Justin Trudeau stands by defence spending amid fresh calls for NATO to pony up more cash

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at the Ford Essex Engine Plant in Windsor, Ont. on Thursday, March 30, 2017. The Canadian Press/Dave Chidley

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau doubled down Friday in his defence of Canadian military spending levels, as the U.S. brought fresh pressure to bear on NATO allies to pony up.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson used his first NATO summit in Brussels to demand that all allies come up with a plan to increase the amount they spend on defence to two per cent of GDP.

“Our goal should be to agree at the May leaders’ meeting that, by the end of the year, all allies will have either met the pledge guidelines or will have developed plans that clearly articulate how, with annual milestone progress commitments, the pledge will be fulfilled,” Tillerson told his counterparts.

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Canada currently spends about one per cent of GDP on defence, which would mean having to double its $19-billion military budget.

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But Trudeau sidestepped a question over whether Canada will draft such a plan and instead stuck with his message when asked about the U.S. demand during a Toronto news conference.

“Canada has always been one of the handful of countries that has always been ready and capable of stepping up on important missions of participating and of punching well above their weight,” he said.

The prime minister pointed to the upcoming mission in Latvia, where Canada will lead a 1,000-strong NATO battlegroup to deter Russian aggression in the region, as proof of its commitment.

“Canada has always done more than its share in NATO and we will continue to,” Trudeau said.

Tillerson is only the latest U.S. official to press NATO allies to spend more on their own defence, with U.S. President Donald Trump banging the drum the loudest.

But Liberal officials have said in private that the message is more for European allies and that the Trump administration appreciates Canada’s military contributions to Iraq, Latvia and Ukraine.

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At the same time, the Trudeau government is preparing a new defence policy, which is expected to offer a long-term vision for the military over the next couple of decades.

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That policy is expected to be released in early May, before Trudeau, Trump and other NATO leaders meet at a summit in Brussels.

Sources have indicated the policy will include new investments in the military, though any new money could be a while coming, given ongoing delays with procurement projects and the size of the federal deficit.

with files from the Associated Press

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