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Justice Minister Rob Nicholson rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday March 20, 2013. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday March 20, 2013. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Military targets waste and inefficiency in redeploying funds Add to ...

In 2005 the enemy was the Taliban, but now the Canadian Armed Forces have slapped a target on a fresh adversary: waste and inefficiency.

The military will squeeze up to $1.2-billion in annual savings from existing spending and redirect it to higher priority areas in an effort to keep soldiers, sailors and air force personnel in a higher state of readiness, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson announced Monday. The goal, in military parlance, is “more teeth and less tail.”

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Between 2,400 and 4,800 military and civilian staff will be reassigned to “higher priority tasks,” Mr. Nicholson said. “In line with the Prime Minister’s intent to free up support for operational capability and readiness, National Defence has put forward an ambitious plan to reduce corporate overhead,” the minister said.

Back in 2005, the Canadian Armed Forces began combat operations against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan and military spending in this country expanded in response. In 2013, with Ottawa’s books awash in red ink and Afghan combat operations long behind them, the Forces are trying to cope with budget cuts that have raised concerns that the training of front-line staff is suffering.

The Canadian military is taking a $2.1-billion hit to its budget over several years as a result of recent belt-tightening to help the Conservative government balance the federal books by 2015.

Managerial jobs are high on the chopping-block list. A summary of the “Defence Renewal” plan provided by the Department of National Defence says that roughly 50 per cent of managers in the organization have too few people to manage.

The effort is a reaction to an influential 2011 assessment of the department’s failings. Former army commander Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie told Ottawa two years ago to take an axe to National Defence’s bloated headquarters by dismissing or reassigning thousands of workers to save money. Mr. Leslie, now retired, has waded into partisan politics as an adviser to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on foreign and defence issues.

The Forces are betting on technology to save them money, offering examples of how pilots would conduct more training in flight simulators instead of aircraft. “By investing in a training simulator for the Cormorant search and rescue helicopter, the Royal Canadian Air Force will reduce the number of flying hours on operational aircraft required to train Cormorant pilots from 55 to 30 hours,” DND said in a statement.

Many of the changes seem like standard efforts to cut costs. The military is, for instance, going to consolidate the Forces’ IT departments into 22 or fewer offices from more than 135 today. It will use video teleconferencing to save on travel.

Asked how Ottawa would use the savings, a senior official during a briefing Monday said there would be more sea days for the navy, more flying hours for the air force and more training opportunities for the army.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper had been pushing the military to implement Mr. Leslie’s recommendations. At a change-of-command ceremony last year when General Tom Lawson took over as Chief of the Defence Staff, Mr. Harper made a point of reminding him that he must must aim for “more teeth and less tail” as he overhauls the Forces to “ensure administrative burdens are reduced and resources freed up for the front line.”

Sources said Monday that the Harper government had been growing impatient, a year later, with the results of a reallocation exercise begun some time ago.

Last year, Gen. Lawson rejected the notion that the military is bloated. “I would like to say there’s very little fat,” he told reporters in October, 2012.

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