May 11, 2014 11:00 am

Canada will play a role in any permanent mission in Eastern Europe: Conservative MP

ABOVE: Conservative MP Erin O’Toole says Canada would play a roll in a permanent NATO mission in Eastern Europe.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that parliamentary secretary to the defence minister, James Bezan, called for the defence budget to be brought up to 1.7 per cent of GDP, a move that would lead to billions more in defence spending. In fact, witnesses to a parliamentary committee called for the hike in the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine, not Bezan. Global News regrets the error.

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OTTAWA – Canada is prepared to station troops in Eastern Europe beyond the end of 2014, according to Conservative MP Erin O’Toole.

“I think you will see, if there needs to be a prolonged presence in Europe…we will work with our allies to make sure Canada is a part,” said O’Toole in an interview on The West Block with Tom Clark.

“Everyone hopes that a diplomatic solution will be found here and that Mr. Putin will see that NATO and Europe as a whole, does not tolerate aggression,” he added. “But in some cases, NATO also has to show that we’re prepared to stand with allies and neighbours to make sure that there is security in Europe.”

Canada currently has equipment and personnel stationed in Eastern Europe for training exercises. The Canadian contingent is part of a larger NATO mission in the region designed to boost the security of NATO members bordering Ukraine and as a show of force in the face of Russia’s provocations in the uprisings in Ukraine.

READ MORE: Canada sending soldiers for military exercises in Poland

The mission is expected to last until the end of the year. However, at a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, NATO’s top commander Gen. Philip Breedlove opened the door to permanently stationing allied troops in Eastern Europe.

“I think this is something that we have to consider,” said Breedlove. “And we will tee this up for discussion through the leaderships of our nations and see where that leads.”

Until O’Toole’s interview with Tom Clark, the Canadian government hadn’t said whether Canada would be part of a permanent mission.

READ MORE: Canada needs to hike defence budget says parliamentary secretary

But will new missions mean increased defence spending in Canada?  NATO would like member countries to spend two percent of GDP on defence.  According to The Canadian Press current defence spending in Canada stands at one per cent of GDP.

“I’m never one that likes to pick a number or decimal place like that,” he said. “What I say Tom, and I think our government has shown is, we want to make sure that our men and women in uniform have the right equipment to do the job.“

Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair says he supports Canada’s involvement in the NATO mission.

“I think it is entirely appropriate for Canada to be showing strong support for our NATO allies,” Mulcair told Clark. “Letting everyone know that this is where we stand, that’s a good thing.”

Canada’s contribution to the NATO mission so far includes six CF-18 fighter jets accompanied by about 250 crew members stationed in Romania, the frigate HMCS Regina, and 50 personnel from CFB Edmonton conducting infantry and parachute training in Poland.

Honouring the mission in Afghanistan

As Canada’s troops move on to their next mission, the government marked a National Day of Honour on Friday, May 9 recognizing the contribution and sacrifice made by more than 40, 000 Canadian Forces members in the war in Afghanistan.

Ceremonies and parades were held across the country, with the main event on Parliament Hill attended by the Governor General David Johnston, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson, a litany of cabinet ministers, and MPs from all parties.

WATCH: Friday, May 9 was a National Day of Honour to pay tribute to those who served in Afghanistan.

Where politicians were front-and-centre at Friday’s events, they were conspicuously absent at the official end of the mission and lowering of the Canadian flag at International Security Assistance Force headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan just two months ago.

O’Toole said that absence was a mistake.

“We should have had someone at that ceremony,” he said. “But I can tell you from talking to Peter MacKay before I was elected, who went to Afghanistan most Christmas’, from the prime minister on down who called family members.  Our government tried to recognize their service both in Afghanistan and in Ottawa.”

O’Toole is the parliamentary secretary to the trade minister and a veteran of the Canadian Forces. He was the only member of the government made available to The West Block for an interview about Canada’s contribution to the NATO mission in Eastern Europe and the National Day of Honour. Both the defence minister and his parliamentary secretary were requested for interviews, neither was made available.

-With files from The Canadian Press

A previous version of this story stated that parliamentary secretary to Defence Minister Rob Nicholson, James Bezan, called for the defence budget to be brought up to 1.7 per cent of GDP, a move that would lead to billions more in defence spending. In fact, witnesses to a parliamentary committee called for the hike in the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine, not Bezan.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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