The new Defence Chief will be welcomed with frugal pomp as he takes command of the Canadian Forces for an era of budgetary restraint.
Lieutenant-General Tom Lawson will be sworn in as General Lawson and appointed leader of Canada’s armed forces on Monday with a 21-gun salute, a ceremony presided over by the Governor-General, and a speech from the Prime Minister.
But the military has told its people not to travel to the event, and reports indicate officials are trying to ensure the ceremony’s price tag is smaller than the $250,000 spent when General Rick Hillier left command in 2008.
The shindig on a shaved budget symbolizes the very different job Gen. Lawson faces as Chief of the Defence Staff. His two most recent predecessors, Gen. Hillier and General Walt Natynczyk, were morale-boosting leaders of troops overseas. Gen. Lawson will have to mediate internal battles at home over resources.
“The priority is no longer operations. The priority is making the department more efficient, cutting the budget, or whatever the buzzword is,” said David Perry, a defence analyst with the CDA Institute. “It was Afghanistan and operations for a long time. Now it’s resource allocation.”
Gen. Lawson, who turns 55 on Friday, is a fighter pilot who flew Starfighters and CF-18s, but most of his career lacked that Top Gun flash. His star rose within the forces when, as a colonel, he was seen as having done a crack job as commander of Canada’s largest Air Force base in Trenton – a task that requires a deft administrator.
Both Gen. Hillier and Gen. Natynczyk, who steps down Monday, took the top post when military budgets were rising. Both took on the task of raising the spirits and profile of soldiers in Canada as they led a military that was operating in Afghanistan, and in Gen. Natynczyck’s case, Libya.
Gen. Lawson faces a different task. The budget cuts will strain the military’s ability to stay ready for a mission, and will likely see different branches battle over scarce funds.
Mr. Perry said the cuts already announced by the government amount to about 11 per cent of the military’s budget, and it will hit far deeper in a category of spending known as operations and maintenance.
The Canadian Forces are being told they cannot cut the numbers in its regular force, whose salaries are the military’s biggest expense. And it must preserve the military’s capital-spending plan to buy new planes, ships and other equipment – which is already underfunded.
So far, its ideas for cutting administration and civilian staff won’t generate enough savings, Mr. Perry said.
What’s left is the training and equipment tuneups that keep units ready to ship out, he said: “It means that the operational readiness is going to be reduced.”
The Harper government, however, has made it clear that it does not want the cuts to show in public. Defence Minister Peter MacKay repeatedly states that the defence budget has gone up every year under the Conservative government. But Mr. Perry said two recent rounds of cuts are going to have a substantial impact and in real terms the Forces won’t return to their pre-cut funding levels for eight or nine years.