Canada’s military readiness is suffering from a lack of investment, and the federal government must ensure that desperately needed new funds are actually spent, defense and procurement experts say.
“You can promise the moon and the stars. If you can’t get the money out, it’s worthless,” said Andrew Leslie, a former Liberal MP and retired general.
In a segment that aired Saturday, Leslie told CBC The House that the Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has failed to provide the leadership needed to break down bureaucratic barriers and impose significant spending to revitalize the Canadian Forces.
The federal government is due to unveil its budget on April 7. A key question will be what changes he will make to military spending, especially in light of the war in Ukraine.
8:29The plea for two percent
Canada spends $23.3 billion on the Department of National Defense, but Leslie said the department has a chronic problem with the actual use of funds.
“Over the past seven years, the armed forces have received roughly this amount, but they have not been able to spend it all. And the responsibility for that lies entirely with the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance,” said he declared. Leslie, recruited in 2015 as a star candidate to write the Liberals’ defense and foreign policy platform, is now disillusioned with the government’s procurement capabilities.
The Armed Forces also have difficulty recruiting and retaining personnel – one of the issues Chief Soldier General Wayne Eyre said the Forces would focus on – and Leslie said a billion dollars a year could be spent just on salaries to eliminate staffing shortages.
According to Kim Richard Nossal, a procurement expert at Queen’s University, the military also suffers from difficulties in developing and maintaining its expertise in procurement negotiations.
“One of the difficulties that Canada has found itself in is that we have tended to buy military equipment in a kind of boom and bust cycle,” he said.
“And the difficulty with this boom and bust approach to purchasing equipment for our armed forces means that during these difficult years, people within the Department of National Defense who have expertise in negotiating supply just aren’t there.”
Leslie said not spending the money to update the Forces was critically important to Canadian security.
“That’s why, quite frankly, if the prime minister and the finance minister can’t solve this blockage of spending money on defence, then maybe it’s time for another team to replace him,” did he declare.
Focus on continental defense
Leslie provided a long “shopping list” of equipment the Armed Forces needed to procure, including anti-armour and anti-aircraft systems, drones, submarines and aircraft.
But when it comes to directing how the money is spent, the government needs to address a more fundamental issue, according to the president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
“The first question would be, well, what does the government actually want us to do?” said Dave Perry, chairman of the independent foreign policy and defense think tank which has occasionally received sponsorship of events by defense contractors.
Perry said the Army’s image was once focused on peacekeeping, but it’s less clear now where the Forces are supposed to go.
After that, Perry said the first step “would be for the government to make a decision as to whether spending the money is a priority or not.”
“I don’t think there’s been a lot of evidence that has been the case for this government.”
Continental defense should be the government’s primary concern, according to Andrea Charron, director of the Center for Defense and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba.
“Russia is an immediate and persistent threat to North America. And we know China has growing capabilities and ambitions. I don’t think the status quo is going to protect us,” she said.
Charron said modernizing the NORAD air defense partnership was key to this approach, including investments in surveillance, cyber capabilities and recruitment.
Failing to address the end of NORAD’s partnership with Canada meant that the country would let down not only the United States, but also the rest of NATO, she said.
“That means we’re a liability to our allies and partners in Europe, and it also means that we’re going to struggle to be able to project the strength of North America around the world if we’re held at bay here,” Charron said. .
Charron speculated that in a situation where Russian President Vladimir Putin is on a rampage in the Arctic, “the last thing we want is for NATO allies in Europe to have to pivot, come in to help Canada and the United States at a time when they are focused on what is happening on their eastern border with Ukraine.”
Overall, she said, the military is now being asked to perform several different types of missions, stretching its resources as external threats multiply in the form of Russia and China.
“We’re out of breath,” Charron said. “The Canadian Armed Forces are being asked to change the tires of a car that is still running and very dirty.”