Spencer Colby The Canadian Press The Chief of the Defense Staff, General Wayne Eyre, that the we see here on Thursday at the National Defense Committee of the House of Commons, believes that there is no way to remove this amount from the budget without having an effect on the Canadian Armed Forces.
The Chief of the Defense Staff and several experts say that savings of nearly a billion dollars in the budget of the Department of National Defense will affect the capabilities of the Armed Forces, even if the Minister of Defense Defense insisted Friday that the budget was not being cut.
Deputy Minister Bill Matthews told MPs on the House of Commons defense committee that the department is identifying “proposals to spending cuts” totaling more than $900 million over four years, while attempting to minimize the impact on military readiness.
Matthews said Thursday that these decisions need to be prioritized “so that there is as little impact as possible, recognizing that there will be an impact.”
The chief Defense Staff General Wayne Eyre said senior military officials were meeting to discuss what that would mean.
“I had a very difficult session this afternoon [Friday] with the commanders of the different services as we try to explain this to our people,” Mr Eyre said. It is impossible to remove almost a billion dollars from the defense budget without having an impact. »
Yet in a written statement sent Friday, Defense Minister Bill Blair's spokesperson, Daniel Minden, said: “Any assertion that Canada is 'cutting' its spending in the defense is not accurate, as overall defense spending has increased and will continue to increase. »
The most recent federal budget projects that the department's budget will amount to $39.7 billion in 2026-2027, up from $26.5 billion for the current fiscal year. Most of the budget for the next few years is dedicated to long-term spending commitments – for example, the purchase of 88 F-35 fighter jets.
In the same budget, the government announced its intention to achieve savings of more than $15 billion over five years by reducing the costs of consulting, professional services and travel by 15% and departmental spending by 3%.
Promises to NATO
Anita Anand, who left Defense to become president of the Treasury Board over the summer, told her colleagues they needed to start taking these decisions on spending cuts by October.
Anand's new role was announced just weeks after she and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended the NATO summit in Lithuania, where allies agreed to make the 2% of GDP target the new minimum defense spending, and pledged that 20 percent of that money would be spent on equipment.
Mr. Blair told the committee on Thursday that Canada may have to postpone some major procurement projects, such as the shipbuilding strategy, and make do with older equipment for now.
The defense budget represents approximately 1.3% of Canada's GDP. Despite its commitments, the Liberal government has never presented a plan to reach 2%.
David Perry, president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said Friday there was a disconnect between seeing Ms. Anand “being the person who agrees to spend more, only to wield the budgetary knife that will make that mathematically impossible.”
Mr. Perry argued that a 3% reduction in the total budget is easier to achieve than a 15% reduction in the budget allocated to consulting services. He argued that defense contracts like this are unique.
“These are things that cover the maintenance of our fleet. These are contracts that provide […] things like engineering studies, architectural studies and building support, warship design, that sort of thing,” he explained.
Mr Blair's office said there would be savings on things like consultations and travel.
But Philippe Lagassé, a professor at Carleton University who specializes in defense policy and procurement, says that probably won't be enough.
“Defense spending increases when the economy is doing well or that governments are prepared to accept fairly large budget deficits. “As soon as governments tire of budget deficits or want to cut spending, the military will necessarily be in their sights,” he stressed.
Minister Blair acknowledged on Thursday that there was an urgent need for significant new investment in defense, but noted that the government must balance this with other priorities, including housing and affordability measures.
The Armed Forces also have other priorities. They are trying to resolve a staffing crisis that has been its top priority since last October, when Mr Eyre ordered a halt to all non-essential activities to focus on recruitment and retention.
Thursday , he said just under 16,000 positions were unfilled and another 10,000 troops – about one in ten – were not yet trained to take part in operations.
That vacancy rate hasn't budged since early spring, despite efforts to revamp basic training and a new program that allows people to sign up for a year in the Navy.
< p>M. Eyre said there was some positive news on retention: The attrition rate returned to historical norms at 7.1%, down from the 9.2% level at the height of the pandemic .
Conservative committee members expressed frustration with the idea of budget cuts.
“Reservists tell me they're not learning their skills quickly enough, that they're years behind, not months,” said James Bezan, the party's defense spokesman. What will it take? »
On Friday, Conservative MP John Brassard called the situation a “disgrace” and accused the government of lying to NATO allies in a statement on X (formerly Twitter).
The U.S. Ambassador to Canada, David Cohen, said in a written statement that he would not comment on hypothetical measures, but noted that the two countries are committed to a defense partnership.
“The United States and Canada both understand that collective security does not come free: we need 21st century defense and security to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” Cohen said.
A spokesperson for the UK High Commission in Canada also declined to comment on the budget decisions, but said “the UK remains fully supportive of NATO engagement , reaffirmed by all members of the alliance at the Vilnius summit in June.”
Mr. Lagassé said there is already a perception among Canada's allies that domestic politics trumps international agreements and goals.
“I think it's just going to reinforce existing perceptions that that we are simply not serious about this and that we will never intensify our efforts,” he argued.