What the Liberal-NDP deal could mean for ‘aggressive options’ on defense spending | national

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OTTAWA — Prospects for a significant increase in Canada’s defense spending in the next federal budget looked a little less likely as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was set to travel to Europe after announcing a stunning political deal with the United States. New Democrats.

The Liberal government had hinted that it was considering aggressive options to pump more money into the Canadian military in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Canada is under intense pressure to meet the NATO military alliance’s goal, set in 2006, of devoting at least 2% of its gross domestic product to defence, as a growing number of allies have since pledged. to do.

Trudeau was largely evasive on Tuesday as he announced the new confidence and supply agreement with the NDP, which will see the fourth-place party backing the minority Liberal government until 2025 in exchange for new investments in other areas.

These include creating a dental program for low-income Canadians, national pharmacare, affordable housing, and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, among others.

The Prime Minister instead noted Canada’s recent pledge to deploy more troops to Eastern Europe as he prepares to travel to Brussels, where he will address the European Parliament on Wednesday before attending a summit. NATO leaders on Thursday.

“I look forward to engaging with our partners in NATO and in Europe over the coming days,” he said.

Trudeau then spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy before his scheduled departure later that evening for Brussels. They talked about “additional international assistance ahead of upcoming NATO and G7 meetings,” Trudeau’s office said in a summary of the call.

“Both leaders called on Russia to stop targeting civilians, withdraw its military forces from Ukraine and engage in diplomacy with Ukraine.”

Canada currently spends about 1.39% of its GDP on the military, according to NATO estimates. This puts him in the bottom third of allies. Many other NATO member countries have pledged in recent weeks to rapidly increase spending for fear of Russia.

When asked if his party would support an increase in defense spending in the next budget, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he was opposed to the 2% figure and that any new investment in the military cannot be done to the detriment of its priorities.

“I don’t think that’s going to be the number, and I don’t think that’s something we should be doing,” Singh said in French.

“The priority is to recognize that the Canadian Armed Forces deserve the resources and tools they need to do their job. … But what is our priority is that the government does not cut health care measures and other measures to help people.

Two weeks ago in Berlin, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland hinted that there might be more money for the military in the next federal budget.

Last week, Anand said in an interview with CBC’s Power & Politics that she would put forward a range of options for military spending to the cabinet ahead of the federal budget, due early next month, including some that could align Canada on the NATO target.

“I personally put forward aggressive options that would see (Canada) potentially go above the 2% level, up to the 2% level and below the 2% level,” she said, adding that “ the threat environment” had changed rapidly.

Asked about Canada’s commitment to NATO during Question Period in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Anand did not mention “aggressive options,” but noted the Liberals’ 2017 pledge to spend billions of dollars. dollars for the military over the next 20 years.

But Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly, who has herself criss-crossed Europe in recent weeks, again noted on Tuesday that Germany has made a historic commitment to increase its defense spending up to the target of NATO of 2% of GDP.

The spending commitment marked a sea change in German military and foreign policy.

“Times have changed, the world has changed since February 24, when Russia invaded Ukraine. Germany has decided to take a very important decision by increasing its military spending. balance sheet,” said Joly.

David Perry, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and one of Canada’s leading authorities on defense spending, said the deal between the Liberals and the NDP raises serious questions about any major new investment. in the army.

“If they go ahead with pharmacare, dental care, or whatever else is needed, it’s likely going to involve significant additional expense to get there,” he said.

“So where would defense spending fit into the overall budget picture? Given the state of the economy, the state of the budget situation, the increase in interest rates, this further obscures what is already a reasonably unclear picture of spending.

Perry said, however, that reaching NATO’s 2% GDP target in the short term is largely unrealistic as it would require an additional $16 billion in military spending over the roughly $30 billion already spent each year.

Such an increase would also be virtually impossible to spend, given the long lead times associated with the purchase of new military equipment.

Perry said one obvious area where the Liberals could allocate new money in the budget would be modernizing North America’s defensive systems, which the government has called a priority, but so far hasn’t. did not act substantially.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on March 22, 2022.

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