In The Media

Four key takeaways from the defence policy review

by Laura Payton (feat. Dave Perry)

CTV News
June 7, 2017

OTTAWA -- Canadians finally got a look Wednesday at the federal government's long-awaited defence policy review.

The 113-page document sets out spending plans for National Defence until 2027, including a bigger military and increased budgets for new ships, fighter jets, and members' health and wellness.

Here are four points that stood out from the review.

It's not clear where the money is coming from

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan is pledging to increase the annual budget from $18.9 billion this fiscal year to $32.7 billion in 2026-27, but there's no hint in the policy review where the government will find that money. Federal spending is already stretched, with last spring's budget pushing off $933 million in defence costs, on top of $3.7 billion that the previous budget said would be delayed. Officials said at the time that it was due to procurement delays and insisted the money would be available when it was needed, The Canadian Press reported.

Sajjan's spokeswoman said $745 million in 2017-18 spending will be included in the government's supplementary estimates next fall, and that the first five years of spending is accounted for in the current federal budget.

Dave Perry, a senior analyst with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, says references by officials to the money being included in the "fiscal framework" just means the money is available -- it doesn't identify the source.

"They're either going to be borrowing more money or hoping that the economy grows a lot more than it has in the last two, three, four years," he said.

Sajjan was asked several times at his press conference where the money would come from, but he dodged the question each time.

"We will make sure the money is available for the Canadian Armed Forces so that we meet our needs," Sajjan said, noting that Finance Minister Bill Morneau has gone through the costing to make sure the government can commit to it.

"More important, we as a government are putting it in black and white in the defence policy where those numbers will be, so that future governments can be held to account by the Canadian public."

Changing the NATO calculation

U.S. President Donald Trump, like Barack Obama before him, has pressured on Canada and other NATO allies to increase their defence budgets. NATO members pledged in 2014 to ensure each country's defence spending was two per cent of its GDP, but Canada last year reached only 1.19 per cent.

The planned spending announced in the defence policy review will help boost Canada's contribution to 1.4 per cent by 2024-25. But it will also be thanks to a change in how Canada calculates its contribution: right now, we aren't including payments made directly to veterans, peacekeeping and humanitarian operations or defence IT, along with some other defence program costs.

No mention of peacekeeping

Sajjan announced last August that Canada would commit 600 troops and $450 million to a new peacekeeping mission, without saying where it would be. He told reporters at the time that Canada would work with the UN and with allies to determine where the Canadian Armed Forces could best contribute, and noted there were several missions in Africa where a small amount of Canadian support could make a difference.

The mission location was expected to be announced by the end of 2016, but the government reportedly put it off in order to work with the new U.S. administration under Trump to find a destination. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in March that he hadn't ruled out deploying a peacekeeping mission in 2017.

"This is not strictly about picking a location, sending the troops and let's see what happens," Sajjan said in an interview with Don Martin, host of CTV's Power Play. Asked if he'll make a decision this year, Sajjan said, "We'll be making a decision on this."

Plans to recruit more women

The government wants to recruit more Canadians to serve in both the regular forces and the reserves, boosting the regular forces by 3,500 to 71,500 troops, and the reserves by 1,500 to 30,000. It also wants to increase the proportion of women by one percentage point a year to hit 25 per cent of the Canadian Armed Forces by 2026 (it stood at 15 per cent in February, 2016, representing 13,863 of 92,617 troops).

Last year, the military recruited 4,542 people for the regular forces, although a spokesman couldn't immediately say how many were retained following training. That included 775 women.

The policy review says it will "dramatically reduce" the length of the recruitment process -- going "from a number of months to a matter of weeks," implement a recruitment campaign to promote Canadian Armed Forces career opportunities and launch a retention strategy.

Perry called the targets aggressive.

"It's a fairly significant increase," he said.

"Getting to 25 per cent [women] is going to be pretty tough based on both the numbers you have to bring in and then how many you have to keep... I don't think it's publicly apparent just how difficult that is going to be."

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