Canada to increase defence spending by $8 billion, still below NATO target

Canada will review the size and role of its military and boost defence spending by $8 billion, according to the federal budget released Thursday, but still fall far short of a baseline funding commitment that NATO wants to see from all member countries.

The investments include an additional $500 million for military aid for Ukraine in the wake of the Russian invasion.

As a result of that attack, NATO has been urging allies to get their defence spending up to two per cent of their gross domestic product, in line with a commitment made by member countries in 2014.

The additional money in the federal budget would get Canada’s defence spending up to 1.5 per cent of GDP, said a senior government official.

Meeting the NATO commitment would require Canada to double its current military spending of about $25.7 billion.

Some of the increased funding includes $6 billion over five years, and $1.4 billion ongoing, for defence priorities including “continental defences, commitments to our allies,” and investments in equipment and technology for the military.

The government official noted that conversations are ongoing about Canada’s contributions to NATO, as well as work with the United States on modernizing the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD.)

“What you see in the budget is the decision on the part of the government to have those processes continue without Canada putting all our cards on the table perhaps early in those processes,” the official said, noting that as conversations evolve, “we’ll be able to be more specific about exactly what those numbers look like.”

In the wake of the Russian invasion, the government will review its defence policy, focusing on the size, capabilities and role of the military, as well as the resources it requires.

Describing the additional money as “quite a meaningful increase in defence spending,” the official said, “Is it enough? We’ll wait and see what comes out of the defence review before we make further decisions about that.”

Speaking to reporters, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said the Russian invasion had changed the government’s thinking on defence spending.

“The situation in the world has changed, and I agree it’s necessary to spend more,” Freeland said in French. “But it’s important to spend in a planned way, in an efficient way, and that is the reason we’re spending more today and saying we’re going to do a swift review of our military expenses and Canada’s needs.”

The increase in defence spending was one of the only items that the Conservatives liked in a budget they blasted as irresponsible and said they will not support.

“We’re glad to see it in the budget, but we’re going to be looking for where they’re going to be spending it and that they’ll actually get that money out,” said interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen.

Defence Minister Anita Anand has said she will present a “robust package” of NORAD modernization measures, a commitment repeated in the budget.

The government is considering options “to fulfil this commitment through significant investments” in areas including surveillance in all domains — land, sea, air, space and cyber — and “improved capabilities” to defeat threats.

The package is expected to specifically include replacing Canada’s system of radar stations in the Arctic, designed to detect Russian bomber aircraft, with a much more sophisticated system to detect modern threats like hypersonic missiles.

On NATO, Canada previously announced an additional 460 troops to participate in the alliance’s deterrence missions in Eastern Europe, for a total of about 1,260. The government has also previously committed a further 3,400 troops on high-readiness alert should they be required by NATO.

The government also committed $100 million in the budget over six years, and $16.8 million ongoing, to tackle culture change in the military, which has been rocked by a sexual misconduct crisis.

The money will go toward modernizing the military justice system and implementing a declaration of victims’ rights, which is set to take effect in June, among other measures.

There will also be $875 million over five years, and $238 million ongoing, for cybersecurity, including launching cyber operations and defending against cyber attacks.

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