$8 Billion Budget Increase in Military Spending Draws Mixed Reviews

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Defense spending was a key area of ​​focus in the federal budget submitted this week, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had led to a renewed emphasis on security in NATO countries.

But depending on who you ask, the spending commitments set by Treasury Secretary Chrystia Freeland on Thursday are either woefully understated, or thankfully smaller than they could have been, preserving funding for other budget areas.

The key figure is a plan to increase defense spending by $8 billion over five years, bringing the country’s defense spending to 1.5 percent of gross domestic product by 2026-27, down from 1.39 percent. currently.

Of that $8 billion, $6.1 billion is earmarked for the modernization of NORAD, the defense partnership between Canada and the United States, while $500 million is earmarked to help Ukraine. Another amount will also be set aside to meet Canada’s obligations to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

But retired Lieutenant General Andrew Leslie criticized the government plan.

“What She Tells” [the Department of] Defense needs to do more with less,” said Leslie, a former Liberal MP for Ottawa suburb of Orléans, noting that when the Liberals came to power in 2015, they pledged $12 billion in defense spending, which he says. that they did not spend.

He noted that the funding also does not meet NATO’s request to member states.

“They’ve been asking us to go to two percent for years – our GDP is the same as Russia’s. And this brings us from 1.3 percent to about 1.5, but only at the end of five years, if that’s the case.” So it’s worse than I could ever have feared.”

Treasury Secretary Chrystia Freeland, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, speaks at a press conference before submitting the federal budget to the House of Commons on Thursday. One critic said her budget didn’t provide enough money for the military, while another was relieved that defense spending wasn’t higher. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

“Our government’s defense policies – Strong, Secure, Engaged – will increase defense spending by more than 70 percent between 2017 and 2026 and place Canada’s defense spending, in real dollars, sixth out of 30 NATO members in 2020 -2021,” Daniel Minden, spokesman for Secretary of National Defense Anita Anand, said in an email to: Cross Country Check-up

“Short term Secretary Anand will present a robust package to modernize NORAD and safeguard our Arctic sovereignty. Secretary Anand is in regular contact with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on this matter,” he wrote.

‘The system can’t handle more money’

Peggy Mason, president of the Rideau Institute, an independent foreign policy and defense think tank, and former Canadian ambassador for disarmament to the United Nations, said Canada is not lagging behind when it comes to defense spending. However, the war in Ukraine has led some to expect more money for defense in the budget.

“I’m quite relieved that it’s $8 billion in five years, and I’m further relieved that… six billion of that is focused on modernizing NORAD,” Mason said. She added that she hoped funding from NORAD would improve Canada’s ability to monitor the Arctic, “which is quite fundamental to sovereignty and security,” she said.

“At the same time, I would like to point out that we still have the fundamental problem that the system cannot handle more money – that they are not able to spend what we have already committed to,” she said.

Mason quoted figures from the Parliamentary Budget Office showing that the Department of Defense is underspending by about $2 billion a year due to equipment procurement delays.

Mason said that to bring the country’s defense spending to two percent of GDP, Canada would need to spend an additional $16 billion on defense.

“I mean, it’s ridiculous. Frankly, it’s ridiculous that we would do that,” she said.

But for Leslie, he sees it as part of what he calls Canada’s “decreasing role on the international stage.”

“I am very concerned that this relentless focus on social programs to please voters is at the expense of national security and international security, as we are no longer contributing to peace and stability missions,” he said.

Defense relies on diplomacy, soft skills

Branka Marijan, senior researcher at Project Plowshares, a peace and disarmament think tank that is part of the Canadian Council of Churches, agrees that Canada has not focused on peacekeeping missions.

“I think the public support has generally been for peacekeeping and peace support operations,” she said. “But that hasn’t been the case for a long time, hasn’t it? Canada really doesn’t do much peacekeeping anymore.”

Retired Lieutenant General Andrew Leslie says the government is asking the Department of National Defense to do more with less based on the funding allocated in the federal budget submitted this week. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Marijan said there is a “disconnect” between the public’s perception that Canada is a peacekeeping country and what the country’s military does.

“There is still the perception that we are… the peacekeepers,” she said. “That doesn’t reflect where we are.”

She also said the defense spending in the federal budget came as no surprise to her based on what had been suggested before it was submitted.

“What’s disappointing about it is that we don’t see the same kind of investment and the same commitment to, you know, peacebuilding and diplomacy and humanitarian aspects,” she said.

Marijan pointed out that these kinds of soft skills are needed, for example, in the response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine – from reaching consensus with other countries to helping refugees if they want to come to Canada.

“This is something that will be relevant outside of this conflict,” she said.

Written by Andrea Bellemare with files from CBC News. Interviews produced by Steve Howard and Abby Plener.

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