Harjit Sajjan's $62-billion defence policy long shot - Macleans.ca

Harjit Sajjan’s $62-billion defence policy long shot

History shows long-term military spending often gets squeezed by hard-up governments—but sometimes it does get done


The thing to keep in mind about military spending is that the dollar figures tend to be so enormous that it’s awfully tempting for a government scrabbling for cash—and when aren’t they?—to play around with the figures.

That usually means squeezing defence spending now, to pay for more pressing priorities or keep a deficit down, while still projecting robust military outlays later, to maintain a stance of unstinting support for those men and women in uniform so beloved by political speechwriters.

So when Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan tabled a new defence policy today—a document the Liberal government is calling Strong, Secure, Engaged—he faced inevitable skepticism about his long-term vision. Sajjan said yearly defence spending will swell by more than 70 per cent, from $18.9 billion in 2016-17 to $32.7 billion in 2026-27. He promised $62.3 billion in new spending over 20 years.

READ MORE: Harjit Sajjan’s full speech

How can he possibly bind the governments of a decade or two from now to anything? Consider what happened only earlier this spring, when Finance Minister Bill Morneau tabled his 2017 budget, and surprised military analysts by “reallocating” a hefty $8.4 billion in planned defence capital spending, money that had been slated to be spent between 2015-16 and 2035-36, out into the unknowable future.

If Sajjan’s more distant projections can only be seen as best guesses and broad guidelines, though, the short-term plans implied by his new policy are more likely to come to pass. Details for the next five years were, strangely, not spelled out in his 113-page policy document. But a senior defence official said it calls for an additional $615 million to be spent in 2017-18; $581 million in 2018-19; $1.1 billion in 2019-20; $2 billion in 2020-21; and $2.3 billion in 2021-23.

No need to commit those figures to memory. It might be helpful, however, to note that the increases for this year and next—the remaining years before the 2019 federal election—can be counted in the mere hundreds of millions. It’s only after the next election that the federal government will need to start finding multiple billions to fund this plan.

There’s a lot in Sajjan’s policy, but the biggest-ticket items are ships and jets. He calls for 15 so-called Canadian Surface Combatants, to replace aging frigates and destroyers, at a cost of up to $60 billion. As already planned, Canada’s CF-18 fighter jet fleet will be replaced, at a cost of up to $18 billion, and the Liberals have boosted the number of new jets needed to 88 from the 65 the former Conservative government thought would be enough. Another $23.2 billion over 20 years is earmarked for army equipment, like new light and heavy trucks.

Sajjan announced the new policy in front of military personnel in Ottawa’s venerable brick-and-timber Cartier Square Drill Hall, home of the Governor General’s Foot Guards since 1879, and he emphasized the rank-and-file’s concerns. (Having to apologize for inflating his own pre-politics accomplishments as a reserve officer in Afghanistan may have left him eager to build back some credibility with the troops.) His new policy includes, among other measures aimed at boosting morale, tax-free pay for those serving abroad, a new health strategy, and a recruiting policy that will aim at having 25 per cent women in uniform by 2026.

(The policy lands at a time when Canadians are widely supportive of additional defence spending. Fifty-eight per cent of the country believes we should increase the size of the military, according to a poll conducted by Abacus Data on behalf of Maclean’s and other Rogers Media properties.)

READ MORE: The Liberals’ defence policy: So much, and too little

There was also plenty of futuristic talk from Sajjan and his officials about countering threats from space, bolstering cyber security, and even buying drones (officials referred to them delicately as “remotely piloted systems”) both for surveillance and combat missions.

Defence analysts will be poring over these and other details for months. After all, the last attempt at a military roadmap this extensive was the Stephen Harper government’s Canada First Defence Policy, a sweeping plan for which there never seemed to be quite enough money. This time, Sajjan vowed, will be different. “For the first time, National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces will have a 20-year funding commitment,” he said. “This is laid out in black and white today.”

Actually, the most important part is laid out in green, the colour used on page 98 of the policy, in “Figure 2: Actual and Forecasted Defence Budget (Cash basis),” to illustrate the big bulge in spending now needed, especially between about 2020 and 2028, to pay for those ships, and jets, and all the rest.

Will future governments find the money? History suggests that contracted procurements do tend to happen. A high-water mark historically in Canadian capital spending for military equipment came during the Conservative government of prime minister Brian Mulroney in the second half of the 1980s. But Mulroney was implementing commitments made a few years earlier, in the late stages of the Liberal government of prime minister Pierre Trudeau, to buy CF-18s, Leopard tanks, and naval frigates.

The fact that the first Trudeau government set the stage for such a major re-equipping phase in the Canadians Forces isn’t very widely known. If Sajjan is right, and today’s policy leads to all the new spending he is promising, this second Trudeau government might just repeat history.



Harjit Sajjan’s $62-billion defence policy long shot

  1. I’m just a little cynical about the whole thing. We’ve been down this road in the past and it hasn’t come to fruition. If the Libs can pull it off then good for them. I don’t want to rely on anyone for our security. I Want monies to go to Canada’s defence.

    One day our ‘friend’ the next our enemy. We have to be able to make our own choices and stand behind them regardless of what the costs may be.

    What I would like to see is Canadian innovation. We have some The best minds on the planet, we should be accessing them to further Canada’s defence. Checks and balances.

    As for the kickbacks? Graft happens, it’s the degree of it that’s so disturbing.

    • like Shawn reacted I didn’t realize that somebody ready to make $6367 in one month on the

      web . perused more>>>>>>>>>>> / w­­­­­w­­­­­w­­­­­.­jobocean3­.­­­­­c­­­­­o­­­­­m­­­­­ᴵᴵᴵᴵᴵᴵᴵᴵᴵᴵ

  2. great

  3. Wow. Two weeks ago the Conservative Party/Ottawa media opposition were trying to destroy this guys reputation and career over some innocent unimportant little comment of no importance or significance. I don’t even remember what it was now. But they kept the media fires of personal destruction roaring for about a week. Scandal of the year. Waste of everybody’s time.

    • You’re memory definitely needs some refreshing because it wasn’t an “unimportant little comment”. For his own grandeur he lied and said he was the chief strategist and leader of a major offensive in Afghanistan. It resulted in outrage by all of the real people in the military who knew the truth. He may have recovered in your biased eyes but he never will in theirs.

      • You missed the contemporaneous letter from a General, Fraser? Was his name.
        You also seem to forget the whole phoney scandal fell apart and was even dropped by the Cons and media . Much ado about nothing.

      • And this week he’s selling us a wehrmacht? Well, not really, Chrystia’s selling us a wehrmacht – Sajit is what is called the ”front man’.

  4. Trump says jump (i.e. spend more on the military) and the Trudeau Liberals jump.

    The global 1%’ers say jump, and the Trudeau Liberals jump (here are our airports…and here is this privatization bank which allows you to invest with guaranteed profits, and the Canadian taxpayer will cover any losses).

  5. new time

  6. Modern Defence White Papers etc. are the starting points for cuts. The good news is that the starting point now is a DND budget of less than 1% of GNP for most of the plan. We’re going to spend less which is great news for the tax payer.

    There is bad news. The CF obviously doesn’t care about the reserves- the increase works out to one man per year per unit. There was no mention of any plan to cut the bureaucracy and actually increases the number of DND civilians. The massively over priced frigate program will be allowed to fester until after the next election (could it be bait for a electoral trap in the Maritimes?). The air force may get armed drones which will be a waste. The SOF empire expands when it should contract. The nice to haves- bands, Snow Birds, Mil Cols etc aren’t touched.

  7. As with most Liberal propaganda this is more smoke and mirrors and will never happen-most of it so far out in time, we’ll never see it!! But, it’s a nice set up for a conversation with Trump before the trade negotiations.

    • I think you’ve hit the ‘hokey pokey’ in all this.

      Trumpco might be willing to let NAFTA ‘slide by’, with just a few cosmetic changes, if Canada saddles-up for another tour of A’stan, or Syria, or Libya, West Africa or even valiant little Ukrainia. There’s so much terror, so much … terror and so few real friends.

    • Ah, Trump is going to cut us a deal on NAFTA in return for us promising to spend billions on defence sometime in the distant future. I can’t really see Trump being taken in by that strategy. Jerome, I know it is fun to just assume the government is a bunch of liars and then to concoct stories making them out to be really stupid liars as well. Future budgets will show us quickly enough if the government is actually going to put our money where their mouth currently is on defence. I would note however, that given the Liberal reputation for spending our hard-earned dollars and the Conservative announced aim to lower taxes and make government smaller, the only hope we have of future increases in spending on defence rests with the Liberals not the Conservatives.

  8. Is it possible that the dirty Libs are reading the Steverino’s ‘check is in the mail’ manual of military expenditure?

    Remember all the announcements – F-35 squadrons, Arctic defense fleets, new Leopard III’s for the army, “$20 billion” borrowed for the refurbishment of Afghanistan, anti-IED vehicles that we had to abandon? And the notorious CAF shipping containers coming home, filled with Afghan dirt instead of expensive hardware?

    We could take a chance on somebody rolling back that ‘plan’ sometime over the next decade (cut that guvermint spending!) – that’s what the Tories did.

    What we need to be concerned about is Trump’s ‘big win’ upcoming ‘Surge 2 Afghanistan’, them wanting NATO allies to be in on it and another ’emergency’ $20 billion getting borrowed to pay for it.

    • It’s been the pattern that the Tories have grand plans for DND before they enter office. The problems start when they get up close to the workings of DND and see just how fouled up it is. Orders are ignored. The media are fed leaks. Things which should be done quickly drag on for years. Information given to the minister is massaged to fit the generals desires. They see the waste and the small C fiscal Tories start to rebel.

      But for Harper it was worse. He got not only the normal DND but he had a war as well. The assumption was always that a war would sort out the department. When the bullets flew the stupidity and laziness would melt away (the Seacan fiasco being one of the best examples) . It didn’t and it turned out that the CF wasn’t nearly as good at war as it thought it would be. Exit stage right after saying we “don’t cut and run”. We did, right after the vaunted Dutch.

      So here we are. We have an extremely expensive DND that has minimal utility yet the government needs to pretend otherwise for political reasons. We can only hope that Trudeau has plans for significant cuts he’s hiding until after the next election.