POLITICS
10/03/2011 05:04 EDT | Updated 12/03/2011 05:12 EST

Defence Cuts: Former Senior Military Officer Pushes For $1 Billion In Cutbacks

OTTAWA - The former soldier who's recommended deep cuts at the Department of National Defence headquarters says the Conservative government has an opportunity to implement historic change.

Retired lieutenant-general Andrew Leslie made his pitch for up to $1 billion in savings before the Senate defence committee on Monday, describing the 43 recommendations in his report as "moderately tough choices" that will require political will to implement.

Leslie, who headed the army throughout most of the Afghan war, was put in charge of designing a reorganized military and his findings, released last month, have created waves.

His report calls for cutting a bloated headquarters establishment in Ottawa where approximately 20,000 uniformed members and civil servants oversee operations as well as administration.

He recommended cuts on the bureaucratic side of DND, trimming jobs at headquarters and reallocating resources in measures that could affect up to 11,000 jobs. Among the suggestions, Leslie says the full-time reservists, called up during the Afghan war into headquarters positions, could be demobilized and returned to part-time status.

Under the plan, the department would cut money spent on outside contractors and consultants.

"I think the only person who agrees with all of my recommendations is me," Leslie told the committee, acknowledging the rancour with which the report has been received inside the Ottawa headquarters.

"It is up to the government of Canada to either accept or not the recommendations and to actually conduct the implementation and that is, arguably, the toughest part of all. This has to be a government of Canada driven activity."

The transformation report would "destroy" the Canadian military if fully implemented, retired chief of defence staff general Rick Hillier has warned.

Leslie countered by saying he spent over 30 years in uniform and would never do anything to destroy the Forces, but argued that a fiscal reality of cutbacks is going to kick in, regardless of whether the Forces wants to acknowledge it.

After nearly a decade of rising defence spending and with a multi-billion dollar budget deficit, Leslie said the military "can't logically expect to go to government and say, please sir, can we have some more."

The study, in which Leslie sought out the business community for best practises, says that while the front-line positions grew by around 10 per cent during the war, the number of headquarters and non-operational jobs at DND ballooned by almost 40 per cent.

Leslie said he and his team spent 10 months glued to computer screens and spread sheets and at least once a week he was faced with an "Oh my God" moment upon discovering something startling or out of whack within the Defence Department's giant layered bureaucracy.

Tory Senator Pierre Claude Nolin questioned whether Leslie's recommendation of returning full-time reservists to part-time status was feasible.

"Are you sure of that?" he asked.

The transformation team did not dig extensively into the civilian side of the DND headquarters because it was ordered half way through the process to stop.

Leslie said they were told that civilian reductions would be handled separately.