The major critiques I am reading about the government’s latest defence policy paper, Strong, Secure, Engaged, is that like so many others of its ilk it merely defers, until after the next election, any significant spending decisions … once again, selling the sizzle without the steak. It’s not new or in any way unique to the Trudeau Liberals; the Harper Conservatives, when Gordon O’Connor was minister of national defence, actually did push capital spending and the overall budget forward ~ think the Leopard II tanks, CH-147F Chinook heavy lift helicopters and C-17 Globemaster III transport plane ~ but the slow recovery from the Great Recession and, in 2012, when the defence minister of the day (Peter MacKay) deferred to his empire building admirals and generals and decided to ignore the prime minister’s explicit direction to cut the fat in the bloated Canadian Forces command and control (C²) superstructure, the Conservatives changed priorities away from national defence and towards balancing the budget. They let the military wither on the vine, as previous Conservtive and Liberal governments, after Lester Pearson, had done more often than not. The defence leadership (political, civil and military) was, in 2012, I believe, and quite possibly still is, in 2017, more interested in maintaining the Potemkin Village aspect of its structure in which too many admirals and generals and navy captains and army and air forces colonels sit in too many headquarters that have no troops under them worry more about new buttons and badges and garish patches on their sleeves than they do about recruiting, training, equipping and deploying an efficient, effective, combat capable military force.
But, perhaps, Team Trudeau, including his Privy Council Office, understands what’s going on and has simply decided to allow things to deteriorate to crisis status and then force the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces to reform themselves. I might actually hope that’s the case, and there’s a “plan” in the bottom drawer of someone important’s desk, but I fear it ~ the deferred promises ~ is just a sign of political and high level bureaucratic indifference to national defence … indifference which has been generated by the department’s and the military’s refusal to take its core business seriously.
I believe that IF the promises are to ever be kept then some painful reforms are needed, first:
- The creation of a useful defence procurement system in which ~
- One large, powerful department does ALL big, complex, expensive procurements for the governments all by itself, with NO influence or interference from any other department, not even from Finance and the Treasury Board,
- Common user procurement ~ much if which goes to DND and the CF, remains the responsibility of an “all of government” procurement department; and
- The Department of National Defence is funded so that it can keep the spare parts bins and fuel tanks and ammo depots full ~ using money that no one, not the minister, not the deputy minister and certainly not the admirals and generals can redirect to their favourite projects; then
- A restructured departmental and military C² system which ~
- Removes the fiction (created decades ago, when I was still serving) that the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Deputy Minister are coequal, they are not: the Deputy Minister out-ranks the CDS; he, the DM, is responsible to the minister for the whole department, which includes the Canadian Armed Forces, the CDS is responsible for the effective administration of the armed forces and for the conduct of operations; and
- Reduces the number of HQs and, especially, the number of people in them and the ranks they hold.
In my opinion only after those two steps have been taken can more money be spent, effectively, on more people and more equipment for those people.