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It takes time to rebuild Canada's military

My Liberal colleague, Senator Colin Kenny, acknowledged in his recent op-ed ('Is military readiness a lost cause in Canada?', The Guardian, April 28, 2009) that his Liberal government "hammered the Canadian Forces" with budget cuts. That is true, if not an understatement.

By slashing Canada's defence budget by a quarter throughout the 1990s, Senator Kenny's Liberals brought Canada's military to its knees - something no enemy combatant has ever done. The former chief of defence staff, General Rick Hillier, has described the Liberal record as a "decade of darkness" for Canada's military. Regrettably, Senator Kenny's admission was buried in a facile and partisan treatment of the progress made by the Conservative government in undoing the damage of the Liberal cuts.

The Conservative government's first budget after taking office in 2006 increased defence spending by $5.3 billion over five years. The 2008 budget further committed to automatic annual increases in defence spending of two per cent, ensuring predictable funding and enabling long-term strategic planning.

Nevertheless, the point of Senator Kenny's article seems to be that, despite our considerable new investments in national defence, the government is still not spending enough money fast enough to rebuild Canada's military. This view is refuted by Canada's top military commanders, including the chief of the defence staff, General Walter Natynczyk , who recently told the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence that "defence funding in the next four to five years will increase at a rate faster than our capacity ... to fully invest the additional funds across the four components for military capacity: personnel, capital, infrastructure and operational readiness."

The general's point was that although rebuilding the military takes money, it also takes time. You have to spend money to reconstruct a fallen house, but faster spending will not result in faster or better construction. You can't install venetian blinds while you are pouring the foundation. The money has to be spent on the right things, for the right reasons, and in the right order. Similarly, it will take strategic and sustained investment, not just a sudden spending binge, to rebuild an effective military force.

So, although it cannot yet be said that the current government has rebuilt the military, the work is certainly underway. We are investing in core capabilities and essential equipment lost during the era of Liberal neglect, and in new areas that reflect modern strategic priorities and technologies. These include strategic and tactical airlift, supply ships, aerial reconnaissance, heavy lift helicopters, and so forth.

The necessary increase in our number of military personnel is also taking place at a responsible pace that does not compromise the quality of selection and training, especially considering that many of the experienced soldiers needed to train new recruits are currently preoccupied with the mission in Afghanistan. It was Senator Kenny's Liberal government that committed Canada's troops to their current role in Afghanistan with no end date. The current Conservative government has set a reasonable timeline for withdrawal, and we have done our utmost, in close co-operation with Canada's military leaders, to protect and enable our troops in Afghanistan by supplying them with the equipment and support they need. This stands in sharp contrast to the Liberal record.

The Conservative government and Canada's military leaders are steadily reversing the damage caused by more than a decade of Liberal neglect. We are responsibly making the strategic investments needed to restore Canada to its rightful place on the world stage.

Senator David Tkachuk is a member of the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence.