Evidence of meeting #26 for National Defence in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was things.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Joel Sokolsky  Principal, Royal Military College of Canada
  • Michael Hennessy  Professor, Department of History, and Dean of Continuing Studies, Royal Military College of Canada
  • Douglas Bland  Chair, Defence Management Studies Program, School of Policy Studies, Queen's University
  • David Skillicorn  Professor, School of Computing, Queen's University
  • Glenn Nordick  As an Individual

2:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Bezan

Mr. Strahl, you have the floor.

February 14th, 2012 / 2:40 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, witnesses, for your testimony this afternoon.

Dr. Bland, I appreciated your history lesson in terms of the pitfalls that many a former prime minister and former minister of national defence has discovered when they've tried to find efficiencies, as they call them, in the Canadian Forces budget.

As you've indicated, when General Leslie spoke to the different parts of the Canadian Forces, every one of them was essential to the continued operation and to continuing to meet the goals and core capability requirements. You had similar comments about your predictions of what may be included in the upcoming budget and what effect that would have on the core capabilities of the Canadian Forces.

I guess I understand that perspective. Certainly as a Conservative, having been part of a government that has invested significantly in the armed forces, I understand that perspective.

On the other hand, my constituents tell me from time to time that certainly in an organization that has a $20-billion annual budget, surely not every dollar spent there can be sacrosanct. As a government, how do we find that balance with regard to the concern for readiness and wanting to ensure that the core capabilities of the Canadian Forces are maintained? How do you maintain that perspective while at the same time wanting to be able to find, in such a massive organization, inefficiencies? Surely we can do both.

2:45 p.m.

Chair, Defence Management Studies Program, School of Policy Studies, Queen's University

Dr. Douglas Bland

Sure. I would love to spend a few months sorting out the inefficiencies at National Defence Headquarters, but they won't let me.

2:45 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

2:45 p.m.

Chair, Defence Management Studies Program, School of Policy Studies, Queen's University

Dr. Douglas Bland

The point is not that there aren't inefficiencies, and it's a whole other question as to what that means. I'll come back to it. The point is that in all these cuts.... When I joined the armed forces a long, long time ago, there were 125,000 people in the armed forces. We had ships and a navy with aircraft carriers and great big fleets of fighter airplanes and all kinds of other planes. We were deployed. I and a lot of my colleagues were deployed with 10,000 people in Europe. We had nuclear weapons. Now we have maybe 67,000 people with very old equipment, old aircraft, and so on. So the capabilities—and therefore our readiness to do things—have been gradually going down.

So when governments are looking for a pot of money to advance needy projects—old age insurance or whatever, things like that—the defence budget is a discretionary budget. It's not hooked into statutes or anything else. It belongs to the federal government and it's a pot they can go to—and that they have been going to—with promises that finding efficiencies will make up for lack of money. They do it again and again and again.

Unfortunately for Mr. MacKay, in my view, he is at the end of a game of liar's dice here: people have been passing the cup around and around and around. You can't do transformations, find efficiencies, and take money out of the budget when you've already spent all the efficiencies. Not to be too simple, it's like a family that has a lot of debts and is paying them off by selling the furniture. Well, we've been selling off the furniture for a long time, and now the bill has come in again and we don't have any more furniture to sell. There are not that many bases you can close. In 1994 they closed and reduced in size 14 bases.

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

One in my riding: Chilliwack.

2:45 p.m.

Chair, Defence Management Studies Program, School of Policy Studies, Queen's University

Dr. Douglas Bland

Right. You can't cut back the forces people very much more. We've just talked about how you need to have something.

My approach to this kind of thing is to understand the purpose of the armed forces. It is a group of people set aside by society for a special purpose, and that purpose is to use force, and sometimes deadly force, lawfully at the direction of the government. You can do all kinds of things—fight forest fires, find lost kids, and help people in desperate countries—but the primary purpose of the armed forces is to build combat capability. The primary purpose of the Department of National Defence is to maintain and sustain the armed forces when they're doing their basic purpose.

If you did purposeful—that's what I call it—transformation, you would look to things that are a drag on the purpose of the armed forces. That's where you find your efficiencies.

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Such as...?

2:45 p.m.

Chair, Defence Management Studies Program, School of Policy Studies, Queen's University

Dr. Douglas Bland

Such as governments resisting adding on to the logistic slush on the snowball year after year by having the department take on new administrative responsibilities: ombudsman for the armed forces, freedom of information acts.... All of these various reactions to the Auditor General's report create more demand for staff and more demand for resources. But when you have a frozen defence budget like we've had for many years, you start plucking people out of the combat arms part of the armed forces and putting them in headquarters. As Andy Leslie's report showed, 60% of the new money that went into the armed forces in the last few years went to headquarters to handle all of these little niggly problems.

We shouldn't fool ourselves to think that so-called past transformations are anything but budget cutting. They're not transformations to purpose; they're budget money-saving connections.

The chairman is going to cut me off here.

2:50 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Dr. Sokolsky, I was interested in a statement you made:

It is also evident in the recent policy and defence expenditure decisions being made by the United States that a Canadian readiness posture that recognizes the need and ability to make choices with regard to overseas capabilities and commitments will not put Ottawa at odds with the position now being taken by our major ally.

I don't have a lot of time, but I just wanted you to expand on that statement and what exactly you meant by it.

2:50 p.m.

Principal, Royal Military College of Canada

Dr. Joel Sokolsky

I meant that the United States is already going to have to be more selective in its overseas engagements and how it commits its forces. As with the Libyan case, where the United States contributed greatly but let their allies carry the burden, I think we already saw that the Obama administration plans both to make more use of special forces and unmanned aerial vehicles in the war on terrorism and to issue the deployment of large conventional forces. If you look at the budget decisions and the cuts that are coming, including base closures, this would be inevitable for the United States.

I'm saying that we should do what the Americans are doing. It's exactly the approach I think we should be taking—namely, that we have to be more selective in our overseas deployments—and we will not pay a price in Washington by adopting that position.

2:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Bezan

Thank you.

Mr. McKay, you have the last of the seven-minute rounds.

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Thank you, Chair, and thank you to all of you for your thoughts.

I want to start with Dr. Skillicorn's comment that “organization matters”. Your comment was that the Brits got it right by accident—namely, that they had their signals intelligence, and their cyber-security kind of fell into the same pot, so they've carried on doing what they do. I don't know—possibly you have an opinion on this as well—how effective they are in the area of cyber-security.

On the other hand, the three gentlemen to your left have--fairly, I think--a castle model of security, namely, “These are our borders, this is what we have to protect, these are Canada's interests, and this is how we're going to go about readiness to protect those.”

You then made a comment to the effect of, “We don't even know where some of the stuff comes from, we don't know who does it, and we don't know why they do it, but it just sort of appears.”

The question, in the context of readiness, is should cyber-security be housed with the military?

2:50 p.m.

Professor, School of Computing, Queen's University

Dr. David Skillicorn

Well, at the moment it is, in the rather unusual way that CSE is bolted onto the side of DND.

But I think there is a qualitative difference between physical defence of the interests in the land of Canada and the cyberworld, which does not look like that at all. There are places that are sort of in the middle ground. For example, biological terrorism has the same property, but it doesn't matter how good CBSA is, they're not going to be able to keep out anthrax that flows across the border from the south, for example. So we do need to move to a mindset that includes understanding that the defence of Canada is not entirely physically done.

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Is that a military mindset? Is that a military training?

We've been at RMC. We've been to the folks in Toronto. It seems to me to be kind of leading edge here. Is this a cultural antithesis to the military way of thinking? I guess that's the question I'm asking.