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Canada ‘not on course’ to hit 2% defence spending pledge: U.S. official

Washington’s top diplomat in Ottawa outlines priorities
WATCH ABOVE: Washington’s top diplomat in Ottawa outlines priorities

The top U.S. official in Ottawa says in his country’s view, Canada is not likely to hit the defence spending targets it has promised.

Richard Mills, the U.S. Embassy’s chargé d’affaires, said while there have been positive spending steps by the Canadian government, the view south of the border is that Canada will fall short in hitting its promised investment of two per cent of GDP on defence.

“We were very pleased with some of the defence spending that’s occurred under this government, including some effort to buy new frigates, some new airplanes,” he said in an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson.

READ MORE: U.S. sent ‘blunt’ letter to Canada criticizing defence spending: sources

“But to be quite honest with you, Mercedes, the Canadian government is not on course to meet two per cent by 2024. In fact, they probably will reach a peak — in our estimate, around 1.4 per cent — in 2024 and then decline rapidly.”

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Canada, along with other NATO members, agreed in 2014 to increase spending on defence to the tune of two per cent of GDP by 2024.

But according to NATO estimates from November, just nine of out of 29 member nations have met the goal.

Trudeau’s cocktail chatter becomes distraction at NATO summit
Trudeau’s cocktail chatter becomes distraction at NATO summit

U.S. President Donald Trump has aggressively pushed allies to meet those promises since his election in 2016.

And in November, Global News learned that the U.S. took the unusual step of sending a diplomatic letter criticizing Canadian military spending.

Canada’s prime minister and defence minister, however, have pointed out that a plan has been established to dramatically increase defence investment.

In 2017, Ottawa announced it would boost the annual defence budget to almost $33 billion within a decade, an increase of 70 per cent.

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READ MORE: Ottawa failed to spend almost $8B in promised defence cash over recent years

“The relationship with Canada and the U.S., the defence relationship, I think, is even stronger now, because they see a tangible plan that we have created,” Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said on an episode of The West Block that aired on Nov. 24.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also insisted that there are other ways to measure the value of a country’s military contributions and frequently cites the steep costs Canadian soldiers and peacekeepers have paid on allied missions around the world.

Trudeau speaks on Canada’s defence spending following NATO summit
Trudeau speaks on Canada’s defence spending following NATO summit

Canada currently sits at 1.31 per cent in terms of how much of its GDP goes towards defence spending. That’s up from about 1 per cent in 2014.

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Mills said the U.S. views hitting the two per cent target — or at least getting close — as crucial in order for Canada to be taken seriously.

“This is important because our common security requires common burden sharing and we want to see our Canadian friends and Canada have a voice in international relations, have a strong voice because we share the same outlook,” he said.

“But to be listened to, there has to be something behind you and that requires investment in the military.”

Mills is currently the highest-ranking official at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa. Kelly Craft, the previous ambassador to Canada, was tapped to represent the U.S. at the United Nations last year.

On Tuesday, the White House said Trump would nominate Dr. Aldona Wos to serve as the new ambassador.