Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Already-lean military braces for budget axe

Top soldier tells Senate there's 'very little fat' to cut

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OTTAWA -- Canada's top soldier says the armed forces have no fat left to cut ahead of this week's austerity budget.

But Gen. Thomas Lawson told the a Senate committee he understands militaries around the world are being forced to operate with less money.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's budget on Thursday is expected to make substantial cuts across government, and the Defence Department and Canadian Forces won't escape unscathed.

Lawson said the military already runs a lean operation.

"I would like to think that there was fat in the armed forces," he said Monday. "I don't think there is."

"What we find as we squeeze (is) that there is very little fat," he added later.

Still, the Conservatives will look to shave off a little more.

A leaked army planning document says land forces are bracing for a big hit on operations and maintenance.

Those cuts will slice into the army's ability to train for operations in the jungle, desert and mountains.

The document, dated Jan. 31 and written by Lt.-Gen. Peter Devlin, says funding for full-time reservists will have to be further reduced, and unused cash in the budget for part-time soldiers may have to be raided in order to keep full-timers.

Lawson acknowledged more reservists -- many of whom signed up for full-time service during the Afghanistan mission -- will likely go from being full-time to part-time soldiers.

"Really, we relied on them to keep the home fires burning within the headquarters as we had more and more head off into operational service," he said.

"The numbers will remain the same. ... What we'll see is that we'll have far fewer full-time members of the reserve, and back to a more traditional... part-time reserve."

He also says he expects fewer outside companies will be contracted as more jobs are brought back in-house.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned Defence Minister Peter MacKay last June initial budget-cut proposals did not go deep enough on the administrative side.

Lawson's remarks came on the heels of a paper that says the Defence Department has struggled to spend billions of dollars allocated to it in past budgets. The Conference of Defence Associations Institute puts unspent and carried-over funding during the last six years at nearly $8 billion -- mostly in the areas of capital equipment and infrastructure.

Defence analyst David Perry said sections of the department that have more budget dollars than they can spend are not facing reductions. Instead, operations and maintenance will feel the brunt of the cuts.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 19, 2013 A8

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