Reaction to New Federal Budget
What is the meaning of no news? Not a word about defence in Fi
nance Minister Flaherty’s budget speech. New spending was big, and the priorities clear. Addressing the “fiscal imbalance” between the federal government and the provinces, environmental initiatives; tax breaks for the elderly and families. All skilfully targetted at hot issues on which the survival of the minority government depends, and for that good reason all inward looking. Not only was defence left out, there was scarcely a word about anything international. International issues have never been election winners in Canada.
But good news did come early. In the unusual practice of the present government, the main estimates, the details of spending planned for the year, came out before the budget. The estimates allocate $16.9 billion for defence in 2007-8, an increase of $1 billion compared to 2006-7, a growth of some 7.3 percent, the biggest increase in over twenty years and a remarkable turnaround since the annual estimates of less than $12 billion less than five years ago. ‘So there, Virigina,’proclaimed Brain MacDonald, Senior Defence Analyst of The Conference of Defence Associations, ‘I told you there was a Santa Claus,’ and for good reason. The increase gave substance to the newly elected government’s ‘Canada First’ defence plan of May 2006 to provide $5.3 billions in new spending to defence over the next five years. This would address the most urgent priorities in re-establishing ‘Effective Combat-Capable Integrated Forces,’ one of the Conservatives election pledges.
One hopes the near silence of Minister Flaherty on defence signals the quiet commission of good deeds. Admirable as it is, the ‘Canada First’ plan does in fact address only the most desperate of a whole slate of urgent needs to rebuild the armed forces. Since Canada declared a ‘peace dividend’ and began eagerly to slash its armed forces after the fall of the Soviet bloc in 1989, our forces have never been so heavily and continuously committed around the world since the Korean War of 1950-3.
Globalization has indeed made the world much more inter-connected, and in the process brought the world’s problems much closer to our door step. Canada has a unique role to play and is playing it, but the armed forces cannot continue to function with equipment that is thirty and forty years old, and with woefully understrength units.. Modernization since the ‘sixties has always been piecemeal and patchwork. Let’s hope Minister Flaherty’s silence on defence is for short-term politics to protect the longer term goal of building from the ‘Canada First’ plan to the much needed general modernization and expansion of the forces.
Roger Sarty, Chair, Council for Canadian Security in the 21st Century
- Prof. Rick Linden, Winnipeg, former CF Chief of Reserves
- Ross Campbell, Ottawa, former Ambassador to NATO
- Tom Hoppe, Elgin, Ont., a much decorated former NCM
- Prof. Penny Bryden, Sackville, N.B., Chair of History, Mount Allison University
- Tom Caldwell, Toronto, Caldwell Investments
- J. L. Granatstein, Former Chair, CCS21
- Roger Sarty, Chair, CCS21