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Defence job cuts coming, warns Liberal MP

Cuts will be made to civilian defence jobs at bases across Canada after several departments have been asked to trim their budgets, said Keith Martin, MP for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca.

The recent request includes shaving at least five per cent off the Department of National Defence $19-billion base budget, Martin said from Ottawa.

Last week, senior military officials indicated the financial constraints would translate into cuts to civilian administrative positions, and scaling back the number of military reservists.

A spokesperson for Defence Minister Peter MacKay said the goal of a scheduled year-long strategic review – which cycles through all government departments every five years – is to identify up to five per cent in funding redundancies.

Until the findings go before cabinet for possible approval this year, any comment on staffing reductions would be premature, said Jay Paxton. 

But good indicators of the department’s personnel goals, he explained, are mapped out in a 20-year strategic document known as the Canada First Defence Strategy.

Whereas there are now 68,000 in the regular force, there is need for 70,000 by the year 2028. As well, there is room for 4,000 more reservists, up from the current 26,000.

“On the civilian side, there is always a need to ensure the Canadian Forces have the support of a strong civilian team,” Paxton explained, adding that in recent years their numbers were increased to support the military’s high-operational tempo, such as with the Afghanistan mission.

About 28,000 civilians currently work for DND.

In the event admin jobs are axed, the entire administrative department needs streamlining for increased efficiency in order to make the cuts worthwhile, Martin said.

“It’s a bureaucratic morass,” he noted, adding that it is an enormous challenge modifying the public service and one that “is not a politically sexy issue.”

Martin said the cuts will likely be affected at CFB Esquimalt, which employs about 4,000 military personnel and 2,000 civilians.

“It creates uncertainty,” he said.

Scaling back on reservists could further burden the regular force where skill sets, especially in medicine and trades, are in demand.

“We’re going backwards,” the Martin said. “There are already deficits in some of the skilled areas of the Forces.”

This resulted from extensive military cuts in the 1990s when there was a debt deficit crisis, Martin explained.

“What we were left with was big holes. Over the last decade they were trying to fill those.”

Last spring the government requested DND trim its annual budget increase by five per cent.

Still, the planned spending of billions of dollars on the acquisition of big-ticket items such as new F-35 fighter jets will go ahead. While those are needed, said Martin, so are personnel such as reservists.

“If someone takes a blunt instrument and makes cuts that aren’t appropriate to material, equipment and personnel then you run into trouble,” he explained. “You’re cutting for the sake of cutting sake,” he said. “You’re starting at the wrong end of the equation.”

Canada’s navy has had to make extensive sacrifices because of the expense of the mission in Afghanistan, he continued.

“Over the last couple of years we were docking ships because there wasn’t enough manpower or resources to take out ships on longer deployments,” Martin said.

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