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Military escapes federal budget axe for now

March 5, 2010, Ottawa - March 5, 2010, Ottawa - The Canadian military dodged a bullet in Thursday's federal budget, but will still see a total of $2.5 billion carved out of future defence spending after troops withdraw from Afghanistan next year.


March 5, 2010
By The Canadian Press

Topics

Funding will remain largely stable in the current year, but the
Conservative government plans to take away $525 million in planned
increases in 2012-13, $1 billion in 2013-14 and another $1 billion the
following year.

With Ottawa facing an estimated $53-billion deficit this year and $49
billion next year, there have been calls by social welfare groups for
cuts to defence spending.

The military's budget has increased by $3 billion annually since the
Tories came to power four years ago. It is expected to crest above $20
billion this year.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said restraining defence spending is one
pillar in his government's strategy to cut $17.6 billion from the
federal budget over the next few years.

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Thursday's budget raises questions about whether the Harper government
will be able to deliver planned big-ticket purchases, including new
naval supply ships, search-and-rescue planes, and armoured vehicles to
replace those worn out by the Afghan war.

"We do not know right now if there will be an impact on those major
capital projects,'' said Vice-Admiral Denis Rouleau, second-in-command
for the military.

"We're certainly hoping to be able to move forward.''

Just 18 months ago, Defence Minister Peter MacKay drew up a list of
equipment the Conservatives planned to buy, and pledged to modernize
the military, which he said had been starved under Liberals.

And just as restraint kicks in, the military will be facing some of its
most expensive purchases, including replacements for the almost
30-year-old CF-18 jetfighters and the navy's command-and-control
destroyers.

The Conservatives' defence strategy also pledged the military could
rely on stable, predictable budget increases. The plan was to hike
defence spending by 1.5 per cent until 2011 and then by two per cent
every year, starting in 2012.

Rouleau said even with restraint the military will see what was
promised. The department is also conducting a strategic review, which
could help it reallocate existing dollars.

The Afghanistan war was cited as the reason the military was given a reprieve from the budget axe.

"By implementing this measure beginning in 2012-13, the government will
ensure that it does not adversely affect military operations during the
current Afghanistan mission, and that National Defence has sufficient
time to adjust its long-term expenditure plans,'' the budget said.

National Defence is already feeling the fiscal squeeze, even without restraint.

Hundreds of full-time reservists, called up to fill in the ranks for
the war, last fall began to get ultimatums from the army: join the
regular force or get a pink slip.

The number of Class B reservists across all three branches of the
Forces has nearly doubled since 2004, to 8,700. Hundreds are expected
to lose their jobs between now and 2012.

As many as 200 reservists have already been let go in the army, and hundreds more are expected to follow this year.

The army said reservists are not being singled out.

"The current financial adjustments have been spread to encompass
activities across the army,'' said internal defence talking points.

"While the army's budget has increased in recent years, we recognize
funding is not unlimited. Sound financial management involves difficult
decisions, and unfortunately one of the areas affected are the
reserves.''

Even with the restraint, the Conservatives insisted the "long-term
objectives'' of their Canada First Defence Strategy will be met.

The Tories came to power in 2006 promising a massive rebuilding of the
Forces, but have repeatedly had to scale back plans and proposals.

The government has made much of its plan to increase the size of the
Forces to 70,000 regular force and 30,000 part-time reserve. But
because of a shortage of funds, the military won't be able to complete
that until 2028.


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