NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says his caucus would be against the federal government moving to increase its defence spending to hit NATO’s target of two per cent of GDP, calling the request from the international military alliance “arbitrary.”
“The pressure that’s being applied right now is to get to two per cent. We think that that’s an arbitrary number, and we don’t support that number,” said Singh in an interview on CTV’s Question Period.
Canada is currently spending approximately 1.39 per cent of its GDP on defence. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) pledge, which all members collectively agreed to in 2014, was to increase their military spending to at least two per cent of national gross domestic product within the next decade.
“We don’t need to meet that arbitrary number, and we don’t think that’s the right approach,” Singh said.
Pressure has mounted on the Canadian government to enhance its share since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and discussions of more permanent deployments in Eastern Europe. Both Defence Minister Anita Anand and Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly have indicated that Canada intends to bring more to the table, but just how much more remains to be seen.
Earlier this week, Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux estimated that Canada would need to set aside between $20 to 25 billion per year to meet the target.
The NDP leader said that while he doesn’t think that size of defence spending increase is appropriate, his party is supportive of an increase to the military’s budget.
“We know that the Canadian Armed Forces are being required, or being told to do certain work and they don’t have the equipment to do it. So, they should have the equipment, and that’s going to require filling in a gap where we need to fund them more to be able to have the equipment to do the work that we asked them to do,” Singh said. “We support that, I’ve long supported that. We also know that we’re living in a scarier world, and people are clearly feeling less secure, and we need to invest to make sure people feel more secure. And so that’s going to mean some increase.”
The freshly-inked confidence-and-supply agreement between the Liberals and NDP includes a commitment to prop up the government in all confidence votes and back it on annual budgets.
Singh said that he’s willing to have “close consultations and discussions about what’s going to happen next” when it comes to what the Liberals are planning to spend in the federal budget, expected to be tabled next month.
“We’ll need to take a close look and assess exactly what the needs are, and what we can achieve in one budget… We need to look very carefully at what are the needs and what are the gaps we should fill immediately.”
The NDP leader also said that he doesn’t think the deal gives him “veto power,” but rather “an ability to have input.”
The government has already indicated that it’ll look to work with other parties on matters that Singh’s caucus can’t get behind. In this case, the Conservatives have called on Trudeau to increase to Canada’s defence spending to hit the NATO target, so that may be an avenue the minority Liberals could explore if the budget does include a massive new military financial commitment.
“There’s still time for the government to do that, to include that critical two per cent. We see now as the Putin regime starts its march across Europe that we need to honour our commitment to both the global security picture, but also to make sure that we’re prepared to protect ourselves domestically here. So, it’s high time to meet that 2 per cent defence spending,” said Conservative MP Michael Barrett in a separate segment on Sunday’s show.
“One of the problems that we’ve seen with some of the commitments over the last few years with respect to procurement, and we’ve heard from the PBO, that those are back loaded… But we need planes, we need ships, we need vehicles, we need weaponry now. And that’s exactly what we need to do to support our NATO allies but also to support our allies in Ukraine as well,” Barrett said.
Dodging making any direct comment on what the budget may or may not include when it comes to defence, parliamentary secretary to the foreign affairs minister Rob Oliphant said he thinks the conversation Canadians are having right now about what role the country should be playing, how much money should be put into the military, and how it will be paid for, is an important one.
“They’re looking at supports that are domestic, they’re looking at international engagement, humanitarian, diplomatic, defence, and that’s a discussion Canadians should be having. And I’m glad we’re having it,” Oliphant said. “I think Canadians are suggesting we should do more, and the Liberal government is listening to this. Stay tuned.”
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