The cost to Canada of waging war against Islamic State militants will exceed half a billion dollars by early next year, the government says.
On Monday Prime Minister Stephen Harper used his Commons majority to extend Canada’s combat mission by 12 months and expand air strikes to Syria.
Two days later, the full cost of the war started to emerge. Defence Minister Jason Kenney revealed Wednesday that Canada will spend about $406-million to extend the mission to the end of March, 2016; added to the bill for the first six months of the conflict, which Mr. Kenney has said is at least $122-million, the price tag has risen to $528-million.
A large portion of this is for the air strikes and sorties flown by Canadian fighter jets as well as two surveillance planes and a refuelling aircraft.
Opposition parties asked why the government did not release this information earlier so it could inform the public debate that preceded the Commons vote.
The government would have had the cost estimate for weeks or even months as it deliberated an extension of the mission.
“There’s absolutely no excuse for the minister to announce the cost only days after the debate was over,” Liberal defence critic Joyce Murray said.
“This was the kind of thing [Canadians] should have been informed about,” Ms. Murray said.
“It’s irresponsible they were not released before the debate.”
The estimate includes money to replace worn-out equipment and to pay for more bombs. It also includes a contingency should costs rise further.
The final tally will be higher: The estimates do not include the fairly high costs of shutting down the mission.
NDP defence critic Jack Harris, whose party wants to focus on humanitarian aid rather than combat, said the half-billion dollars represents a lost opportunity to help more of the millions of people displaced by the brutality of Islamic State militants.
“I think we’ve launched about 3 per cent of the air strikes,” Mr. Harris said. “We could have been making a better contribution elsewhere with this money.”
The government is only revealing what it calls the “incremental costs” for the 18 months of fighting, a sum that does not include costs that would be incurred regardless of whether the planes and soldiers were stationed at home or posted abroad.
Defence analyst David Perry said the forecast likely includes money set aside for the possibility that an expected assault on Mosul, to retake the largest Iraqi city held by the Islamic State, could drive up the need for air strikes.
The expanded war in Syria and Iraq will put more pressure on the Department of National Defence’s tight fiscal situation, with the defence budget forecast to shrink over the next few years.
Mr. Perry said the problem is compounded once year-over-year inflation is factored into the figures. He said DND’s Report on Plans and Priorities shows the military will increasingly be unable to do everything asked of it.
He said defence spending will fall 7.6 per cent between the 2014-15 and 2017-18 fiscal years when budgets are adjusted to account for inflation.
DND spokesman Dan Blouin said the department can obtain supplementary funding from Parliament if necessary, as has been done in the past.
Canada has six fighter jets dropping bombs on Islamic State targets in Iraq. After the Commons endorsement, Canadian warplanes are now expanding their fight to Syria.
Also, as many as 69 special forces soldiers are aiding the fight in northern Iraq, acting as military advisers to Kurdish peshmerga fighters trying to push back Islamic State militants.
About 600 Canadian Armed Forces personnel are supporting the air mission out of Kuwait.
Ottawa — The Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Apr. 01 2015, 3:52 PM EDT
Last updated Wednesday, Apr. 01 2015, 10:26 PM EDT