After tossing around our money as if he doesn’t care, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada can’t afford to give its fair share to NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
Guess every country has its priorities and Trudeau’s doesn’t include national (or international) defence.
The headline in an Andrew MacDougall column in The Ottawa Citizen last March read: “Trudeau is spending your money like you don’t care. He may be right.”
In that column, MacDougall wrote: “Justin Trudeau is firing the federal spending cannon with scant regard for the nation’s finances. The Liberals are betting heavily that taxpayers won’t care how much federal dosh is being spent, or when their government plans on stopping.
“Sadly, they’re probably right. Even this week’s bizarre revelation that a 2017 spending review failed to turn up a single, solitary dollar of savings — instead triggering new spending — won’t change a thing. On matters fiscal, yesterday’s balanced budget orthodoxy is today’s heresy.”
Well, now Trudeau finds himself with not enough money to provide Canada’s fair share to NATO.
Canada has no plans to double its defence budget, Trudeau insisted Tuesday, despite continued calls from U.S. President Donald Trump for all NATO countries to meet agreed-upon targets for defence spending.
Trudeau called the military spending target — two per cent of GDP, agreed to by all NATO allies at the 2014 summit in Wales — “an easy shorthand” but also a “limited tool” to measure a country’s commitment to the alliance.
“There are always perspectives on doing more, and that’s fine, that’s an important conversation to have,” Trudeau said during a visit with Canadian troops at the Adazi military base outside Riga.
“But the reality is, the way NATO has been having a meaningful impact wherever it goes continues to be a really important thing, and that’s certainly at the heart of the message I’ll be bringing.”
But is anybody listening to Canada anymore? Our country’s place on the international stage is slowly withering away. Trudeau can stand up for gender and indigenous rights in NAFTA negotiations. But he doesn’t have the fortitude to do what’s right and provide two per cent of Canada’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to the international agency designed to defend the world.
Of course, when the country is swimming in debt and showing no signs at getting out, it’s no wonder Trudeau is watching his pennies (whoops, nickels). Canada’s debt – the amount of money owed by the Government of Canada to holders of Canadian Treasury security – now stands at $1.4 trillion. And it’s showing no signs of slowing down.
But it’s not how much money Canada is spending that’s the problem. It’s where the money is being spent.
An opinion article by Ken Hansen in Maclean’s last March asked the question many are asking now: “What’s happening to Canada’s defence spending? Despite a policy overhaul, the 2018 budget has set out virtually no new spending for the fundamentals of Canada’s military. That’s a problem.”
“Practically all Liberal governments of the past—and many Conservative ones too—have carved large amounts out of the defence budget to cut down on deficits,” Hansen writes. “Recently, though, things have seemed different. Last year, the budget announced an eye-popping 70-per-cent increase to defence spending over the next decade, reaching $32.7 billion by the 2026/27 fiscal year, as part of the Liberals’ new defence policy, Strong, Secure, Engaged, released last year. This year, in addition to that significant top-line figure, there were some minor funding increases for the Defence Department; military family crisis centres will get $4 million over five years, plus $800,000 ongoing afterward. Operation IMPACT against ISIS will get $48 million over two years, but it will be refocused on security and stabilization efforts in Jordan and Lebanon. Work is ongoing to improve the military pension system and provide better care for disabled veterans.”
But it’s not enough, Hansen says.
The human costs of not providing enough funding for defence are adding up.
“Suicide, depression and domestic violence are commonplace in the forces,” he writes. “Shortages of trained and effective members, most recently identified in the 2016 report of the Auditor General, have worsened. Recruitment targets are not being met and voluntary releases have continued to climb. Some military trades are now 20 per cent short of target manning levels. When five per cent short is considered a critical manpower shortage, 20 per cent is a catastrophe.
“And most of the spending in this year’s budget is devoted to cybersecurity and cyberdefence; virtually no new spending has been set out for the fundamentals of Canada’s armed forces, including capital procurement.”
So there you go. It’s not the amount of money that’s being spent. It’s where the money is being spent.
The same holds true for the federal budget, especially with funds earmarked for defence,” Hansen writes. “To assure that Canada has an independent and self-sustaining military, a common-sense appreciation of what the future holds is urgently needed—and that starts with the planning exercise of the defence budget. While money has been set aside in the previous budget, the proven difficulties with doling that out and the lack of explicitly budgeted new spending risks are hamstringing the military at a critical juncture.”
This is no time to be hamstringing the military or short-changing Canada’s commitment to the NATO alliance. This may well be one time President Trump is right. NATO countries each have to provide their fare share. And at a time when Canada should be pledging its NATO commitment, it’s cowering in a corner somewhere trying to figure out how to weasel out of it.