Military spending: Up is down?

The new federal budget commits the Harper government to going ahead with its planned increases in military spending in both the coming year (fiscal year 2010-11) and the next, after which, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says, the size of planned increases in military spending will be reduced for two years. The military budget is then projected to resume the upward track promised in the Harper government’s so-called Canada First Defence Strategy.

militarybudgetAs Flaherty explains it, “Budget 2010 reduces growth in National Defence’s budget by $525 million in 2012–13 and $1 billion annually beginning in 2013–14. Defence spending will continue to grow but more slowly than previously planned.” The chart at right illustrates the Finance Minister’s explanation.

But for the time being at least, the government’s spending plans are about as clear as mud. For starters, Flaherty’s chart excludes incremental spending on Afghanistan and other operations, such as Olympics security. The actual level of military spending is thus higher than shown in the chart, although that extra amount is likely to decline as the Afghanistan mission winds down (assuming nothing comparable takes its place).

And that’s not all. While the chart shows a 2009-10 spending level of slightly more than $18 billion, the budgetary Main Estimates give a figure of $19.2 billion for that fiscal year–still not including the costs of Afghanistan and other operations. You have to go to the 2009-10 Report on Plans and Priorities to find the actual level of 2009-10 spending, which, once Afghanistan, other missions, and sundry supplementary top-ups are added, is expected to total more than $21 billion.

The military spending figure for the coming fiscal year, according to the Flaherty chart, will be about $19 billion, or nearly one billion more than in 2009-10. Meanwhile, the Main Estimates put the 2010-11 figure at $21.1 billion, or nearly $2 billion more than reported in the 2009-10 Main Estimates.

So are we looking at a 5% increase in military spending this year or a 10% increase? It’s likely that the 2010-11 Main Estimates figure includes most or all of expected incremental operations spending, whereas the 2009-10 figure did not, so the increase is probably closer to 5%, but we don’t yet know that for sure. The 2010-11 Report on Plans and Priorities will give us the most complete and reliable figure, but that document hasn’t been released yet. It may be out later this month.

In the meantime, count on the usual suspects to call the government’s promise to reduce the rate of increase in the military budget a couple of years from now a cut in the budget. The rest of us can wonder how the 2.7% annual increases promised in the Canada First Defence Strategy turned into something that looks more like a 5% (or greater) increase in this year of supposed restraint.

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  1. Military budget growth set to continue | Ceasefire.ca - March 23, 2011

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