Trudeau vows to defend Canada’s ‘interests’ after Trump repeats NATO threat

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Federal commitment to infrastructure funding ‘contrasts’ from Conservative Party: Trudeau
WATCH: On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau compared the infrastructure funding commitments of the federal government to the Conservative Party saying, "We will continue to be there in partnership which is a contrast to the Conservative Party that continues to stand against investments in infrastructure." – Feb 15, 2024

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to defend Canada’s “interests” in an increasingly “complex world,” but avoided criticizing former president Donald Trump, after he repeated his threat to turn his back on NATO members — like Canada — who miss their defence spending targets.

“We’re always going to be there to work with our American partners,” Trudeau said at a news conference in Winnipeg on Thursday.

“I’m confident that’s something that is very much in the interest of all Americans as well.”

Earlier this week the Republican frontrunner said he would “encourage” Russia to attack so-called “delinquent” NATO nations.

Canada and other members of the military alliance have repeatedly fallen short of hitting the agreed-upon target to spend two per cent of GDP on defence under both Liberal and Conservative governments.

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The military alliance is founded on the principle of collective defence — that an attack against one member is an attack against all and will yield a joint response.

“Look, if they’re not going to pay, we’re not going to protect, OK?” Trump told a crowd at a rally in Charleston, S.C., Wednesday night.

Trump described speaking to the head of a NATO country.

Click to play video: 'How Trump’s threats could affect Canada, NATO allies'
How Trump’s threats could affect Canada, NATO allies

“Does that mean if we don’t pay the bills that you’re going not to protect us?” said Trump – quoting the unnamed leader.

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“I said ‘that’s exactly what that means. I’m going not to going to protect you.’”

He recounted the same anecdote Monday, vowing to “encourage” Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” to NATO allies who don’t meet the target.

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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned Trump’s remarks endanger members of the Western military alliance.

“Any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security, including that of the U.S., and puts American and European soldiers at increased risk,” Stoltenberg said in a statement Sunday.

Trudeau would not answer when asked whether he agrees with Stoltenberg’s assessment, instead highlighting the significance of the upcoming vote for U.S. president.

“The American people have a really important choice to make in the upcoming election in November,” he responded. “Canada will, as is consistent, stand up for our interests and our values but allow the democratic process to unfold fully in the United States without our interference.”

NATO says Canada spent $39.3 billion on defence last year pegging its contribution at 1.38 per cent — below its two-per cent target.

A 2022 report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates the federal government would need to fork over an additional $20 billion annually to reach the NATO benchmark, which is non-binding.

A leaked Pentagon assessment obtained by the Washington Post last April said Trudeau told NATO officials Canada would never meet the alliance’s target.

Click to play video: 'Poilievre says he would work towards meeting NATO’s defence spending target if elected prime minister'
Poilievre says he would work towards meeting NATO’s defence spending target if elected prime minister

Carleton University professor Stephen Saideman is urging NATO countries to take Trump’s threat seriously.

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“Our security, European security have depended on the American commitment to come to their defence and if Trump is president, that commitment is pretty much gone,” said Saideman.

“I think that Canada should be quite worried about a second Trump administration. I think that whatever we thought about the first one, the second will be full of resentment politics,” he added.

“Trump was very upset at Trudeau last time around. I think he’ll be even more upset this time,” said Saideman.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre accused the prime minister of leaving Canada to depend on “Joe Biden or Donald Trump” for security.

“That puts America in charge of Canada’s future — I don’t want that,” he said Thursday at a news conference in Montreal.

The Conservative leader said his approach to defence would differ from the Liberals by cutting “foreign aid that goes to dictators, terrorists and bureaucracies” and by putting “that money into reinforcing our military.”

When asked by Global News if a Poilievre government would achieve the two-per cent NATO target, spokesperson Sebastian Skamski said in a statement the Conservative leader “will work towards meeting Canada’s NATO spending commitment.”

— with files from Marc-Andre Cossette

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