Minister Blair Defends Not Having Plan to Meet NATO Spending Target

Minister Blair Defends Not Having Plan to Meet NATO Spending Target
Defence Minister Bill Blair waits to appear as a witness at the Standing Committee on National Defence, in Ottawa on Feb. 12, 2024. (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)
Noé Chartier

Defence Minister Bill Blair says his government’s investments in the military are in stark contrast with the “very dark days” of the previous administration, despite presenting no plan to meet NATO’s spending target.

Mr. Blair appeared before the House of Commons national defence committee on April 15 to discuss Ottawa’s defence policy update, with MPs asking why more isn’t being done.

“There’s no sense of urgency here,” said Tory MP James Bezan, his party’s defence critic. Mr. Bezan noted the multiples crises occurring, from Ukraine to the Middle East, and domestic issues like troops having to resort to food banks.

Mr. Bezan asked the minister why there is no commitment in the policy update to meet NATO’s defence budget target of at least 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Since taking power in 2015, Mr. Blair said, his government has increased defence spending by nearly 70 percent.

He told Mr. Bezan that by 2029 defence spending will have almost tripled compared with the “very dark days of 2014, the last days in which you were a parliamentary secretary of defence, where defence spending actually fell below 1 percent of GDP.”

Canada was spending 1.01 percent of its GDP on defence in 2014, according to NATO figures. At that time, only three countries were meeting the 2 percent target and the majority of NATO members have since increased military spending.
The Liberal government had committed to meeting NATO’s defence budget target in July 2023, but the policy update falls short of attempting to meet that objective.
Ottawa has said it will aim to increase its defence spending-to-GDP ratio to 1.76 percent by 202930. NATO figures indicate Canada’s defence spending was at 1.33 percent of GDP in 2023, the fourth lowest ratio among the alliance.
The defence policy update mentions the intention to spend $8.1 billion on defence in the next five years and $73 billion over the next 20 years. The policy released April 8 updates the “Strong, Secure, Engaged“ policy presented in 2017.
Some of the investments include $9.9 billion over 20 years to extend the life of the Halifax-class frigates, and $18.4 billion over 20 years to acquire new tactical helicopters.

Dollars are also allocated to support military members through a $295 million housing strategy over 20 years, and $100 million over five years to improve child care on military bases.

The issue of military spending for NATO allies came to the forefront in February when former U.S. President Donald Trump suggested he would not protect a NATO member who doesn’t spend adequately on its own defence.

A few days after those remarks, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he expects 18 out of 31 members of the alliance to reach the 2 percent target in 2024, up from 11 in 2023.

“We are making real progress: European Allies are spending more,“ he said. ”However, some allies still have a ways to go.”

U.S. Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith told CTV News in February that Canada is the only country without a plan to reach the 2 percent target.

Largest spenders are currently Poland (3.92 percent), the United States (3.24 percent), and Greece (3.05). Only Luxembourg (1.01 percent), Belgium (1.21 percent), and Spain (1.24 percent) spend less than Canada.

Noé Chartier is a senior reporter with the Canadian edition of The Epoch Times. Twitter: @NChartierET