Friday, January 19, 2007
Canada's navy is out of money for operations as the military diverts resources to the fight in Afghanistan. Naval commanders have cancelled discretionary spending to make up for a $25-million shortfall before April 1, the start of the next fiscal year. Until last night, that included a 35-day fisheries patrol for HMCS Halifax, which costs more than $25,000 a day. But when the news spread yesterday, Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor said his department will come up with the money for the mission, which had been scheduled to leave Monday. "I was given an estimate today that the navy would need $3-million to $5-million for fuel, essentially to meet these fishery patrols and a few other issues," Mr. O'Connor told CBC Halifax. "And I've told our officials, make sure they get the $3-million to $5-million." Even so, it is a sign of how much pressure the Afghan mission is putting on other military operations.
HMCS Halifax (FFH 330)"Afghanistan is eating money like you wouldn't believe," said Peter Haydon, a retired naval officer now with the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies in Halifax. "The demand for money is being transferred through the whole military system. Afghanistan is a huge financial drain." The navy had planned for activities that would cost roughly $315-million this fiscal year, but were given $290-million, Lieutenant Marie-Claude Gagné, a Maritime Command spokeswoman on the East Coast, said yesterday. She said Maritime Forces Atlantic always "overprograms" on the assumption it will have extra money at year's end because of projects that were cancelled, delayed or less costly than anticipated. The gamble did not pay off this year. Other fisheries patrols, which are aimed at preventing foreign ships from fishing illegally in Canadian waters, may be cancelled if no more money is found before April 1. Professional-development activities and overtime have been put on hold, training exercises could be delayed until April and the navy may be asking personnel to use their vehicles less frequently. Lt. Gagné said Canadians should not worry that marine security will be compromised. "We will always have a ship ready to respond to any contingencies, whether it be domestically or internationally. So that's not something we can cut into either," she said. Naval Jack of CanadaNor will navy staff bear the brunt. The cuts are designed to have "as little impact as possible on our personnel. That's not something we can cut into and we wouldn't want to anyway," she said. However, Rear Admiral Dean McFadden, commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic, has asked all of his commanding officers to "exercise prudence within their funding allocations and make sure that funds are allocated toward essential activities to make sure that funds go wherever they are most needed," Lt. Gagné said. When asked why the anticipated funds did not turn up this year, she said: "I don't know. I believe it is because other priorities have taken precedence." Defence experts says those priorities are in Afghanistan. "I think the big picture here, if I have to make one, is that Afghanistan has become so all-absorbing of time, energy and resources for everyone that there's nothing left over," said Dan Middlemiss, a political science professor who teaches defence policy at Dalhousie University in Halifax. "They haven't been able to budget adequately for Afghanistan, as much as they are trying, because needs keep evolving and new requirements emerge on the spot and they have to deal with them quickly. So it's exhausting everybody in the process." The Conservative government has directed a major chunk of spending toward the military since it took office a year ago.Billions have been spent on planes, trucks, ships and helicopters, and Mr. O'Connor makes major new procurement announcements as part of his Canada First program. However, "the Canada First aspect is somewhat ironic, because here we are, we can't take care of our own backyard," Dr. Middlemiss said. NDP defence critic Dawn Black said the minister must assure Canadians that money that is needed here at home is not being diverted to Afghanistan. "If fishery patrols are being cancelled, and they are telling us that, what does that mean about environmental patrols, what does that mean about drug interception, what does that mean about border security?" Ms. Black asked. "I think there are a lot of questions here that the Minister of National Defence has got to make clear to Canadians. I think it raises huge concerns."