A Primer on Recent Canadian Defence Budgeting Trends and Implications

  • David Perry Canadian Global Affairs Institute


Faced with a dangerous world, the federal government has made recapitalizing and updating Canada’s armed forces a priority. Unfortunately, fiscal pressures obliged the government to deviate from its Canada First Defence Strategy, cutting staff and delaying military hardware acquisitions. However, the introduction this year of the Defence Procurement Strategy should allow Ottawa to use improved approaches to buy equipment that would otherwise have been purchased already under the DND’s opaque capital expenditure system. At present, DND capital funds are mostly subject to accrual accounting. Capital costs are charged against the defence budget as annual amortization expenses over equipment lifecycles. While this enables multiple capital projects to go ahead simultaneously, not all of the money covering capital costs is treated this way. Traditional A-Base Vote 5 expenses are still charged to the budget the year the expenditure is made — and the DND consistently underspends the Vote 5 funds available by as much as 28 percent. Since 2007/8, an estimated $6.42 billion wasn’t used as intended. While some of this can be carried forward, there are limits. Leftover funds exceeding them are returned to the Treasury and are thereby lost. It’s up to the DND to make up losses out of future funding. Just as bad, the accrual method doesn’t fully account for inflation, so when schedules slip, project purchasing power diminishes by hundreds of millions of dollars. Ambitious initiatives like the Joint Support Ship and (likely) the Canadian Surface Combatant end up taking hits to reflect harsh budgetary realities; the capabilities of Canada’s soldiers suffer. This policy brief draws on research and confidential interviews to highlight the pressing need for reform in Canadian defence procurement.

Research Papers