Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday March 11, 2022
Military neglect catches up with Canada
It was reassuring to hear Justin Trudeau pledge Canada’s unwavering support for its European allies this week. It would have been even better if the prime minister had a strong Canadian military to back him up. But he doesn’t and brave words won’t be enough to make 150,000 Russian soldiers retreat from Ukraine. Just when it’s needed more than at any time since the Second World War, Canada’s military muscle has gone soft because a generation of federal governments consistently went cheap on military spending. And Canadians let them do it.
Our soldiers, sailors and aircrew are without doubt well-trained and respected internationally. But they are too few in number and too poorly equipped to do the job Canada expects them to do. Despite more than a decade of trying, we have yet to replace our ancient fleet of CF-18 fighter jets, our outdated frigates or our retired naval destroyers. Our Armed Forces need 10,000 more people to reach full strength — but such growth is nowhere in sight. In fact, to meet our NATO commitments, we would have to boost our annual $24-billion military budget by about $9 billion. At this point, there is no indication the federal government is prepared to do that.
And now we are deep in the crisis that exposes our sad limitations. Any day now the independent, democratic state of Ukraine could be erased and absorbed by an aggressive Russian neighbour. In addition, there is a growing risk the Ukraine conflict could spread into surrounding North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries that were once part of the Soviet empire Russian despot Vladimir Putin is so eager to reclaim. A general war in Europe is no longer unimaginable. In response, many of Canada’s NATO allies are already stepping up to Russian aggression. For instance, within the space of 72 hours Germany increased military spending by $140 billion and sent lethal weapons to Ukraine as part of a complete overhaul of its postwar defence policy.
Trudeau’s decision to send more Canadian troops and fighter jets to support NATO might sound impressive to Canadian ears. But our NATO allies are pointing out that Canada still falls far short of meeting the NATO target of spending two per cent of national GDP on the military. Currently, Canada’s defence spending is a paltry 1.39 per cent of its GDP, far below the majority of the other NATO members. No wonder, then, that Netherlands and Belgium — two countries with a fraction of Canada’s population — sent more to Ukraine than we have. “We need a renewed focus on our collective security,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a diplomatic nudge to Trudeau when they met this week. While Trudeau vowed to “push back hard against Russia,” it’s doubtful Putin is trembling at the prospect.
Perhaps some Canadians will believe Canada is already doing enough for NATO, most of whose members are far across the Atlantic Ocean. Such thinking ignores the need for a united front against a bully as well as the geographic reality that Russia is also our close neighbour. Putin has claimed Arctic territory that Ottawa considers a sovereign part of Canada — even as climate change is making Arctic waters more strategically important. It’s likely the United States would discourage any significant Russian forays into Canada’s North. But if we pride ourselves as a sovereign nation, do we want to rely on Uncle Sam?
Trudeau will answer this question, in part, in the upcoming federal budget and then in whatever new actions his government takes in finding more military personnel, procuring new military hardware and modernizing North American defence strategy. While the Liberals have planned to increase defence spending by 70 per cent, so far they have lifted that budget by only 20 per cent. Meanwhile, the government is financially burdened by the deficits it ran up during the pandemic as well as its promises to introduce a national child-care program and raise health-care spending. If there is going to be renewed emphasis on the Canadian Armed Forces — and we think this should happen — it will take money, political will and popular support. Otherwise, Canada can neither meet its international commitments nor protect itself. And whatever our national anthem says, we won’t be able to stand on guard for our home and native land. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)