By Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa
The federal Liberal government responded Thursday to months of pressure from the NATO military alliance and others by pledging more than $8 billion in new military spending over the next five years.
Yet the injection of new funds contained in the federal budget appeared largely symbolic as the government scrambled to say what the money, most of which won’t materialize for years, would actually buy.
Officials also acknowledged that even with the extra money, Canada will remain well below NATO’s spending target, even if other allies dramatically increase their own military investments after the invasion of Ukraine. by Russia.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland made only a passing allusion to new investments and the need to strengthen Canada’s “hard power” when she presented the latest Liberal budget in the House of Commons.
“We know freedom doesn’t come free and peace is only guaranteed by our willingness to fight for it,” Freeland said in his budget speech, according to prepared remarks.
“That is why we are making an immediate additional investment in our armed forces and proposing a rapid defense policy review to equip Canada for a world that has become more dangerous.
The budget proposes $8.5 billion in additional military spending on a cash basis over five years. In real terms, this means between $800 million and $3 billion in new funding for the Department of Defense and the Canadian Armed Forces each year.
This new money comes on top of previous spending increases contained in the Liberals’ 2017 defense policy.
The budget specifically provides about $250 million for culture change efforts, and an additional $450 million to expand the military support mission to Ukraine and a long-running counterterrorism operation off the coast of Africa and from the Middle-East.
But he is noticeably vague about what the government plans to do with the vast majority of the remaining funds, including how much will be used to upgrade North America’s defenses with the United States.
Defense Minister Anita Anand this week pledged a “robust investment package” to update the North American Aerospace Defense Command in the coming months, raising expectations of a major announcement. in the budget.
The budget plan says the government is “currently considering options” to upgrade Norad, including examining new surveillance, intelligence, command and control capabilities, as well as new capabilities to “deter and defeat threats.” “.
Military officials and experts have warned for years about the state of Norad, parts of which are now obsolete as Russia and other adversaries have developed more advanced weapons.
The budget includes more than $875 million for the Communications Security Establishment to help the cyber spy agency defend and protect Canadian assets online. This includes boosting his ability to launch attacks.
But a senior finance official speaking on the merits at a tech briefing suggested decisions on how new money for the military will be spent will come later, likely after the defense policy review .
Freeland directly attributed the decision to spend more on defense to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine while defending the lack of detail, saying the government needs to do its due diligence first.
“We will very quickly have a study of our military spending, of Canada’s needs today,” she told reporters in French. “A study that needs to focus on the effectiveness of spending and create a plan that we can actually implement.”
The budget document also did not specify how the addition of new funds will affect defense spending as a share of Canada’s gross domestic product, although the top finance official said Canada will eventually hit the mark. 1.5% in five years.
This is unlikely to satisfy Canada’s allies in the NATO military alliance, which urged members to spend 2% of their GDP on defense following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
Canada is estimated to have spent just 1.36% of its GDP on the military last year, with only four other NATO members spending less: Belgium, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Spain .
All NATO members agreed to the 2% target in 2014 and reaffirmed it at a special leaders’ summit in Brussels last month, with the promise that they would present plans to meet the target when they will meet again in Portugal in June.
Defense analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute said the new funds announced Thursday fell short of expectations the government had set in the weeks before the budget was released.
Even with the new funds, he said, Canada risks falling behind virtually all of its allies in spending as a percentage of GDP based on their public commitments.
And while some have questioned whether the Army could spend fresh money given the long delays in procuring equipment, Perry said there were significant pre-existing gaps in areas such as maintenance. and infrastructure.
The Conservatives had called on the government to dramatically increase military spending, and interim leader Candice Bergen said her party was happy the budget included extra money for the armed forces.
“But we’re going to figure out where they’re going to spend it and that they’re actually going to get that money out,” she said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who previously called NATO’s spending target “arbitrary”, nevertheless voiced support for the new defense funds.
“Our armed forces, which do important work for us, should have the equipment to do so,” he told reporters.
“And there have been clear gaps identified where our armed forces don’t have the equipment to do the job they need to do. So (an increase in funding) is understandable.
Singh lamented only minimal increases in foreign aid and development.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 7, 2022.