Defence budget facing nearly $1 billion in cuts, chief of defence staff says

Wayne Eyre said the defence department’s piece of the $15 billion in cuts from across the government will hurt

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OTTAWA – Canada’s top general revealed on Thursday that the armed forces is facing nearly $1 billion in cuts by the Liberal government, saying that military leaders are struggling to understand the change as the forces deal with more pressures in an unstable world.

Speaking to MPs Thursday during a meeting of the defence committee, Chief of Defence Staff Wayne Eyre was asked about proposals to cut $15 billion across the government, which the Liberals promised to do in the spring budget.

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Eyre said the Defence Department’s piece of that cut will hurt.

“There’s no way that you can take almost $1 billion out of the defence budget and not have an impact, so this is something that we’re wrestling with now,” he told MPs.

Eyre said he had been discussing the cuts with military leaders and they’re struggling to understand the change.

“Our people see the degrading declining security situation around the world and so trying to explain this to them is very difficult,” he said.

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Conservative Defence critic MP James Bezan said he hopes the military doesn’t weaken its readiness with these cuts.

“I sure hope we’re not going to hear stories that we can’t afford to put the fuel in the tanks and train guys in armour, we’re not going to put diesel in the ships and not have the Navy go out there and training, we can’t afford to do maintenance on our tanks,” he said. “We have to make sure we continue to move forward in training and operations.”

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Deputy Minister of Defence Bill Matthews said the department is looking at ways to ensure the cuts don’t hurt the ability of the military to fight.

“We have to prioritize those decisions so they have the least amount of impact possible acknowledging that there will be impact,” he said.

According to the government’s own numbers, Canada is spending about 1.3 per cent of its GDP on defence, well short of the two per cent the country has pledged to spend as a NATO member.

Treasury Board President Anita Anand has asked all departments to find three per cent savings to their budget in an effort to save $15 billion. The defence budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year is $26.5 billion.

Eyre said the budget cuts are coming as the forces are doing a lot more deployments for natural disasters. He said that is causing wear on tear on air and vehicle fleets and cutting into time the forces should be training.

He said the military also has to restock the ammunition that has been sent to Ukraine. He said artillery shells in particular need to be restocked.

“We have not produced one additional round of ammunition in this country since February of 2022,” he said. “In order to continue to ensure that we’ve got our own proper stocks and to ensure that we can continue to support Ukraine for the long term, the accelerated production of artillery ammunition is extremely important.”

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Eyre said all of Canada’s ammunition stocks need to be resupplied and there simply isn’t the contract or companies in place to do many of it.

“If we were to consume munitions, the same rate that we’re seeing them in Ukraine, we would be out in some cases in days, and it would take years to restock.”

Eyre also told committee members that the forces is about 16,000 people short and has taken more aggressive recruiting steps to try and address that shortfall.

He said there are 10,000 people training and the military has recently made changes with shorter navy contracts and opening up military service to permanent residents.

Defence Minister Bill Blair said they believe they are starting to turn that around.

“The number of people joining us is now exceeding, for the first time in your three years, the attrition, the people that are leaving, and that is good news.”

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