery of equipment will be key.
Improving the defence procurement system will require sustained prime ministerial and ministerial attention based on their belief that the national security of Canada requires it. This would happen most easily if Canadians generally shared that view but whether this is the case or not, it is the fundamental responsibility of the Prime Minister and the Minister of National Defence to lead and to do whatever is necessary to ensure that the nation has the capabilities to defend it’s sovereignty. Surely, the current international environment requires nothing less.
The government must also be willing to accept greater risks in addressing critical capability gaps, including that public servants be encouraged to recommend — where appropriate — that specific procurement projects be exempt from some or all the normal rules which govern them. This should specifically include the possibility of subordinating other policy objectives to the delivery of required equipment. This is a time where speed of delivery must be an overriding consideration.
The view that national security and defence spending are not as important as other government priorities has resulted in a chronic underfunding in Canada’s defence and security sectors, which continues to leave our country exposed and underprepared. There have rarely been clearer moments in history where the need to invest and transform our armed forces along with other critical national security capabilities has been more explicitly demonstrated than with the contemptuous actions of a great power aggressor nation against a sovereign democracy.