“…We have had, in effect, a de facto bi-partisan agreement between the Liberal and Conservative parties that the cuts in the defence budget during the post-Cold War period had gone too deeply and had to be reversed, and reversed quickly, if the de facto destruction of Canada’s defence capabilities was to be avoided. If you like, there was a real Paul Martin/Stephen Harper/Bill Graham/Gordon O’Connor/Rick Hillier consensus that a massive re-funding of defence in Canada was necessary, the end result of which was [The Canada First Defence Strategy of] 2008.”
I knew there was no boring way to spend a trillion dollars. And despite the valiant efforts of every Ottawa reporter to reward the feds for dumping their $990-billion defence strategy onto the internet late at night, six weeks after they “announced” it in a detail-free and misleading news conference, by not producing a stitch of analysis of a massive, massive spending plan (here’s my poor attempt to plug the gap, with valiant assist from Inkless Irregular MikeG), such a plan simply couldn’t lie around forever without somebody taking a peek at it and writing about the results.
That somebody is Brian MacDonald at the Conference of Defence Associations, and if you click the last link on this page you can get his analysis for yourself. There’s a lot in MacDonald’s review, some of it way over my head (accrual accounting: I dunno), but a few nuggets stand out. One is that operational deployments — like Afghanistan — are to be funded separately from the Canada First spending framework, essentially guaranteeing a considerably higher spending allocation over time than what the framework provides. Another is that the framework, in itself, does nothing to compress the 16-year procurement lag between bright idea and delivered equipment.
Generally it’s an optimistic assessment, however — it would be churlish for even the military establishment to sneeze at mountains of cash for military equipment. But I’m most struck by MacDonald’s conclusion, which I quote, in part, above: that the strategy’s “budgetary roots are traceable to the previous Liberal Party administration of Paul Martin.”
Understand that I have no interest in allotting credit (or blame). Nor is MacDonald asserting any formal collaboration between the Liberals and Conservatives in concocting this spending plan. But this helps, at least, to explain why it’s so quiet out there, and how a Conservative government could release a policy of potentially far-reaching implication, not only for the defence portfolio as such but for the entire rest of what’s known inside the Queensway as “the fisc,” without getting a debate: because the opposition doesn’t feel like a debate. Essentially there was a Trudeau-Chrétien way to view the military, only slightly inflected by Mulroney, and those days are over. Have been since 2005, in fact. The old ways are gone; the Liberal-Conservative grand coalition lives on.