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Canada working to raise defence spending, NATO warns 'never take peace for granted'

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Canada's defence minister says the federal government is on a "positive, upward trajectory" in defence spending. However, he stopped short of saying when the government would reach its NATO commitment of spending two per cent of its GDP on defence.

Minister Bill Blair spoke to Vassy Kapelos on CTV News Channel's Power Play Thursday and faced questions on defence spending, U.S. intelligence reports, and the Ukraine war. 

“Timelines will be determined by our ability to not only acquire the funds, but also spend the funds,” said Blair. “When you’re spending Canadian tax payer dollars, it’s important that we spend them well and wisely.”

“The prime minister, in June of last year, said that Canada was committed to working towards the (2 per cent) target, and we are,” he said.

The full interview will air at 5 p.m. EST on CTV News Channel.

NATO defence spending has come under increased scrutiny in recent days following comments from former U.S. president Donald Trump, which called into question the alliance’s durability should he win another term.

During a Saturday rally in South Carolina, Trump said a president of “a big country” asked him if they would still be protected if they didn’t pay their way as a NATO member. Trump claims that he told them, “I would not protect you, in fact I would encourage them (Russia) to do whatever the hell they want.”

The White House denounced those comments, and Blair told reporters he didn’t think there was a need to “overreact.”

In 2014, NATO leaders committed to move toward spending two per cent of their gross domestic product on defence within a decade. It has mostly been slow going, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine turned the spotlight back to defence preparedness. The two per cent figure is now considered a minimum requirement.

“We need to shift from the slow pace of peace time to the high tempo production demanded by conflict,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said during a Thursday morning news conference. “We can never take peace for granted.”

Stoltenberg celebrated “historic progress” in defence spending among member nations. He said earlier this week he expects 18 NATO allies to reach the two per cent benchmark. While he hailed increased spending in Europe and Canada, it’s unclear if the latter would be among those 18.

Also on Thursday, Blair announced Canada is spending more than $273 million on new military equipment for its battle group in Latvia, which includes $227.5 million for a short-range air defence system and another $46 million for anti-drone equipment.

With files from CTV’s Adrian Ghobrial, The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

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