The Liberal government is seeking to cut nearly $1 billion from the Department of National Defense’s (DND) annual budget, a demand the country’s top military commander says is prompting some “difficult” conversations within the military.
Chief of the Defense Staff General Wayne Eyre and Deputy Defense Minister Bill Matthews testified before the House of Commons defense committee on Thursday night, where they further acknowledged the ramifications of the plan reduction in federal government spending.
Earlier this month, Eyre and Matthews released a joint internal statement warning that the department would be expected to contribute to the federal government’s overall plan to reduce spending.
“There is no way you can take almost a billion dollars out of the defense budget and not have an impact,” Eyre told the four-party committee. “This is something we are struggling with now.”
DND’s top estimates for 2023-24 say the department’s budget for this year is expected to be $26.5 billion.
On Thursday, Eyre described how earlier that day he had had a “very difficult session” with commanders from the various services. He said the meeting was aimed at “explaining this to our people” at a time when the international situation is becoming increasingly precarious, in part due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
News of the planned cuts, which have not been specified, comes just weeks after the Liberal government agreed with other NATO allies on a commitment to make the alliance’s defense spending target 2 percent of gross domestic product. a “lasting commitment.”
Fulfilling that promise would require a substantial increase in the defense allocation.
Cuts could undermine Canada’s commitment to NATO
According to NATO’s latest annual report, Canada spent about 1.3 percent of its GDP on the military last year, well below target. Leaving the alliance summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, the Liberal government faced a storm of bad press and increased pressure from allies to step up its financial commitment.
It is unclear how the planned cuts will affect Canada’s commitment to NATO. Germany also recently withdrew its promise to meet the 2 percent target.
Matthews told the defense committee on Thursday that the process of identifying the proposed cuts is underway and will lead to a spending reduction of “almost, I think… $900 million and change, [which will] increase in four years”.
Although he insisted that the cuts will be prioritized so that they “have the least possible impact,” he acknowledged that “there will be an impact.”
Matthews said the spending reductions will be aimed at “minimizing the impact on military readiness.”
Conservative defense critic James Bezan demanded assurances on that point.
“What are we going to give here with a billion dollars this year?” she asked. “And how are we going to address the threat environment we find ourselves in if we are going to continue cutting rather than investing in our Canadian Armed Forces?”
Defense Secretary Bill Blair tacitly acknowledged the cuts during an appearance before the same committee, before Eyre and Matthews testified.
“The fiscal environment in Canada right now requires that when we spend Canadian taxpayers’ money, we do so carefully and thoughtfully. I have always viewed spending tax dollars as an investment in creating public value for Canadians,” Blair said . Deputies.
Treasury Board Chair Anita Anand, a former defense minister, told other federal cabinet ministers in August that they would be required to cut $15.4 billion in government spending and that they had until Oct. 2 to present their ideas. .
At the time, Anand said the Liberal government wanted to ensure the money was spent wisely while delivering on key government promises, such as dental and child care.
Blair suggested to the defense committee that some of the savings could be achieved by postponing planned expenditure on equipment.
“We know we have to look very carefully at spending,” he said.
“Actually, it may require some of the investments that we know we have to make, [that] “We may have to do this over a longer period of time in response to the current fiscal situation.”