Canadian Defence Spending


The Canadian government recently unveiled its 2016 budget. The first Liberal budget in a decade included a wide array of changes, from an increased operating budget for the national broadcaster and arts, to increased spending on infrastructure to stimulate the economy[1].  Where the Liberal changes stop is in defence.  Successive Conservative and Liberal governments have reduced the defence budget[2] and spent a disproportionate amount of dollars on foreign aid.

The capability of the Canadian forces has been on a downwards trajectory for decades.

Canada has a multitude of international and internal challenges that require capable and properly equipped armed forces. Russia has formally claimed a huge swathe of the arctic, including the North Pole as recently as 2015[3] which lead to tensions with Canada[4] and with the area slowly becoming open to trade, mineral, and oil extraction there is a need for a strong sign of Canadian sovereignty. Non-state actors such as ISIS have become a danger to western societies; as was seen by the attacks in Brussels and Paris. In the fight against the plague of terrorism, a strong air force and Special Forces are critical to making a difference on the ground. Political instability and Natural disasters have created situations in which Canada has needed to evacuate its citizens. The recent evacuation from Yemen was done with Russian help[5], and the one from Burundi with U.S help[6]. The Canadian forces require the capability to protect Canadians instead of relying on our partner’s good-will.  

Fig 1  The potential conflicts that exist from an increasingly accessible arctic resulting from global warming.

The capability of the Canadian forces has been on a downwards trajectory for decades. The Canadian navy has slipped in international rankings to just below Bangladesh[7]. It now has no operational destroyers or supply ships and cannot evacuate Canadians from overseas locations, let alone reach parts of the arctic. Canada is now leasing supply ships from Chile and Spain.  The Canadian Air Force operates the 1982 CF-18 which it has been trying to replace for years[8]. A past Chief of the Air claimed that “the Air Force is one deep in many areas and has lost much of its flexibility, redundancy and ability to surge. Personnel shortfalls meant that the Air Force could face a loss of capability. It would also be difficult to meet DND and government performance expectations”[9] The Canadian army has a hard time recruiting enough people to be properly manned[10] and at times barely has enough ammunition for proper training of reservists.

The Liberal government has postponed C$3.7 billion in procurement which is in addition to C$6.7 billion in postponements by the previous Conservative government[11]. The Liberal government claims that it needs a year to review military operations and demands[12]. Looking at the past decade of postponements this leaves little hope for improvement.  A telling sign of the priorities set, is that budget the shows Canada spending around C$5 billion annually on international assistance[13]

Fig 2  The projected spending of the International Assistance Envelope (IAE) shows an increase to above $5 billion by 2018.  Source: Department of Finance.