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The Canadian Forces are Royal… and Obese (Again)

By: /
3 September, 2011
By: André Pratte
Editorial Pages Editor (Éditorialiste en chef) at La Presse

Much has been said about the Harper government’s decision to restore the traditional designations of the Canadian Forces, bringing back the word “royal” to the Canadian Navy and Canadian Air Force. Most Canadians had not heard of this as a pressing issue. No one seemed to ask for a solution to this non-existent problem.

Yet, according to a Harris Decima poll sponsored by the Canadian Press, a majority greeted the announcement favourably. Even in Québec, where opposition was expected to be very strong, a respectable 41 percent agreed with the government’s decision.

Therefore, from now on, our armed forces will be known as the Royal Canadian Navy, the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian Army (no royal for these guys). That important piece of business dealt with, politicians should now begin to discuss how the country will use its armed forces from now on. What have we learned from our long engagement in Afghanistan? Did the Libyan experience confirm our need for a new state of the art fighter as costly as the F35, or should we invest in a cheaper fighter or even drones? What share of the fiscal burden should National Defence be asked to carry as the government aims for zero deficit in 2014-2015?

These are very difficult questions to which I would not dare suggest answers. But I sense many Canadians are wondering where the nation should go militarily in the future. A report leaked to the media earlier this week shows that Ottawa’s efforts to increase our armed forces’ capabilities contributed to our successes in the field but also produced a bloated bureaucracy in Ottawa.  The report was written by a “transformation team” led by recently retired Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie, the former Chief of the Land Staff.

In its analysis of the forces current situation, the “Transformation Team” doesn’t mince words. It speaks of “an increasingly cumbersome and even confusing degree of interdepartmental process,” of “stifling process, blurred authorities and accountabilities,” one consequence being that hundreds of millions attributed to National Defence has remained unspent. The report remarks that while personnel in operational jobs grew by 10 percent from 2004 to 2010, the number of employees in non-operational functions (i.e. bureaucrats) grew by 40 percent!  “In far too many instances,” deplores the Team, “the headquarters and other overhead grew while ships were decommissioned, regular and reserve battalions were disbanded and whole aircraft fleets cashed in.”

General Leslie’s group recommends that “dramatic changes” be made so that the Forces are able to respond to present and future challenges while limiting costs. Among those changes: the number of bureaucrats should be reduced, 3,500 force personnel should be reallocated to priority functions, the number of full-time reservists should be  cut by half, and the amount spent on outside contractors and consultants (2,7 billions) should be brought down by at least 30 percent.

Rumours indicate that the top brass are very unhappy about the report. However, reports the Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson, the Prime Minister’s Office has shown “considerable interest” in the document. Rightly so. If one is to believe its description of the waste and disorganization that prevail at National Defence and the Forces, there is indeed an urgent need for dramatic changes. Therefore, besides tackling the hard questions about the role of the Canadian military, the government will also have to make sure that once these decisions are taken, the Department will be willing and able to manage efficiently the enormous amounts of money it receives.

Photo courtesy Reuters.

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