Thursday, September 29, 2005

Crying Wolf to the Libranos on Defence ...

... is the Senate Standing Committee on National Defence, who want to see DND's budget for the Forces doubled. You can find the text of their report here.

There's a depressing sameness to all the recent reports on the state of the Canadian Forces, so much so that one has to wonder just how asleep at the switch the folks at Finance and Treasury Board are. The symptoms are all the same: our soldiers, sailors and airmen are underpaid, overworked, and ill-equipped.

What makes the Senate report interesting reading is their analysis of this recent spate of underfunding, as well as their ability to put DND press-release language into plain text (I've highlighted some of the more quotable bits):

The Department of National Defence was hit hard for three reasons.

First, while government and outside analysts realized that old threats to Canada persisted and new ones might well be in the works, professional and institutional judgment lost out to public opinion. Canadians relaxed when the Cold War ended. Most of us bought into the peace dividend mentality. Feeling secure, we turned our attention to other items on the political agenda.

Second, the fact that the defence budget is inadequate doesn’t mean it isn’t large in relation to those of other government departments. It represents the government’s single largest discretionary expenditure. There are larger non-discretionary expenditures, but they are virtually locked in budget items (such as contributions to the Canada Pension Plan) and can’t be altered in a significant way without changing legislation. Defence was a sitting duck.

Translation: there are parts of the federal budget that should be cut, but can't because their amounts are decided by the law, and cutting them involves debate in Parliament. Defence was cut (or underspent on, which with inflation means the same thing) because its amount isn't mandated by legislation -- and apart from some old farts who used to wear the uniform, who in government is going to complain?

Third, the government treated the Department of National Defence like any other department. No consideration was given to the fact that the majority of the human components of this department are not bureaucrats sitting at desks, but young men and women likely to be put in life-and-death situations at some point during their tenure. Surely that’s a fundamental difference, but it has been dismissed with a shrug.

Mind you, it isn't just the Forces. The RCMP, the Coast Guard, and Border Services have the same argument, as part of the government's revamp of public security. However, the job of the Forces is larger and more complex than the jobs of these other services:

No other department is saddled with the responsibility of purchasing the kind of sophisticated equipment that personnel need to protect themselves and do their jobs. The Canadian Armed Forces purchases pencil-sharpeners and photocopiers and fax machines like any other department, but it also requires sophisticated hardware and systems. If these are not appropriate to their mission, or they are not fully functional, it can mean disaster on the battlefield.

Military purchasers can set priorities for purchases of such hardware and systems, and they can choose wisely and prudently in the arms marketplace. But a 20 per cent cut in the purchasing power of the Department of National Defence may well have far more drastic – and even lethal – consequences than a 20 per cent cut in departments like Industry Canada or Heritage Canada. That is especially true when there is no corresponding decrease in the tempo of military missions assigned.

Some other nice money quotes (sorry) from the Committee, as it looks at DND's plans for the army:

The Army is facing a triple whammy:
-- We are too underfunded to correct the weaknesses caused by past underfunding;
-- we are too underfunded to meet our current responsibilities; and
-- we are too underfunded to prepare for the massive changes you want that will allow us to serve Canadians in the future ...

You expect your army to defend Canadians from current threats at home and abroad, while transforming itself into an institution capable of succeeding in theatres of modern warfare in the future, but you are not providing us with the money and resources we need to do that. We simply can’t do what you say you want us to do with the money you’re giving us.

This is the type of blunt language that Paul Martin's people need to hear. If you care about the Canadian Forces, you owe it to yourself to read the whole Committee report.