The Conservative government has quietly released the details of its extensive plan to beef up the military, including spending $490 billion over the next 20 years to ensure Canadian soldiers are well-equipped, well-trained and highly active.

Details of the plan, known as Canada First Defence Strategy, were posted Thursday night without fanfare on the Department of National Defence's website.

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'This isn't an effort to militarize Canada. This is an effort to modernize our military so we have the capability to defend ourselves and our allies from foreign and domestic crises.'

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The posting comes almost six weeks after Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced at a news conference that his government had a strategy for the military but provided few details about it. Critics at the time said the strategy was nothing more than a speech, since Harper offered no document to back it up.

Speaking in Halifax on Friday, Defence Minister Peter MacKay defended the nighttime posting of the plan, saying the government was simply striving to provide more specifics about the strategy to Canadians.

Military analyst Rob Huebert told CBC News that he can't understand why Harper would release the document so quietly, and why he would do so the day before the House of Commons is expected to adjourn for the summer.

Still, he praised the document's contents, saying the strategy appears to be a well-balanced assessment that juggles the military's commitments at home and overseas.

"I'm hard-pressed right at this point, looking at it, to be really overtly critical," said Huebert, associate director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies in Calgary. "I do think they've got a good balance on this particular aspect."

The opposition also questioned the timing and delivery of the announcement in Parliament Thursday.

Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner said posting the information online in the "dead of night" sounded like the actions of "a government with something to hide."

But Laurie Hawn, MacKay's parliamentary secretary, pointed to Harper's previous announcement, saying the information had already been posted on the government website and that Canadians "wanted more details on it."

$60 billion on equipment

The document, which stresses the importance of giving the Canadian Forces predictable and stable funding, says $60 billion must be spent on much-needed military equipment, such as helicopters, patrol ships, planes, destroyers, frigates, land combat vehicles and weapons. 

A total of $15 billion of these equipment purchases has already been confirmed and announced publicly.

Other military spending over the next 20 years is to include:

  • $250 billion on personnel, with the military's numbers increasing to 70,000 regular members and 30,000 reserve members. (Currently, there are 62,000 regular members and 25,000 reservists.)
  • $140 billion on training and maintenance of equipment.
  • $40 billion on military buildings and infrastructure.

The document suggests that in the next 20 years, the international community will be coping with failed states, rogue nuclear nations and the increasing threat of terrorism. It also notes that the military needs to enhance its ability to operate alongside U.S. forces.

"The Canada First Defence Strategy will enable the Forces to … address the full range of defence and security challenges facing Canada now and into the future," the document states. "This strengthened military will translate into enhanced security for Canadians at home as well as a stronger voice for Canada on the world stage."  

Six core duties for the military

The document says the Canadian Forces will have six core duties over the next 20 years and will often have to juggle more than one duty at once in Canada and overseas. 

The duties are:

  • Conducting daily domestic and continental operations, including protecting Arctic sovereignty.
  • Supporting a major international event in Canada, such as the 2010 Olympics.
  • Responding to any major terrorist attacks.
  • Providing aid to civilian authorities during natural disasters and other crises in Canada.
  • Conducting a major international operation for an extended period, such as the Afghan mission.
  • Have enough troops remaining to deploy to other international crises for shorter periods of time.

NDP defence critic Dawn Black questioned why the document does not stress the peacekeeping work of Canadian soldiers.

"The more and more we become meshed with American foreign policy… the less and less ability we have to be independent and have a clear Canadian voice on the international stage."