Minister of National Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan delivers a keynote speech to members of the Conference of Defence Associations in Ottawa, Thursday February 18, 2016. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)
A big day for Canada's ex-soldiersInstead, it was the veterans community that emerged Tuesday as one of the biggest winners in the Liberal spending spree. Canada's ex-soldiers will see enriched disability awards, expanded access to permanent impairment allowances and a more generous income replacement program for the wounded — measures totalling $5.6 billion over six years, starting this year. The budget also retreads a previous commitment to reopen nine regional Veterans Affairs offices shuttered by the previous Conservative government, but does not say precisely when that will happen. The Liberals promised each of those measures during the fall election campaign.
Same move as ConservativesWhat was unexpected was the decision to defer big-ticket procurement spending — a serious issue for a military facing serious rust-out issues. The Conservatives did the same thing in two previous budgets. The cumulative total of postponed defence purchases has now reached $10.4 billion, said defence analyst Dave Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. For the previous government, the postponement had a lot to do with the balancing the budget, said Perry. To be fair to the Liberals, they need to figure out their defence priorities and fix the broken procurement system, he noted. "This is reflecting in budgetary terms that they can't buy things," Perry said. "I don't know if this government really had much of a choice. They walked in and these projects were not going to move." The political significance, Perry said, is that National Defence will be expecting its money at time when the Liberals will likely have to get serious about cutting the deficit, which is projected this year at $29.4 billion, falling to $14.4 billion by 2020-21. "They're literally going to have an issue five years from now because that's when the bill arrives," said Perry, who noted that the military is at the point where it needs concrete guarantees that the money will be spent. "I think if I was National Defence, I would hope you'd already have the money in the bank, instead of having to rely on a promise of some year, some time in the future they'll be able to acquire this stuff."