Defence Minister Bill Blair says Canada needs to invest more in military capabilities amid “evolving” global security threats, and as the federal government attempts to pare down government spending across the board.
Blair told an international crowd of military personnel, politicians and civil society leaders at the Halifax International Security Forum Friday that Canada needs to put “resources … behind our aspirations.”
“We must step up to address these challenges, and to preserve peace and prosperity for our peoples,” Blair said, referencing Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas conflict as well as heightened tensions with China.
“We have a lot of work to do.”
Blair’s comment could be read as an understatement.
The Liberal government has yet to deliver a promised update to its 2017 defence policy – an update that was thought to be imminent at the last Halifax forum in 2022.
The federal government is also looking for as much as $1 billion in savings from the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), as Treasury Board President Anita Anand – the former defence minister – attempts to rein in spending.
At the same time, the CAF has been stretched thin both by domestic deployments in the wake of natural disasters and by Canada shipping equipment to Ukrainian forces trying to push back Russia’s invasion.
Speaking to an aerospace industry conference earlier this month, Blair said he told officials that the long-awaited defence policy update needed more clarity in terms of where the Canadian government plans to spend money.
Until that update is released, defence experts told Global News, it will be difficult for allies to take the Canadian government at its word when it comes to stepping up.
“(Canada) has to show that it can articulate its priorities,” said Stéfanie Von Hlatky, a Queen’s University professor specializing in defence and security issues.
“In my view, there is a lack of strategic clarity on what Canada brings to the table and how it prioritizes the allocation of its resources. The Halifax Security Forum is really a forum to strengthen strategic co-operation between democracies. So you have to be able to not only articulate what Canada’s contribution is going to be, but also to show that they’re committing resources to back that up. That’s essential.”
Blair’s speech did reiterate a few of Canada’s priorities and available resources, including $38.6 billion over the next 20 years to modernize the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) with the United States, and the $19-billion purchase of 88 F-35 fighter jets.
He also referenced developing long-range precision strike capabilities “essential” to NATO, underwater surveillance in the Arctic and “tactical aviation capabilities” to respond to crises in Canada.
Blair said the government is also “moving forward” with a new $188-million training centre at CFB Halifax, which will train CAF members in “above-water, underwater and maritime air warfighting” on Canada’s new fleet of 15 warships.