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Military left waiting on big-ticket items as Liberals shrink funding in budget

Ottawa plans to spend $306-million in the 2016-17 fiscal year on the revised military mission in Iraq.

OP Impact, DND

Justin Trudeau's first budget offers no new money for big-ticket military items and instead shrinks funding by $3.72-billion over five years to account for major delays in plans to buy new fighter jets and ships.

The Liberals insist, however, they are not slashing defence spending and are instead merely shifting the cash to future years when Prime Minister Trudeau's government is better prepared to purchase new warplanes and ship construction has accelerated.

The reduction does help Ottawa's bottom line in the short term – reducing program spending by $3.72-billion between 2015-16 and 2020-21.

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The Department of National Defence will receive $200.5-million to spruce up infrastructure on Canadian Armed Forces bases and military housing in Tuesday's fiscal plan – but little else in the way of new capital funding.

This lack of cash came despite a budget that went nearly $30-billion into deficit to dole out money for a wide range of other priorities, from infrastructure to aboriginals.

"This budget reminds me of that episode of Oprah where everybody in the audience got a car," said David Perry, senior analyst with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

"Everyone got a car here except the Department of Defence and the money it was supposed to get to buy a car has been shifted out to 2020 and beyond."

Mr. Perry said pressure is increasing on the Liberal government to find a way to overhaul big-ticket military purchasing and funnel more money into it.

Conservative public safety critic Erin O'Toole said there's fear in the military and the defence industry that the Liberals are not just postponing spending but that "a lot of these things are being cancelled and not just delayed."

Military procurement in Canada is a mess these days. Construction of new warships has fallen far behind original schedules and plans to replace the aging CF-18 fighters – purchased in the 1980s – have yet to recover after the former Conservative government backed away from a commitment to purchase the controversial F-35 jets made by Lockheed Martin.

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The head of Canada's navy, Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, went public late last year with his concerns over the lack of sufficient cash to fund a new generation of warships.

The Trudeau government reiterated in the budget that it will assemble a new defence strategy for Canada, a plan that will also likely revise the spending blueprint for big-ticket items.

The budget also confirmed, as the Liberals have already announced, that they will spend $306-million in the 2016-17 fiscal year on the revised military mission in Iraq, where Canada is part of a coalition fighting the Islamic State group.

The Liberals have withdrawn fighter jets from the coalition but increased their military advisory and training role by boosting special forces on the ground to 220 from nearly 70.

As first announced in February, the Liberals are spending $840-million over three years for humanitarian aid programs in the Mideast to help victims of Islamic State aggression and $145-million over the same period on counterterrorism programs and efforts to fight chemical, biological and radiological threats in the region.

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