At a time of federal belt-tightening, the Conservative government's return to World War II-era ranks and insignia will require new dress uniforms for Canadian soldiers and naval officers at a cost of $4.5 million.

Defence Department figures show the bulk of that cost — $3.1 million — will go to buy new jackets for the dark green dress uniforms army officers wear to formal events and on parades.

A similar change for naval officers — the addition of a curl to the top bar of their traditional naval rank — has a cost of $1.35 million, the Defence Department says.

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A Royal Canadian Navy lieutenant takes a picture of a U.S. navy aircraft carrier in the Juan de Fuca Strait in Victoria. Adding that curl to those bars on uniforms cost the navy $1.35 million. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

That puts the cost of new jackets for the highest-ranking soldiers and sailors at almost $4.5 million.

Those costs are only necessary because of Conservative government changes to rank titles for the army and insignia for officers in the army and navy announced last year.

As a result, army officers will no longer wear gold-coloured bars sewn to their tunic sleeves or epaulettes. Instead, they will revert to the complicated system of pips and crowns worn during WW II

But it appears those gold bars cannot be simply removed from army officers' dress jackets and the military must now order new dress jackets for every one of the army's officers.

Defence Minister Rob Nicholson's press secretary, Johanna Quinney, said the government's move was designed to honour the traditions and history of the Canadian Forces.

"This initiative encourages esprit de corps for our soldiers and reinforces our country's rich military history," Quinney said. "The return of the historical identity of the Canadian Armed Forces also strengthens the link between today's members and the previous generations of heroes who bravely served our country."

These costs come as the military labours to come up with $1 billion in cost savings as part of a government-mandated defence renewal initiative. That process was sparked by a demand from Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself, laid on the table the day Gen. Tom Lawson took command as chief of the defence staff.

"The Forces must be restructured to ensure administrative burdens are reduced and resources freed up for the front line," Harper said at the time. "The Canada First Defence Strategy must continue to advance, and as I've said before, with the constant search for more teeth and less tail." 

Historic rank titles

The army will now also be forced to spend more than $250,000 for the new crowns and pips officers will wear on their epaulettes and gorget patches — those red tabs some army officers wear on the collars of their shirts.

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Lt-Gen. Andrew McNaughton, pictured during WW II, wears the red and gold gorgets of a general. A return to the old-style army emblems will cost millions of dollars. (Department of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada)

​The costs are part of a host of changes announced since 2011 to return certain Canadian ranks and titles to their traditional equivalents. Both the navy and air force acquired the title "Royal" in their name and the army has become the "Canadian Army."

Among the changes is the formalization of historic rank titles for certain army soldiers. Privates in the military communications trade, for instance, are now called signallers.

The changes have been mocked by some who wonder why the government is reverting to army ranks and insignia that went out of use in 1968 — almost 20 years before the last soldier to die in Afghanistan was even born.

NDP defence critic Jack Harris says it's a waste of money.

"This is certainly not an austerity measure," Harris told CBC News. "For what, to throw back to the Second World War? Why turn back the clock for something that is totally unnecessary? We had a perfectly adequate and relatively well-known set of insignia for the public.

"Meanwhile, the needs of our veterans and military personnel in uniform who have housing issues, medical and mental health issues and have other needs that they are crying out for help for, are being treated with — well, I wouldn't call it indifference, but not the priority they deserve."

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Enlisted soldiers are not affected by the change in rank insignia, although some ranks have acquired new titles. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

As part of the move, the four former Land Force Areas have been renamed divisions and awarded new colour-coded shoulder patches for their dress uniforms. The Defence Department expects that change will cost about $1 million.

"Bringing back the divisional structure reinstates an important and recognizable part of military heritage, along with a key part of our nation's identity," military communications adviser Ashley Lemire wrote in an email.

"This will honour the sacrifices of former members of the Canadian Army, while establishing clear lineage to the contributions of today's soldiers."