Liberals hint at more defence spending in upcoming budget as U.S. demands more
“We’ll have to see in the budget, but I have some confidence that the voices of those who want to see more of Canada and want to see us more involved militarily are actually going to be respected,” said parliamentary secretary for defence John McKay.
As part of its NATO commitment, Canada is supposed to spend two per cent of gross domestic product on defence – but it’s been almost 30 years since the government last hit that threshold.
Canada currently spends 0.99 per cent of GDP on defence.
WATCH: Justin Trudeau says Canada contributes to NATO with more than just money
The budget for National Defence, currently at almost $19 billion, increases by about $600 million annually. But McKay suggested the increase would go above and beyond the built-in increase, though the Liberals, with deficits projecting well beyond what they’d campaigned on, find themselves with little money to play around with.
“I do agree the world needs more of Canada,” he said. “We obviously have fiscal challenges. The economy is a bit flat lined and your entire budget depends on GDP growth, so there will be challenges.”
Saskatchewan Conservative MP Garnett Genuis said the government has little choice but to increase spending, given the rhetoric coming from the States.
WATCH: U.S. defence secretary reaffirms U.S. commitment to NATO
“For global peace and security, having a strong NATO alliance is critical,” he said. “So when we have the Americans communicating this message that basically they’re going to pull back on their commitments if other countries don’t step up to follow through on their commitments, we need to take that very seriously.”
WATCH: NATO calls out Canada, Europe for defence spending shortfalls
U.S. President Donald Trump has called the 28-country NATO alliance obsolete, while U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis delivered an ultimatum of sorts this week, saying the U.S. expects its allies (only a handful of which have met the two percent of GDP spending threshold) to start spending more on defence or else it will “moderate its commitment.”
Trump, however, is far from the first U.S. president to lean on its NATO allies.
During a June 2016 speech to Parliament in Ottawa, U.S. President Barack Obama softened his request of Canada by saying he wanted to see more Canada in NATO.
Prior to that, the Canadian ambassadors for former president George W. Bush were far more blunt in calling on Canada to pull its weight on defence.
During a news conference in Berlin last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada’s commitment to NATO is demonstrated in ways other than spending; Canada regularly steps up, delivers troops and participates in missions, he said.
But long-term, it will be difficult for Canada to maintain its capabilities without increasing investments, Genuis said.
“The security of [the NATO] alliance and the willingness of al memebers to invest is critical for peace and stability in the world,” he said. “The current escalator is nowhere near getting us to meet our commitment, so I think what we need to see is a long term plan for getting us to two per cent.”
With files from The Canadian Press
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