Canada’s plan to increase defence spending delayed until after major NATO summit

Click to play video: 'Canada under pressure to boost NATO funding' Canada under pressure to boost NATO funding
Mike Le Couteur has a reality check on Canada's commitment to NATO – Feb 17, 2017

The Liberal government has delayed the release of its new defence policy until June 7, setting up a potentially awkward meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump next week.

Trudeau and Trump are scheduled to gather with counterparts from other NATO members in Brussels for the alliance’s first leaders’ summit since Trump took office in January.

The top item on the agenda is expected to be defence spending, which Trump has been actively pressing allies to increase.

READ MORE: Canada will review NATO contributions as Trump continues to call for added spending

The Liberals’ defence policy, which officials had promised would be released before the NATO summit, was expected to lay out a plan for how Canada would start moving in that direction.

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WATCH: The leader of the Opposition Rona Ambrose questioned Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan asking why the U.S. gets information about Canadian defence policies first.
Click to play video: '‘Hard time believing’ Harjit Sajjan designed and devised policy: Ambrose' ‘Hard time believing’ Harjit Sajjan designed and devised policy: Ambrose
‘Hard time believing’ Harjit Sajjan designed and devised policy: Ambrose – May 15, 2017

Canada currently spends only about one per cent of GDP on defence, which is half NATO’s target of two per cent and puts it in the bottom third of allies.

But Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s spokeswoman, Jordan Owens, confirmed Monday that the policy won’t be released until after the NATO summit.

The government wants to “nestle” the defence policy within a broader foreign policy context, Owens said, which will give Canadians more context on how the different pieces fit together.

READ MORE: Donald Trump says NATO members need to pay more. What is Canada paying?

The delay is likely to aggravate some allies who have been eagerly waiting to see the Liberal governments’ plans and priorities for defence.

The Liberals have also faced questions about the length of time they are taking to decide on a peacekeeping mission.

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Owens said some of Canada’s allies took years to develop their own defence policies, even as she played down concerns about potential irritation from allies, saying the policy is “primarily for Canadians.”

WATCH: Defence Minister announces Defence Policy Review for June 7
Click to play video: 'Defence Minister announces Defence Policy Review for June 7' Defence Minister announces Defence Policy Review for June 7
Defence Minister announces Defence Policy Review for June 7 – May 15, 2017

But the fact Trudeau will be arriving for next week’s NATO summit without a policy could be cause for concern, given Trump’s calls for allies to spend more.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson went farther in March, warning that the administration wants allies to draw up concrete plans for reaching the two per cent target by 2024.

“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,” Tillerson said.

Sajjan and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland are visiting Washington, D.C., on Monday and Tuesday for joint meetings with Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

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Owens played down any link between the ministerial visit and the government’s decision to delay the defence policy’s release, but the topic is certain to figure prominently in the discussions.

Liberal officials have previously said in private that the U.S. 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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