Canada Analysis: Will billions of dollars in new funding for the Canadian military be wasted?
FIRST READING: Canada's perennial status as a NATO freeloader is getting awkward
First Reading is a daily newsletter keeping you posted on the travails of Canadian politicos, all curated by the National Post’s own Tristin Hopper. To get an early version sent direct to your inbox every Monday to Thursday at 6 p.m. ET (and 9 a.m. on Saturdays), sign up here. TOP STORY On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continued his tour of Europe to “work closely with allies to strengthen NATO.” But even as Canada places 500 troops in Latvia and pledges CF-18s for Romania , there is an elephant in the room whenever Trudeau talks to NATO members about collective security: He happens to represent a country that has spent more than a generation utterly phoning in its NATO co
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has given the Canadian military and its supporters an unprecedented opportunity to push for more funding.
And the Liberal government has responded with promises of what could be a massive cash injection.
DND’s figures list its budget for 2020-2021 as $23.3 billion. In 2016 -2017, that figure was $18.9 billion.
Over the course of a few weeks, Defence Minister Anita Anand has transformed into a military hawk, calling for what she says are “aggressive options” that could see the Liberals spending more than two per cent of the country’s gross domestic product on defence. Anand’s plan, if approved, would cost taxpayers $20 billion to $25 billion per year.
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But an injection of billions of dollars more for the military doesn’t mean the country will be more secure.
National Defence has a reputation in official Ottawa for wasting tax dollars.
Its critics point to years of bungled military procurements as a warning that new funding could simply go down the drain.
Exhibit A for such an argument is the Canadian Surface Combatant project; that plan to buy 15 new warships started out with an estimated cost of $14 billion. In a report issued last year, Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux estimated the price tag was now around $77 billion. (DND estimates the cost at between $56 billion and $60 billion.)
In addition, National Defence can’t even spend the money it has already been given. In the last fiscal year, it failed to spend $1.2 billion, with most of that resulting from delays in buying new equipment.
Subs, jets, sleeping bags with functioning zippers: Where Canada could put $16B in additional defence spending
Earlier this month, Defence Minister Anita Anand said she would be presenting “aggressive” options to significantly boost military spending in Canada’s next budget. This could include a plan to boost Canada’s defence spending from 1.4 per cent of GDP, to two per cent – roughly an extra $16 billion. But where to put all this extra military cash? The National Post contacted a cross-section of military types – everyone from retired officers to infantry – to get their takes. Here’s how those military personnel, who are anonymous because they are not authorized to discuss military budgets, said Canada should spend the extra money.
Anand, previously the minister in charge of federal procurement, did nothing to try to fix the ongoing problem.
Still, the equipment shopping lists are already circulating. First priority for the Liberals is upgrading the joint U.S.-Canadian early warning radars in the Arctic. Cost estimates range from $4 billion to $10 billion. Some defence analysts are calling for the purchase of a new submarine fleet, which could cost upwards of $60 billion.
The Russian invasion also gives the Liberals the public-relations cover they need to proceed with the $19-billion purchase of the F-35 U.S. stealth fighter, an aircraft Prime Minister Justin Trudeau previously stated Canadians would not buy.
Anand’s push for more money has also been accompanied by an unprecedented amount of hype from retired officers and defence analysts, who claim the military is teetering on collapse because of a lack of money.
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Writing in the National Post, retired general Rick Hillier claimed Canada’s navy was confined to port because it couldn’t afford fuel. During TV appearances, the former defence chief also warned the Canadian army’s Carl Gustaf anti-tank weapons were so dangerous that they might explode in soldiers’ faces because of “stress cracks” in the equipment.
Such claims aren’t true.
The navy says it has fuel and money to put its ships to sea, including two frigates now assigned to support NATO missions. Two other ships are in the Caribbean on operations.
The army says it has no record of stress cracks on the Carl Gustaf weapons.
In another article, the National Post pointed out the military was so destitute that its soldiers had to buy their own boots. Soldiers do indeed have the option of purchasing their own boots in one of the most popular programs the army has instituted in recent years. They are reimbursed for their purchases.
Military officers, both retired and serving, have lamented the Canadian army’s lack of anti-tank weapons, in particular the U.S.-made Javelin. That weapon has been used in Ukraine to destroy hundreds of Russian tanks.
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But what these officers neglect to mention was that, in 2005, the Liberal government approved $194 million for the purchase of either the Javelin or the Israeli-made Spike missile system. Companies put their bids in to provide 840 missiles and more than 100 firing systems. Test firings of both weapons were conducted. But a year later the bids were rejected as the army determined it didn’t have enough information to figure out whether the weapons would be effective on the battlefield. The project then went by the wayside. The head of the Canadian Forces was then Rick Hillier, who is now complaining that Canada doesn’t have Javelins.
NATO is pushing its member countries to spend at least two per cent of their GDP on defence and expects Trudeau to have a plan ready by June to do that.
But that two per cent yardstick is deceiving. Canada currently spends 1.39 per cent of its GDP. Estonia spends 2.28 per cent of its GDP. By the NATO guidelines, Estonia, which has one of the smallest navies in the world, is a military powerhouse.
When it comes to actual dollars spent on defence, Canada ranks 14th in the world.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has pushed back against the Liberal initiative to raise defence spending to the full two per cent of GDP, adding that NATO’s target is arbitrary. But he has thrown his support to some increased military spending, claiming extra money is needed for new equipment.
Canadian military budget will grow by $8B as policy review seeks to reset defence vision .
The budget lays out broke strokes of a plan to boost defence spending by $8 billion over five years -- but combined with planned increases, Canada still won't hit the NATO target. The federal Liberals will boost the budget for the Canadian military by roughly $8 billion on top of billions in already scheduled increases, and launch a review of the country’s defence policy.