A Rock and a Hard Place

3 minute read

It’s been a common scene for air travellers over the past few years: a flight cancelled due to some unforeseen issue, with passengers forced to throw their schedules out the window as they scramble to find a new way to get home. This past week it was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who was dealing with his own air travel woes after his Royal Canadian Air Force CC-150 Polaris was grounded due to a technical issue

The Prime Minister’s plane, part of a fleet that was built in the late 1980s, has been plagued with problems in recent years and is set to be replaced later this fall. Although the Prime Minister was eventually able to return to Canada without any further problems, this entire affair is emblematic of the issues facing the Canadian Armed Forces. They are being asked to take on larger and larger tasks without the financial and human resources support necessary to operate. With the President of the Treasury Board looking for $15 billion over the next 5 years in across-the-board cuts, DND (along with other departments) might be forced to do more with less. 

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, as well as an increasingly confrontational China, have refocused many of the world’s democracies’ priorities on national defence at a level not seen since the end of the Cold War. Although Canada has agreed to increase its presence in Latvia as part of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence, Canada faces substantial international pressure to meet the NATO commitment of spending two percent of GDP on defence. U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan took aim at Canada during a confirmation hearing for Gregory Guillot, the next American selected to lead NORAD, while the French Ambassador to Canada Michel Miraillet told The National Post in October 2022 that Canada has grown “too comfortable” with the defence protection offered in North America by the United States.

While the calls for increased defence spending grow, the Liberals intend to pare down overall government spending, with new Treasury Board President Anita Anand calling on cabinet ministers to submit plans by early October to implement $15 billion in spending cuts over the next five years. DND’s Deputy Minister Bill Matthews and Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre said the process to find savings in the Department of National Defence has already started, and that the quest for spending cuts “will entail hard decisions”. It is anticipated that the vast majority of DND’s cuts will be to professional services, which include engineering contracts. These reductions could affect the readiness of Canada’s military, since those contracts include in-service support and maintenance of Canada’s existing fleets done by private industry, thus potentially leading to decreasing readiness.

The federal government finds itself walking a narrow tightrope being pulled in opposite directions simultaneously. Although there is a compelling argument to be made to better fund the Canadian Armed Forces, the Department of National Defence is expected to come up short in the face of geopolitical pressures and an internal struggle over government expenditures. 

The average Canadian is struggling to pay their rent or buy groceries, the medical system is verging on collapse, and climate change is wreaking havoc across the country. These are the primary concerns of Canadians, as well as the issues that win elections. Given these issues and political considerations, expect the government to show little interest in boosting defence spending in the upcoming legislative session.

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