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Canada's ballooning defence budget not good enough for NATO
The alliance's leader says 2% of GDP is the bare minimum, which Canada hasn't yet reached
Despite the Canadian government boosting military spending by billions in its latest budget and reportedly putting boots on the ground in Ukraine to assist in the fight against Russia’s invasion, NATO wants Canada to spend more on defence.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to hear “tough questions” about Canada’s NATO commitments at a Madrid summit this week after a report was released saying Canada is “heading in the wrong direction when it comes to military spending,” The Canadian Press reported Tuesday in an odd bit of editorializing from the wire service.
NATO members agreed in 2014 to gradually increase their defence budgets to 2% of GDP, which the parliamentary budget officer has estimated will cost Canada $75 billion. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg released figures projecting a decrease in Canada’s share of GDP dedicated to defence spending to 1.27% this year from 1.32% in 2021 and 1.42% in 2020.
But the CP report acknowledges crucial context is missing from NATO’s numbers, namely the “reason for the expected decline, or whether it includes $8 billion in new military spending that was promised in April's federal budget and whose purpose has not been clearly defined.”
Trudeau responded to Stoltenberg’s criticism by pointing to Canada’s growing militarization. Canada's new military expenditures include a $4.9-billion boost to the joint NORAD defence system with the U.S. and the impending purchase of 88 F-35 fighter jets that Trudeau campaigned against buying in 2015. He also highlighted Canada’s leadership of a multinational NATO mission in Latvia.
Trudeau naturally didn’t mention it, but the Canadian government has refused to deny a report from the New York Times that says Canada has special forces on the ground in Ukraine to co-ordinate the flow of weapons into the country, nor did he mention the $15 billion in unaccounted for defence spending in this year’s budget. Also left unsaid was that according to NATO’s own figures, Canada is NATO’s sixth-largest spender on a total cash basis.
The day after Stoltenberg’s admonition, Trudeau agreed to double the size of the Canadian-led mission in Latvia from 2,000 troops, 700 of which are Canadian, to anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 troops, which was applauded by the NATO Association of Canada.
But none of this is enough for Stoltenberg, who in advance of this week’s summit committed to increasing NATO’s rapid reaction force from 40,000 to 300,000 troops. "Two per cent [of GDP] is increasingly seen as the floor, not as the ceiling," he said.
Tamara Lorincz, a fellow at the anti-war Canadian Foreign Policy Institute, told me she finds NATO’s constant demands for more spending “despairing.”
“We're making investments in fighter jets, warships, attack helicopters, armed drones, more missiles, guns, rifles and ammunition, instead of investing in things like healthcare, education, recreation centres, affordable housing and Indigenous reconciliation,” Lorincz said. “These are real opportunity costs.”
Trudeau’s commitment to NATO is irreconcilable with his stated commitment to combatting the climate crisis, given the military’s inherent carbon intensity, she added.
“If the international community is serious about the climate crisis, it has to demilitarize. NATO is an obstacle for decarbonization. It's an obstacle to the Paris Agreement,” Lorincz said. “If we really want green security, we would abolish NATO.”
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland preaches “fiscal restraint” when it comes to assisting those who are struggling with the growing cost of living.
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In other news …
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) pegged Canada’s gap between taxes that were paid and taxes that should have been collected from individuals and corporations at $23.4 billion in a new report obtained by the Globe and Mail that examines the years from 2014 to 2018.
From the Globe: “Some of the gap is because of illegal activity, such as cash payments in the construction sector that go unreported or global companies that hide assets offshore. The gap can also include legal factors, such as tax debts going unpaid because of personal or corporate bankruptcies.”
In 2021, the Liberals campaigned on boosting the CRA’s budget by $1 billion a year to enhance enforcement, which it said would generate $11.9 billion over four years in increased revenue.
This year’s budget instead dedicated $916 million over four years, which is estimated to generate $2.2 billion in increased revenue.
Edited by Eric Wickham