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NATO secretary-general expects Canada to give timeline to meet defence spending target

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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says he expects Canada to lay out when it will reach the alliance's target of spending two per cent of GDP on defence.

In an exclusive Canadian interview airing on CTV News Channel's Power Play with Vassy Kapelos on Tuesday, Stoltenberg said Canada has yet to set a precise date to fulfill its spending commitment.

"But I expect Canada to deliver on the pledge to invest two per cent of GDP on defence, because this is a promise we all made," Stoltenberg said, pointing to Canada's geographic significance on the world stage as the country with the second longest coastline.

"Canada is a big economy, (and) a member of the G7 … It really matters what Canada does," he added, also citing Canada's announcements about increasing funding for Norad, plans to purchase F-35 fighter jets, and an increased presence in Latvia as moves in the right direction.

"All of this is good, all of this matters," Stoltenberg also said. "But of course, Canada should, as all other allies, deliver on the pledge to invest two per cent, because we need that in a more dangerous world."

Canada has long faced calls to spend at least two per cent of its GDP on defence, the target agreed upon by NATO member countries more than a decade ago.

Last summer, at a gathering of NATO members in Vilnius, Lithuania, for the alliance's annual meeting, Canada recommitted to reaching the two per cent target, and signed on to Stoltenberg's intention to have the number become the minimum requirement.

In 2024, the number of NATO members expected to reach the two per cent goal rose to 18 from 11, but Canada is not among them. There are currently 31 members of NATO.

When asked by Kapelos whether articulating a date by which Canada expects to meet the goal matters, Stoltenberg said it does.

"We expect 18 allies to spend two per cent of GDP on defence in 2024," he said. "But then we expect that those who are not yet at two per cent should have plans in place to be there as soon as possible."

Last week — also in an interview on CTV News Channel's Power Play — Defence Minister Bill Blair told Kapelos Canada is on a "positive, upward trajectory," but would not say whether the federal government has a deadline in mind to reach the target.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported last April that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau privately told NATO allies Canada will never meet the spending promise.

At a press conference in B.C. on Tuesday, Trudeau responded to Stoltenberg's comments about laying out a target date, saying Canada needs to "continue to step up, and we have as a government."

"We will continue to be there to step up with our NATO partners, we will be there to continue to make sure that the women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces have the equipment they need, and that our allies can count on for us to continue to be there."

But when pressed on whether he has a date in mind, Trudeau wouldn't specify, saying only that the federal government will "continue to put forward our budgets and our proposals at the appropriate time."

Stoltenberg in his interview also discussed the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Russian President Vladimir Putin's fiercest critic, who died in prison last week.

The 47-year-old was serving a 19-year sentence on charges of extremism.

Many world leaders are blaming Putin for Navalny's death, but Stoltenberg would not specifically say whether he holds the Russian president responsible.

"He was in custody of the Russian authorities, and therefore they have the responsibility for his well-being, and therefore they're also responsible for everything that has happened with him," he said. "And it just shows the oppressive nature of the Putin regime and how they never accept anyone standing up against Putin."

"The best way to support the memory and honour the memory of Navalny is to support Ukraine," Stoltenberg also said.

The secretary-general also spoke about the war in Ukraine, with the second anniversary of Russia's invasion coming up this weekend.

With files from CTV's Question Period Senior Producer Stephanie Ha

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