March 30, 2012 - Victoria Times Colonist
By Katie Derosa And Lee Berthiaume
While the federal government pledged to cut $2.1 billion from the National Defence budget by 2015, Canada's front-line military force, reservists and submarine program have emerged untouched in this year's federal budget.
As expected, National Defence is facing the largest cuts of all departments in terms of sheer numbers, at more than $1.1 billion by 2014-15. This is above the $1.1 billion the government already had planned to slash from the department's $21-billion budget this coming fiscal year.
Few details were provided, but the government put a priority on maintaining the current level of 68,000 regular force members and 27,000 reservists and instead cut back on the $2.7 billion spent on contractors, consultants and private service-providers.
Speculation that the submarine program could be axed didn't materialize.
The government also announced it is giving the Canadian Coast Guard $5.2 billion over 11 years to improve and expand its icebreaker fleet and their patrol of the North.
Retired rear-admiral Roger Girouard said in Victoria the funding has been a long time coming, and the Coast Guard has been severely under-funded since major cuts during the recession in the 1990s.
"They've been running on a shoestring for a very long time," he said. "They need to renew their ship inventory."
Liberal Senator Colin Kenny said the government should be looking at investing in more defence ships to patrol our vast coastline, especially now that the Halifax-class ships will be undergoing refit. He also said the cuts could mean further delays in replacing the maintenance-heavy Sea King helicopters with the new Cyclones or improving the fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft.
The government also promised $101 million over five years to upgrade the Esquimalt graving dock, although it did not say whether that included expanding the dock to allow repairs on larger cruise ships or several ships at a time.
"If it's money for the Esquimalt graving dock to make it larger or more modern, we at Seaspan think it's fantastic," said Jonathan Whitworth, CEO of Seaspan, one of the shipbuilding companies that uses the dry dock.
The Defence Department also may look to sell or otherwise dispose of some of the property it holds in different parts of the country and change the way it purchases equipment.
Meanwhile, the government is planning to help offset hiring and training costs incurred by companies that employ reservists who subsequently are deployed on military operations.