But ignoring these issues doesn’t make them go away — quite the opposite, in fact.
The NATO summit was just the latest reminder of the American government’s considerable frustration with what it perceives to be a chronic lack of defence spending on Ottawa’s part. We benefit tremendously from our defence relationship with the U.S., in both the bilateral sense and also through alliances like NATO.
But if we’re perceived to be freeloaders, that could all be in jeopardy.
Therefore, this needs to be a priority. Unfortunately, there’s little sign that it is.
This is an issue on which U.S. President Donald Trump is right, even though he’s often quite incorrect in how he voices these concerns. This is not about any sort of “payment” to NATO, which is often how the president frames it.
NATO countries have committed to spend two per cent of their GDP on national defence by the year 2024. So no NATO country is “delinquent” in any sense. However, while that deadline is still just over four years away, Canada still has a long way to go.
Our defence spending currently represents only around 1.3 per cent of our GDP. That’s up slightly from five years ago, but that does not put us on a pace to get to two per cent by 2024.
Which brings us to the speech from the throne. There was no acknowledgement of these pressing concerns and no vision laid out for how we’re going to get where we need to be. If the speech was meant to be a reflection of the government’s priorities, then these absences are telling and worrying.
The only reference to NATO in the speech was a pledge to “renew Canada’s commitment to NATO and United Nations peacekeeping.” The only reference to military spending was a pledge to “support better outcomes for Canada’s veterans.”
We’ve certainly fallen short when it comes to supporting veterans, and it’s laudable that the government intends to make this a priority (although we’ve heard such pledges many times in the past), but this hardly addresses the question of our overall commitment to adequately funding our armed forces.
And just because the NATO deadline is still a few years away doesn’t mean we can be complacent.
As Global News reported late last month, the Department of National Defence received a “blunt” letter — described by sources as “frustrated” and “critical” in its tone — from the U.S. government, criticizing our defence spending levels and urging us to meet our NATO targets.
Clearly our most important ally doesn’t have the patience to wait and deal with all of this in 2024.
And there may be additional pressure coming to bear. At a time when we’re fretting about the ratification of the new CUSMA, Trump is now threatening trade action against allies who are falling short of where their defence spending needs to be. Given the recent history of NAFTA uncertainty and steel and aluminum tariffs, the last thing we need is more trade drama with our biggest trading partner.
But ultimately this isn’t just about placating the Americans or our NATO allies. Yes, we should want to be a reliable partner, but this is also about our own sovereignty and our ability to defend our own borders — our northern border, especially.
The problem of shortchanging our military didn’t begin with the Trudeau government, but after four years it definitely bears responsibility for the choices it has made. We learned just recently, for example, that the federal government actually failed to spend nearly $8 billion in money earmarked for procurement, equipment, and facilities. We’re still five years away from replacing our 35-year-old fighter jet fleet.
There are serious challenges we need to address, and our allies are acutely aware of that. It’s disappointing that the government’s throne speech seems detached from this reality.