Ottawa has failed to spend almost $8 billion in promised defence cash over the last two complete fiscal years.
According to documents obtained from the Department of National Defence, the federal government underspent roughly $7.79 billion worth of promised money mostly for capital projects, which includes everything from spending on facilities to equipment and military procurement, in fiscal 2017-18 and 2018-19.
The unspent money also came from areas including operations and maintenance, those documents dated from February 2019 suggest.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked by Global News about that failure to spend the promised amounts during a press conference on Wednesday from the NATO meeting, and pointed the finger at past governments.
“One of the things that Canadians know is that we need to be spending money properly on the men and women of the armed forces and procurement processes have been significantly damaged by the previous government and we got them into a much better place,” he said.
“We always know we need to be investing properly in the men and women of our armed forces and we will do that. We have a very ambitious plan with the renewal of defence spending and we are going to ensure that money flows in ways that support our military and the commitments we make around the world.”
News of the repeated underspending comes after American officials sent Canada what sources called a “blunt” diplomatic letter criticizing the government for not meeting the agreed-upon target among NATO members to spend two per cent of GDP on defence.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday called Canada “slightly delinquent” for not hitting those targets.
Canada currently spends 1.31 per cent of GDP on defence.
The documents from the Department of National Defence show that under the Liberal defence policy review titled Strong, Secure and Engaged, planned spending on capital for the military in 2017-2018 was forecast to be $6.18 billion.
But only $3.89 billion actually made it out the door, a discrepancy of $2.29 billion.
A similar pattern is shown the following fiscal year, with $6.56 billion pledged in the defence policy review for that year and $4.45 billion actually being spent.
That’s a discrepancy of $2.11 billion.
Included in the documents is another chart that labels additional lapsed spending for 2018-2019 specifically as $3.89 billion.
It is not the first time either this government or past ones have underspent promised money for the military.
But the contest of Trump’s increasingly aggressive demands for increased military spending from NATO members in addition to repeated questions from political critics and those in the defence industry about the Trudeau government’s handling of major procurement files such as the long-delayed fighter jet replacement raise more questions about whether enough is being done to make sure the military has the equipment it needs.
Trump mused on Tuesday about slapping countries that do not meet the two per cent spending target with retaliatory trade measures and warned that he would not commit to defending member countries under the principle of shared defence if those members are deemed to be underspending on defence.
He also accused Trudeau on Wednesday morning of being “two-faced” after video captured Trudeau seemingly speaking candidly about Trump with other NATO member leaders during a reception on Tuesday evening.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron were also in that clip which showed Johnson asking Macron why he was late to the event and Trudeau responding, “He was late because he takes a 40-minute press conference off the top.”
Trump is not referenced by name but did hold an impromptu news conference before scheduled meetings with both Trudeau, Macron and Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO.
During that impromptu press conference with Trudeau, Trump pressed him on Canadian defence spending — which falls short of the two per cent target — while Trudeau stressed other ways his government has been investing in the Canadian military and NATO.
After the video of Trudeau’s remarks with the other NATO leaders went viral, Trump criticized the Canadian leader.
“He’s two-faced. And honestly, with Trudeau, he’s a nice guy. I find him to be a very nice guy, but the truth is that I called him out on the fact that he’s not paying two per cent and I guess he’s not very happy about it,” said Trump.
“He’s not paying two percent and he should be paying two percent. It’s Canada, they have money.”
Trudeau told reporters on Wednesday before departing the NATO summit that while the U.S. has fair concerns about some members not stepping up, Canada has a clear track record of contributions.
“We saw last year this is a concern the States legitimately has, that every country needs to step up in different ways and make sure that we are contributing fully to NATO,” he said, pointing to his government’s promise to increase defence spending by $62 billion over the next 10 years.
“Canada has a history of stepping up around NATO and we will continue to, and the reflection on the increased investments that we’re making was really important and I was glad to have that conversation with the president.”