Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's New Budget Invests Heavily in the Military and Spies

The Conservatives' final budget before the fall election, an otherwise austere exercise in showing off the freshly balanced books, commits more than $2 billion in security and defense spending.

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Apr 22 2015, 5:28pm

These RCMP officers may not look scary in their red uniforms, but those horses are powerful. Photo via Flickr user Jamie McCaffrey

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

There's $293 million in new money for Canada's cops and spies to tackle terrorism, and $12 million for the oversight committee keeping tabs on their investigations.

That's a big takeaway from Tuesday's federal budget, as the Harper government prepares to usher in a golden age of Canada's intelligence services.

The Conservatives' final budget before the fall election, an otherwise austere exercise in showing off the freshly balanced books, commits more than $2 billion in security and defense spending.

The ballooning offensive and defensive spending is thanks in large part to the military mission against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and new counterterrorism measures being taken here at home.

One of the biggest pots of money is split between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA). Those three departments will have their mandates and missions broadly expanded by the Conservatives' new anti-terrorism legislation, C-51, which is expected to be passed into law within a month.

The legislation will give CSIS new powers to disrupt threats worldwide, the RCMP more authority to detain suspects and go after online propaganda, and the CBSA more powers to search and investigate people and packages at the border.

The three agencies will be receiving the $293 million in new cash over the next five years. That's an increase of $18 million this year, with the funding jumping to $44 million the year after, and steadily rising to $92 million by 2020.

All in all, the new money will mean about a roughly 2 percent increase in the combined budget of all three agencies by 2020.

While the budget offers no indication as to just how that money will be split, it's quite likely the money will mostly be directed at CSIS, who will be facing the largest growing pains because of C-51. Their budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year stood at just shy of $540 million.

The budget carries some good news for those security and intelligence experts who have criticized the Harper government for affording huge new powers to Canada's intelligence services without introducing any corresponding oversight or review.

The under-staffed and under-funded review bodies that currently exist—the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) for CSIS and the Commissioner for the signals intelligence agency, the Communications and Security Establishment (CSE)—have been asking for more money and authority from Ottawa.

They may not be getting any new powers—they still, for example, have no power to subpoena CSIS for information—but one of them is getting new money.

This budget will be nearly doubling SIRC's current budget—a paltry $2.8 million—within a year. That funding increase will be frozen over four years.

While doubling their cash flow might seem like a huge jump, worth considering that SIRC's transfers from the federal government have actually gone down in recent years. In 2012, they received $2.9 million.

Conspicuously missing from the budget, however, is any mention of CSE.

The budget does commit $58 million to "enhancing the security of Government of Canada networks and cyber systems."

That money will almost certainly go into the coffers of CSE. While the agency is most known for its implication in NSA mass spying regimes unveiled by Edward Snowden, it also manages Canada's cyber-defense positions and secures some aspects of Canadian technology infrastructure.

No new money was included for the CSE commissioner, nor any indication that the CBSA would be getting any kind of oversight body (they currently have none) nor was any money committed for the commissioners for privacy or information.

No new money was kicked in for privacy protections whatsoever. What was included, however, was a commitment that privacy protections would begin to apply to "organizations such as the World Anti-Doping Agency, an international, independent organization headquartered in Montreal."

An entire subhead—"Protecting the Privacy of Personal Information"—and two paragraphs, are dedicated to the groundbreaking decision to apply the federal government's privacy regulations to the steroid-fighting organization.

Security spending will be upped for security around Parliament Hill, inside court rooms, and on military bases as an obvious response to October's terrorist attacks. All together, that's worth about $44 million over five years.

But one of the biggest chunks of Tuesday's new spending is going towards the Canadian Forces. The budget contains $360 million in previously-announced money to pay for the expanded mission against the Islamic State, and another $7 million for the Canadian training mission for Ukrainian soldiers.

With an eye to the likelihood that the scraps in Ukraine and the Middle East won't be the only ones the Canadian military gets into in the near future, the Harper government is also hiking defense spending over the next five years.

The rate at which Canadian defense spending increases will be hiked a full percentage point in 2017, meaning there'll be about $11 billion added to the defense budget over a decade.

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