OK, So I Lied

Not really, though. I’m buried in work, but I found this over lunch and had to post it.

‘Bankrupt’ Forces may shut 5 bases
Internal reports say $500M shortfall may cause closures from Winnipeg to Labrador

Chris Wattie
National Post

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Canada’s army, navy and air force are facing a funding shortfall of up to half a billion dollars, defence sources told the National Post, and the military is recommending drastic measures to make up the difference, including closing some of the largest bases in the country.

The federal government is stalling the release of internal documents that outline the looming financial crisis, but military sources said the reports indicate that in the fiscal year beginning on April 1, the air force expects to be $150-million short of funds needed to fulfill its commitments, the navy will be $150-million shy of its needs and the army will be as much as $200-million short.

The figures were submitted to General Ray Henault, the Chief of Defence Staff, last month by the heads of the land staff, the maritime staff and the air staff in anticipation of this year’s defence budget.

The military sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the reports foresee a situation so dire that they recommend curtailing operations, dry-docking ships and mothballing vehicles or aircraft and closing at least four Canadian Forces bases.

Unless additional funding is awarded by the government, the air force is suggesting closing bases at Goose Bay, Nfld., Bagotville, Que., North Bay and Winnipeg, the sources said.

Further, the air force report says that unless its fleet of ageing CC-130 Hercules transport planes is replaced or modernized, the main transport base at Trenton should be closed within 10 years. “There won’t be enough Hercs flying by then to justify keeping that base open,” one air force source said.

The navy predicts it will not be able to live up to treaty obligations to NATO and other alliances and cannot carry out enough patrols of Canadian waters to comply with agreements with other government departments such as Immigration Canada or Fisheries and Oceans.

“We will not be able to meet our domestic defence obligations,” one naval officer said.

The army is said to be in the worst financial state of all three branches of the Canadian Forces. “Everyone knows that the army’s broke and has been for a couple of years,” said one military source familiar with the reports.

Colonel Howard Marsh, a former senior army staff officer now working as an analyst for the Conference of Defence Associations, said he was not surprised by the size of the shortfall.

“This is a look forward … at what they need in order to keep the army going,” he said. “Nobody has ever seen a bankrupt military in a developed country…. This year I predict we will see that in Canada.”

Col. Marsh said the military is saddled with ageing bases and increasingly dilapidated buildings that are fast reaching the point of collapse. “What they’ve been doing, year in and year out … is not replace or repair those buildings, or buy new equipment,” he said.

“The average age of the equipment in the Canadian Forces is over 20 years and it hasn’t been well-maintained.”

The Liberal government reduced defence spending by 23% and cut the number of regular military personnel to approximately 60,000 from 80,000 between 1993 and 2000. There were 120,000 people in the Canadian military in 1958.

In 2003, the defence budget was increased $800-million to $12.7-billion, the single largest increase since the Liberals came to power. But that still left the total below that of 1991, when the Mulroney Conservatives committed troops to the Gulf War and the defence budget stood at $12.8-billion.

Jay Hill, the Conservative defence critic, said the reports outline the result of more than a decade of Liberal cuts to the Canadian Forces.

“They shouldn’t even be in this position,” he said. “They shouldn’t be having to look for nickel and dime savings when the government is blowing hundreds of millions on sponsorship programs.”

Mr. Hill called on the government to make the three reports available immediately. “This flies in the face of this Prime Minister’s stated commitment to being open and transparent,” he said.

The Department of National Defence has refused to make public the annual reports, known as command impact assessments.

Defence officials this week turned down a request by the National Post and the influential defence publication Jane’s Defence Weekly to see the reports under access to information legislation.

Judith Mooney, the director of access to information for the Department of National Defence, said the reports will not be made public for another three to five weeks because they are considered “draft” documents.

“I exercised my discretion to withhold the documents until the [Defence] Department’s business-planning process is complete, at which time they will be released,” she said.

Ms. Mooney could not say when exactly the reports would be released, but indicated they would be available by the end of March.

Although that would delay them until after the release of the federal budget, which is expected on March 23, she said David Pratt, the Defence Minister, was not involved in the decision to withhold the reports until then. Mr. Pratt did not reply to repeated requests for comment on the reports.

In previous years, the assessments have been made public.

This year’s reports paint a picture even more bleak than last year’s, which said the military would be unable to sustain itself without additional resources or a reduced workload.

They were the basis for a story last year in Jane’s Defence Weekly, the prestigious London-based magazine, which caused a furor in Canadian and NATO defence circles. Under the headline “Running on Empty,” the story said the army, navy and air force did not receive the money they needed.

The article said the navy asked for an additional $50-million to bridge the funding gap, but received only $6.7-million. The air force expected a $104-million shortfall but received about $7-million. The army had a larger gap between what was expected of it and the funding available, and received $85-million in extra money.

Major-General Terry Hearn, the chief of finance for the Canadian Forces, acknowledged the military has had “issues” with funding over the past four years.

But he said the department is implementing a long-term plan to stabilize its finances. “We’ll become sustainable over the next couple of years,” he said. “We have long-term strategies to deal with these issues … [but] we’re not going to solve them next year.”

Peter Stoffer, a New Democrat MP whose Nova Scotia riding includes a large military base, called the government’s refusal to release the reports “very suspicious.”

“If anyone out there honestly believes that access to information will be any easier under this government, they are fooling themselves,” he said. “They say one thing and do another.”

Yet Canada’s Auditor General Sheila Frasier has reported that implementing registration of all long-guns and all firearms owners (and failing) had cost, as of April 2002, $629 million. The projected cost through 2005? One BILLION.

Yet the Canadian military is sorely underfunded. Think that money might have been better spent?

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