In Maclean’s, John Geddes examines the way budget cutbacks are being implemented in Canada’s military:
Perry’s fine-grained analysis starts by setting aside the major parts of defence spending that are, at least in theory, protected from cuts. Last year’s fiscal plan called for more than $1 billion a year to be cut from the defence department’s overall budget of more than $20 billion by 2014-15. That doesn’t seem so tough. But the Conservatives pledged to do that while keeping up the troop strength of the Canadian Forces, at about 68,000 regular members and 27,000 in the reserves, and also protecting most planned capital spending. According to Perry, that means about $12 billion a year was deemed uncuttable — leaving all the reductions to be found somehow in the remaining $8 billion that is spent on the civilian workforce and on military “operations, maintenance and readiness.”
How hard is it to achieve those savings? The clearest indication so far came from Lt.-Gen. Peter Devlin, the commander of the army, in surprising testimony he gave late last year before a Senate committee. Devlin said his land force’s operating budget has been shrunk by an eye-popping 22 per cent—a figure that doesn’t show up anywhere in publicly available defence documents. “As you would expect,” Devlin said with classic officer-class understatement, “that has an effect on people, infrastructure and training.” And he took pains to counter any suggestion that the army should be eliminating desk jobs to save field assets, stressing that administrative and head-office functions occupy only four per cent of his workforce.
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Harper’s letter echoed the thrust of Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie’s 2011 “transformation” report. Leslie, who has since retired, conducted an extensive study of defence spending and concluded that the department must “ruthlessly focus” on reducing its spending on outside consultants and private contractors, with the aim of redistributing resources to military units. He delivered his report two years ago. Yet the latest figures available show that the defence department’s spending on professional services and consultants continued to climb to $3.25 billion in 2011-12 from $2.77 billion in 2009-10. And that increase came after a period when head-office growth outstripped the expansion of the fighting forces. According to Leslie’s report, headquarters personnel numbers grew 40 per cent from 2004 to 2010, while the regular forces grew by just 11 per cent.