Estonian PM urges Canada to hit NATO's defence spending target
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas is urging Canada to increase defence spending to 2 per cent of GDP in response to Russia's war on Ukraine. Canada is currently spending 1.39 per cent of its GDP on defence."The security situation in the world has completely changed after the 24th of February," Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told CBC News Network's Power & Politics, citing the day Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine.
Conservative leadership candidate Jean Charest said Monday a government led by him would spend much more money on Canada's armed forces and promised cash to buy new equipment and establish two new military bases in the Arctic.
Charest — who made the announcement while touring Nova Scotia, a province that is home to a large number of military personnel and veterans — said Canada has been underfunding the armed forces for too long and Russia's invasion of Ukraine has underscored just how "unprepared" the country really is.
"[Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau's indifference and inaction in support of the Canadian Armed Forces has made it harder to retain qualified personnel, harder to recruit, tougher to train, and impossible for Canada to meet its obligations to its allies globally. Our allies have taken notice and are choosing to leave us out of important security arrangements," Charest said, referring to the AUKUS military pact signed by Australia, the U.S. and the United Kingdom last year.
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To get Canada back in the mix, Charest said he'd boost military spending to 2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) as "quickly as it can be responsibly done." GDP is a metric used to measure the size of a country's entire economy.
Under the current Liberal government, military spending was about 1.36 per cent of GDP in 2021, according to NATO figures — well below what the country spent during the Cold War.
In the 1960s, Canada's military spending amounted to roughly 4 per cent of GDP. It was around 2 per cent in the 1980s before it dropped dramatically during a period of austerity and budget cuts in the 1990s.
All NATO members, including Canada, have committed to spending 2 per cent of national GDP on the military. But Canada, like some other countries, has done little to actually hit that target.
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© Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland, left, and Minister of National Defence Anita Anand arrive at a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, March 3, 2022.
With the war in Ukraine raging, Defence Minister Anita Anand signalled recently Canada will commit more money to the military in this week's federal budget. To hit the NATO target, Canada's defence budget would have to increase from the planned $32 billion spending target to roughly $58 billion.
Charest said that, if he becomes prime minister, he'd direct some of the promised new spending to establishing two new military bases in the Arctic — including a deepwater port — and purchase two armed icebreakers to shore up Canada's presence in the region. He said he'd work with the U.S. to modernize NORAD defensive and early warning systems and "explore" the possibility of upgrading the submarine fleet to do a better job of defending all three of Canada's coasts.
Canada looking closely at Arctic as part of defence spending increase: Trudeau
OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is hinting that new investments are coming for Canada’s Arctic as tensions with Russia, and Moscow’s unpredictability, incite new fears of a potential attack from the north. Yet the nature and scope of any coming investments remain uncertain, with some emphasizing the importance of non-military spending and Canada’s top military commander pouring cold water on the idea of permanently positioning troops in the region.
The Liberal government restarted the fighter jet procurement process when it first assumed office in 2015, something Charest said was "irresponsible." © Harald Tittel/Associated Press A U.S. F-35 fighter jet flies over the Eifel Mountains near Spangdahlem, Germany on Feb. 23, 2022.
While Trudeau initially ran for office opposed to buying Lockheed Martin's F-35 fighter planes, the government now appears poised to sign a deal for those aircraft, which are already used by the U.S. and other NATO allies.
Charest said the seven-year-long process to buy these jets has been too slow. He said a government led by him would "streamline bureaucratic processes" and "speed up competitions" to accelerate future purchases and avoid costly delays.
In addition to ongoing procurement issues, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) has also struggled to recruit new members in recent years.
There's money on the books to bring the fighting force up to 71,500 regular members and 30,000 reservists but the CAF is well off that mark. At last count, there were only about 65,000 regular force members.
Defence getting billions of dollars in new money from Thursday's budget: source
The federal budget is expected to pour up to $8 billion in new money into the Department of National Defence, CBC News has learned — an investment that will lean heavily on improving the military's ability to defend North America. Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland will deliver the new fiscal plan on Thursday. A senior government source, speaking on background Wednesday, said that the budget's billions of dollars in new defence spending will be over and above the increases the Liberal government committed to in its 2017 defence policy.
Charest said he'd strive to make the CAF a more welcoming work environment by tackling the sexual misconduct that has plagued the military in recent years, dragging down efforts to recruit more women.
The former Quebec premier said Trudeau has overseen a "dysfunctional and unacceptable deterioration" in the CAF and the military has become a place where "female, minority and LGBTQ+ have experienced systemic and unfair obstacles while participating in what should be safe and merit-based environments."
He said he'd also try to woo back recently retired CAF members with unspecified incentives and force Canada's colleges and universities to allow military recruiters to set up recruitment centres on their campuses.
As for Canada's veterans, Charest promised a return to the pre-2006 Pension Act benefits that were available to disabled and injured veterans. The rollout of a new benefits and pensions regime has been an ongoing source of consternation for former CAF members injured on duty.
He also promised new benefits for veterans with a minimum of five years regular force service or reservists who were in the CAF for at least seven years. He said those benefits could include access to low-cost mortgages, loans for veterans who want to start or expand a business and education grants for those who want to study in another field.
New poll suggests most Canadians think the government is spending enough on defence .
OTTAWA — A new poll suggests most Canadians think the federal government is already spending enough on the military, despite the push for a massive hike in defence funding. It's been a contentious issue in recent weeks, with the war in Ukraine leading to renewed calls for Canada and other NATO allies to increase spending to two per cent of GDP. The Liberals’ five-year plan, released in last week's federal budget, will come short of that at 1.5 per cent, even with more than $8 billion in new military spending. According to a survey conducted by Leger last weekend, that's enough for many Canadians.