Thursday, March 23, 2017

Canadian Forces, Security get Short Shrift in Budget 2017

By: Amanda Connolly, iPolitics 

Anyone hoping that Budget 2017 would provide insight into how the government plans to exercise soft or hard power abroad is going to be disappointed – as are any who hoped for a ballpark estimate of the costs of ambitious new programs like enhanced pre-clearance or the national security committee of parliamentarians.

This year’s budget offers little – and in many cases, nothing – in the way of plans to support the Canadian Forces or domestic security agencies. It also offers no insight into how, or if, the government plans to address pressure from the Trump administration to meet the two-per-cent of GDP target set by NATO allies for defence spending.

Budget 2017 includes no new money for the Department of National Defence, although the department is scheduled to get a bit of pocket money in the form of $134 million that kicks in this year under the escalator increase put in place by the former Conservative government in Budget 2015.

Until the long-awaited Defence Policy Review is completed, officials said Wednesday, the government will not be releasing any information about planned costing measures for the military.

The terms for the panel of experts advising Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan on the Defence Policy Review were extended last month to run until April 28. Although the listing on the Privy Council Office website stated the terms were extended so the panel could help finalize the report, a spokesperson for the minister said shouldn’t be taken as a timeline for the report’s release.

“We know how important it is to play our role internationally … we also know how important defence is to our economy,” said Finance Minister Bill Morneau in a press conference Wednesday, noting the pending release of the Defence Policy Review. “That will show our level of ambition.”

Budget 2017 does clarify the ongoing cost of renewing Canada’s military training mission in Ukraine, which decreases from $32 million per year in 2015 and 2016 to $29 million over the next two years.

Officials say that decrease reflects the start-up costs of the mission and not a reduction in the work Canadian soldiers are doing on the ground in Ukraine, given that the mission mandate is unchanged.

The government also adjusted the total amount of money allocated for large-scale capital projects – funding that was punted forward by about 30 years in Budget 2016.

While that budget set a total of $84.3 billion for deferred spending on military procurements the department isn’t ready to complete, Budget 2017 puts that figure closer to $83 billion.

The only new spending more-or-less related to defence is $13 million over five years to implement the Arms Trade Treaty, which Canada is set to join this year.

On the security front, the budget news is equally thin.

Despite suggestions that the government could have the planned new national security committee of parliamentarians in place by the end of the year, the budget allocates no new money for the committee’s secretariat, or for the reported $500,000 needed for renovations to upgrade existing meeting facilities to house the committee.

The same goes for plans to enhance pre-clearance efforts on both sides of the border under C-23.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, Transport Canada and the RCMP will get an operational top-up of $125 million; CATSA and Transport Canada will get roughly $600,000 each from that envelope to support existing security screening measures for airport staff.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service will share $1.25 million with Public Safety Canada to keep screening foreign investors for potential threats to Canadian national security – but there is no new money for CSIS’s operating budget or oversight, or for its sister signals intelligence agency, the Communications Security Establishment.

However, the government is recognizing the unfailing creativity of those who would like to blow up public spaces by giving $8.7 million over five years to Natural Resources Canada to expand the list of regulated chemicals to include those that could be used to create homemade explosives.

That list has not yet been finalized, officials said.

Public Safety Canada will get $1.37 million this year for its Regional Resilience Assessment Program and the Virtual Risk Analysis Cell, which together work to conduct site assessments of critical infrastructure facilities and share that information with those who operate critical infrastructure.

Community organizations looking for help in setting up security equipment like cameras for their facilities will be able to access $5 million that will be rolled out over five years through Public Safety Canada’s Security Infrastructure Program.

The only area seeing substantial new money this year appears to be the asylum system, which will get $62.9 million over five years and $11.5 million each year after that to provide better legal aid to asylum seekers.

Budget 2017 also includes $29 million over five years, with $5.8 million each year after, to allow officials with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to intervene in asylum hearings to verify the information being provided in the applicant’s claim.

Yazidi refugee resettlement efforts will also get $27.7 million over three years, although there is no indication of how the government may adjust the soon-to-be-reevaluated mission against ISIS in Iraq.

The $167 million over three years that was announced in Budget 2016 for that mission continues and does not appear to have been changed.

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