A Question of Priorities and ManagementUnder Peter MacKay's tenure, Defense Canada inflated with bureaucrats and faced some of the most humiliating realities in procurement. Now, with Rob Nicholson at the top, the defense department is facing an overhaul that fails to reverse the damage MacKay left behind.
When tasked by budget cuts and a letter sent to him from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, MacKay didn't cut this bureaucracy, he instead opted to cut military services and the trend is continuing under Nicholson - and beyond the defense department.
Unsatisfied with the direction the military was undertaking, Leslie became vocal in June, saying, "The underlying premise of the 2011 report on transformation was that everything possible should be done to protect the front-line teeth."
At the time, a spokesperson for MacKay responded saying the department aimed to reduce the number of bureaucrats from 29,348 to 25,408 by the end of the 2012 fiscal year, which is a far cry from the bureaucracy reductions which took place in 1999 under the previous Liberal administration when the number of civil servants was reduced to 17,037 from 37,200 in 1990. In that past year, MacKay's department cut 1,500 workers in clerical staff at bases, gun range supervisors, radiation safety advisers, armory workers and trades helpers - people on whom the troops depend, rather than administration.
Leslie's report underlined a 57% increase in Ottawa-based administration since Harper took office in 2006 and he said "All of those folk who have received affected notices, at least the vast majority, are to be found on bases and directly support the front-line troops. And I don't see affected worker notices going out to where the vast majority of the growth has occurred since 2004, which is at the higher level headquarters."
CBC recently discovered the trend was continuing under Nicholson and officials in the military are at odds with the way the Conservatives' deep cuts are being handled - notably that rather than cutting bureaucracy, the Defense Department is cutting the operations and maintenance budget which includes training - a key tool to maintaining a modern and prepared military.
The Canada First Defense Strategy was drafted to cut the military without cutting the amount of troops - currently 68,000 nor the budget for ships and planes (which has been botched). However, that leaves cutting the necessary tools troops need, which could lead to an out-flux - it has certainly lead to an internal outcry.
Retired General Rick Hillier blasted the strategy saying "You're going to devastate the capability of the Canadian Forces" with the cuts.
"If all the other things are untouched because you don't want to reduce the number of people, because you're committed to equipment, then you're going to savage the operations and training piece of it, which means that soldiers won't train, sailors won't sail and men and women won't be in their aircraft very much."
The government's cuts will total $2.1 billion of the $20 billion annual budget the military receives by 2015. As a result, the largest hit are those working in maintenance and operations as they face 61% cuts, amid all the added bureaucrats that aren't being touched.
"Our transformation team, over two years ago, recommended they cut consultants and contractors, which in 2010 was at $2.77 billion per year.
"Since then DND increased spending on consultants and contractors to $3 billion a year," he told CBC News Wednesday. "This is irresponsible."
"Our government has made unprecedented investments in the Canadian Armed Forces. In fact, since 2006 we have boosted defence budgets by 27 per cent, roughly $5 billion in annual funding," Nicholson said in a statement.
"The government will continue to place priority emphasis on meeting operational requirements, training within Canada, supporting the part-time reserves, undertaking national sovereignty missions and caring for ill and injured soldiers."
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MacKay's justification was the ships were being built in Canada.
Nonetheless, changing headquarters would be a reckless move in a time when the government is cash-strapped and looking for cuts. Leslie once again weighed in, saying, “Spending $1 billion on a new headquarters, even if it’s state-of-the-art -- and of course, it isn’t -- is a really bad idea.”
"Department heads and leaders need to lead by example, nowhere is this more important than in the military.
It should have never been approved, especially not since we're spending hundreds of millions of dollars to move [DND] to the other end of the city... into the old Nortel buildings."
Leslie, who has came out swinging against Harper's mismanagement of the Department of Defense has aligned himself with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau as a military adviser. If this entails one thing, it is that a if the Liberals form a government in 2015, they will be making a clean up in National Defense - it appears they won't have much choice. The Liberals should follow Leslie's restructuring plan closely because the military is important for Canada's sovereignty and security and it shouldn't be an institution of rampant waste and mismanagement.
It is hard to imagine the NDP being in favor of this kind of mismanagement with their vocal opposition during the acquisitions but what is left to find out is what the NDP strategy for the military actually is.
The Conservatives preach their commitment to Canada's veterans but in the wake of their desperate search for cuts, mental health for those who have been scared by their years of service is going to be harder to access and their benefits will continue to dwindle as they face the inevitable line that the Canadian people can no longer afford them.
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