Defence spending concerns raised at town hall meeting

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February 17, 2015 9:06 AM

MP Leon Benoit held a town hall meeting at the Lloydminster Chamber of Commerce last week. - Jaime Polmateer Photo

Leon Benoit, MP for Vegreville-Wainwright, held a meeting at the Lloydminster Chamber of Commerce to talk about the upcoming federal budget. Among the topics that came up was defence spending, which was discussed at length and accounts for eight cents of every tax dollar spent.

One concerned citizen felt that the federal government wasn’t putting enough into defence and suggested that the eight cents be brought up to a higher number.

“I have got a paper that’s quite disturbing about national defence,” said Gordon Stefanuk, a local draftsman.

“I was six years in the army and I’m concerned about the low level of defence budget. I was speaking to some current members of the army and they’re concerned about the budget cuts and there’s other reports that corroborate this.”

He referred to a study authored by Bill Robinson, an avid writer of Canadian defence policy, and Peter Ibbott, professor of economics at the University of Western Ontario. The study says that the government bases the defence budget strictly on numbers rather than perceived threat or calculated problems.

Do to recent threats like ISIL and the Russian bomber that entered Canadian airspace last summer, Stefanuk said he feels our defence needs to be stepped up

“The equipment procurement process takes five years, so what this is now is what’s going to happen five years from now. So all equipment wears out, training competent officers takes time, getting one heavy duty mechanic to fix a tank takes six months to get him basic,” he said.

“So the year over year decrease in level of spending is the concern.”

Stefanuk said the inability to buy ammunition, replace equipment and train military personnel doesn’t come down to the feeling of security but the “math of being secure.”

Benoit countered, saying a decrease in spending percentage doesn’t necessary mean a decrease in the amount of dollars spent, as the country’s economy has grown substantially over the last few years.

“Percentage, though, isn’t a decline. Our economy, as I explained earlier, has increased, has doubled in the last, probably, dozen years,” Benoit said. “So percentage of GDP, even in real terms, means a real increase in defence spending.”

Benoit pointed out that Canada spends money of defence procurements quite well, getting a better bang for the buck than many other countries around the world. He said “we’ve caught up” and now own modern planes, which is why we’ve done a good job in the areas of Ukraine and against ISIL in Iraq.

Stefanuk, while acknowledging the MP’s point, said it’s not just the procurement process that’s in question.

“It’s not the procurement process, the equipment is going to wear out,” he said. “There’s not enough of it, so that’s the concern.”

Benoit tried to assure people in attendance that Canada’s military was viewed as among the best in the world, but agreed the government should invest more in defence.

“I’m glad you brought it up,” he said. “I wouldn’t argue with you at all about increasing the defence budget.”

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