Reader Update

This site will soon become a redirect for the new politicalscene.ca. For all the latest from The Canadian Political Scene, head on over to the site and like us on your social network of choice!

The Defense Department is still nothing but fat and bureaucracy

Despite a report two years ago outlining wasteful bureaucracy in the Department of Defense, and despite a cut to the department as part of the Conservatives' effort to reign in their deficit, the number of civilian staff members rose 30% in six years. For a government that preaches fiscal prudence, there is no place they want to seal off more than the Defense department.

The Parliamentary Budget Office released new numbers last week showing the status of the public civil service. The numbers show the number of non-uniform staff in the Department of Defense rose to 27,177 by the end of the 2011-12 fiscal year from 20,978 in the 2005-06 fiscal year.

The 30% increase in the Defense Department far exceeds the net 14% increase in the entire civil service.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper sent a letter to Defense Minister Peter MacKay last year telling him to second look the cuts he can make in his department, after seeing the swelling of administration that needs to be gutted.

Retired lieutenant-general Andrew Leslie gave the same warning in 2011 when he released his report on overhauling the military: Drastically cut the bureaucracy that was created for the Afghan war.

Two years after this report, however, it turns out the cuts MacKay chose to make hurt our men and women in uniform, the very people he was supposed to protect. The bureaucracy remains bloated, and the Canadian military is paying the price. It isn't that the military is underfunded, it's that the funding is wasted in bureaucracy.

"The underlying premise of the 2011 report on transformation was that everything possible should be done to protect the front-line teeth," Leslie told The Canadian Press yesterday.

The 2011 report also noted the civil service increase in the department "had been the highest in absolute and relative terms."

A spokesperson for MacKay said they aim to reduce the number from 29,348 to 25,408 by the end of this fiscal year. However, this reduction is a far cry from former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien's clean up of bureaucracy which reduced the number of civil servants in the department of defense to 17,037 in the 1999.

"This is in line with our department's transition to a lower pace of operations following the end of the combat mission in Afghanistan," Paloma Aguilar said in a statement.

In the last year, only 1,500 civilians were laid off as a part of MacKay's cuts. However, rather than coming out of the administrative offices and bureaucracy, that 1,500 came out from clerical staff at bases, gun range supervisors, radiation safety advisers, armoury workers and trades helpers -- people on whom the troops depend. This doesn't show that cutting is bad, it shows that MacKay cut the wrong places, the Defense Department, among others, is in need of a drastic clean up.

Leslie noted the elimination of these aforementioned affected positions would put the weight of these duties on soldiers and sailors - all the while offices remain bloated with administrators. 

"All of those folk who have received affected notices, at least the vast majority, are to be found on bases and directly support the front-line troops. And I don't see affected worker notices going out to where the vast majority of the growth has occurred since 2004, which is at the higher level headquarters."

Leslie's report showed a 57% increase in Ottawa-based administration and finance since Harper came into power in 2006.

"No one argues about the legitimacy of contributing towards reducing the federal deficit. It is where the cuts occur. That's always been the rub," he said.

Anguilar's statement, however, didn't state where the next round of cuts will be, however given the misguided target for the first round, one can only hope the second round is done properly.

During Leslie's initial assessment, he and his team were blocked by senior officials from looking at the civilian side of the Department of Defense - forcing the team to rely on external data from the federal Treasury Board and the Public Service Commission.

According to the PBO, when former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien inherited the $39 billion deficit from the former Conservative government, the Department of Defense had 37,200 civilian staff in 1990. As part of Chretien's successful clean up of the financial mess he inherited, he managed to reduce bureaucracy in the department down to 17,037.

If Liberal PM Jean Chretien and then-Finance Minister Paul Martin could cut the bureaucracy in the military by 54%, why aren't the "fiscally prudent" Conservatives able to do the same today? Harper once stood for reducing bureaucracy, what happened? What do you think of the news of how finances in the Department of Defense is mishandled - especially in light of recent procurement controversies with the F-35 and Arctic icebreakers? Share this article and join the discussion and let us know what you think: Facebook, Twitter, Google+.