Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday March 23, 2022
What the Liberal-NDP deal could mean for ‘aggressive options’ on defence spending
The prospects for a significant increase in Canadian defence spending in the coming federal budget looked a little less likely as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was set to head to Europe after announcing a stunning political deal with the New Democrats.
The Liberal government had been hinting that it was looking at aggressive options for injecting more money into the Canadian military in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Canada has been under heavy pressure to meet the NATO military alliance’s target, set in 2006, of spending at least two per cent of its national gross domestic product on defence, as a growing number of allies have since promised to do.
Trudeau was largely noncommittal on Tuesday as he announced the new confidence and supply agreement with the NDP, which will see the fourth-place party support the Liberal minority government through to 2025 in exchange for new investments in other areas.
Those include the creation of a dental-care program for lower-income Canadians, national pharmacare, affordable housing and phasing out subsides for fossil fuels, among others.
The prime minister instead noted Canada’s recent promise to deploy more troops to eastern Europe as he prepared to fly to Brussels, where he will address the European Parliament on Wednesday before attending a NATO leaders’ summit on Thursday.
Canada currently spends about 1.39 per cent of its GDP on the military, according to NATO estimates. That puts it in the bottom-third of allies. Many other NATO member countries have promised in recent weeks to rapidly ratchet up their spending over fears of Russia.
Asked whether his party would support an increase in defence spending in the coming budget, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he was opposed to the two per cent figure and that any new investment in the military can’t come at the expense of his priorities.
“I don’t think that will be the figure, and I don’t think that’s something we should do,” Singh said in French.
“The priority is to recognize that the Canadian Armed Forces deserve the resources and tools they need to do their work. But what is our priority is that the government not cut health-care measures and other assistance measures to people.”
Two weeks ago in Berlin, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland hinted there might be more money for the military in the coming federal budget.
David Perry, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and one of Canada’s foremost authorities on defence spending, said the deal between the Liberals and NDP raises serious questions about any major new investments in the military.
“If they are going to move forward with pharmacare, dental care or whatever manifestation that takes, it’s presumably going to involve significant additional spending to make that happen,” he said.
“So where would defence spending fit into the overall fiscal picture? Given the state of the economy, state of the fiscal position, increasing interest rates, it further clouds what is already a reasonably unclear spending picture.”
Perry nonetheless said that actually meeting NATO’s two per cent of 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 procurement timelines associated with buying new military equipment. (CTV News)