Defence platforms > Liberal

Real change for Canada’s defence policy

By Joyce Murray, Liberal Defence Critic

 Justin Trudeau greets soldiers during the Canada Army Run in Ottawa, 2014. (Liberal Party)

Justin Trudeau greets soldiers during the Canada Army Run in Ottawa, 2014. (Liberal Party)

As the focus of Canadians turns to the upcoming federal election, it is important to review the Conservative government’s record on defence.

Over the past decade, this government has consistently failed to deliver on their significant promises to buy new equipment. Since 2012, they have axed nearly $5 billion from the Department of National Defence’s budget. In addition, since 2007, they have let $10 billion in approved funding go unspent, including nearly $7 billion in DND’s capital budget — funds allocated for new equipment like search and rescue aircraft, trucks, and ships.

These cuts have driven defence spending below 1 per cent of GDP — the lowest share of GDP since the 1930s — and well below our expected spending commitment as a NATO member. Under the Conservative government’s current funding plan, the budget will continue to fall to 0.89 per cent of GDP by 2027.

The results are evident. Documents tabled in Parliament reveal that the Harper Conservatives have hardly achieved any of the procurement goals contained in their 2008 Canada First Defence Strategy. In fact, DND declared the strategy “unaffordable” years ago and abandoned it. To date, the Minister of Defence has been unable to inform Canadians when they can expect a new strategy.

Due to the Conservatives’ budget cuts, a wide assortment of much-needed equipment is not making its way into the hands of our troops, and they are left trying to make do with outdated weaponry and tools. This government’s list of mismanagement runs long. In 2006, the Conservatives made new search and rescue aircraft a “high priority,” and then postponed their delivery to 2025.

In 2010, the government announced it would buy the F-35 to replace our ageing CF-18s without running a competition and without the guarantee of regional industrial benefits for Canadian companies that would typically accompany a procurement like this. Today, the project sits in limbo after the “restart button” was pressed three and a half years ago. The bungled procurement of new supply ships forced navy technicians to scrounge on eBay for parts to keep our 45-year-old supply vessels operating until they were recently deemed “dangerous and unsafe” and retired from service. This has left Canada without supply ships for the next decade. In short, a dangerous trend has emerged.

But the Conservatives’ failure to deliver on promised — and desperately needed — equipment is just the tip of the iceberg; it is their treatment of those who wear the uniform that reveals the Conservatives’ true colours. Remember, this is the government that praised reservists, but decreased the budget dedicated to reservist pay, and shrunk their training budget to finance alternative initiatives like income splitting — a $2,000 tax break for the wealthiest few.

This is the same government that eliminated danger pay for our soldiers in Afghanistan. The prime minister only reversed his decision after coming under pressure when the cut was made public. Our men and women who serve in some of the world’s most dangerous places — and risk life and limb in service to their country — deserve better.

Not only has this government failed to properly invest in defence, but it also lacks a clear understanding of what the future requirements of our military will be in both the short and long-term. Abroad, severe and destabilizing weather events like floods, heat waves, droughts, or typhoons will require Canada’s military and humanitarian assistance beyond the capacity of our standard DART deployment. At home, Canadian troops have already mobilized in response to an extreme fire disaster in Saskatchewan. We can only expect more similar emergency situations in the years to come.

If elected, a Trudeau Liberal government will bring real change to defence policy by de-politicizing it, and consulting in good faith with all parties to determine the kinds of missions we are likely to ask our armed forces to undertake over both the short and long-term.

We will fix the broken procurement system to ensure that the Canadian Armed Forces gets the right equipment to carry out the missions that they are likely to undertake, at the right price for taxpayers, while delivering important industrial regional benefits to provide good jobs for Canadians across the country.

Canadians expect our troops to be treated with respect, and that will be a top priority for our government. We will live up to our responsibility to protect those who protect us; review and fix gaps in support of injured CAF members; provide medical, psychological and logistical support to military families; and ensure all needed medical positions are filled.

The Harper decade has left the Canadian Armed Forces under-equipped, under-trained and without a clear mandate. A Liberal government can and will do better. That’s real change.