Stephen Harper: No big defence spending spike, despite NATO request
Published Wednesday, September 3, 2014 9:20AM EDT Last Updated Wednesday, September 3, 2014 11:10PM EDT
Canada will continue to keep a tight lid on defence spending, but remains committed to military missions aimed at curbing radicalism abroad, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told an audience in London Wednesday.
Harper made the comments during a discussion at Mansion House in London ahead of a NATO summit that gets underway Thursday.
“Canada will stand by its allies to act” to combat terror threats abroad, he said.
However, Canada is only prepared to offer limited funding to specific missions, despite a request from NATO to boost its defence spending by billions of dollars.
CTV News has learned that 13 Canadian soldiers will be in Ukraine next week for military exercises. Ottawa has also promised financial help to the Iraqi government, but that’s not likely to satisfy NATO’s bottom line.
Canada’s defence spending represents approximately 1 per cent of GDP, while NATO expects its members to spend closer to 2 per cent.
In 2015, Canada’s military budget is set to shrink to $2.7 billion below what it was 2011.
Harper said countries, like Canada, that are below NATO’s threshold have agreed to “aim to spend more going forward.” He noted that the federal government has focused recent defence spending on re-equipping the Canadian Forces.
However, his Conservative government is not going to make funding promises and figure out how to fulfill them later, he said.
“The bottom line is this: As a Conservative government we have the same philosophy on defence budgeting that we do on any other budgeting, which is we do not go out and just specify a dollar figure and then figure out how to spend it,” Harper said.
“We go out and figure out what it is we need to do, and then we attempt to get a budget as frugally as possible to achieve those objectives.”
Islamic State extremists in Syria, for example, may not only wage a regional holy war, but could turn the territory it controls between Aleppo and Damascus into a global terrorist training base.
“And I don’t think we can sit still for this,” Harper said. “Not that all the actions that we should take are necessarily clear.”
Asked whether Canada will contribute soldiers to an international mission against Islamic State militants, Harper replied: “We will be addressing some of those issues in the days to come.”
The Canadian government’s position remains that, “Where there is a common threat to ourselves and to our allies… and our allies are willing to act… we’re also willing to act and prepared to play our full part,” he said. “And so obviously we’re speaking to our allies about how we can do that and what is the best strategy going forward.”
Reaction from the other sides
NDP finance critic Peggy Nash agreed that Canada should play a role in international crisis response, but said the Harper government had mismanaged the defence budget.
“It’s clear that military spending so far has been a record of botched procurement promises with very little results, and very little commitment to our veterans when they return back home,” Nash said on CTV’s Power Play.
“The spending that the government has already committed to has a pretty sorry record already, domestically.”
Liberal MP Joyce Murray agreed, accusing the Conservative government of using “weasel words” to discuss the budget.
“I’d like (Harper) to explain exactly what he’s doing, because he’s losing the trust of Canadians,” she said, adding that the prime minister had reduced military spending further than the Liberal government did in the 1990s.
“This is essentially a decade of deception in terms of this prime minister’s and this government’s relationship with military and armed forces.”
Defending the Conservatives’ handling of the military budget, National Defence Parliamentary Secretary James Bezan cited an increase in funds since the government had been in power.
“The reality is that defence spending has gone up under this government by 27 per cent,” he said.
Bezan also mentioned the purchase of new aircrafts, armored vehicles and tanks.
“Our men and women in uniform have served us proudly, and we really do appreciate all the work that they do in protecting the interests of Canada at home and abroad.”
In response to the Islamic State
Bezan also said the government needed to continue taking a strong stand against the extremists of the Islamic State
“These guys are brutal. They’re sadistic,” he said. “I’m glad that Prime Minister Stephen Harper continues to lead with a very strong, principled approach to these foreign matters.”
In London, Harper took a moment to address the beheading of journalist Steven Sotloff, the second U.S. reporter killed by Islamic State militants in as many weeks.
“The murder of Steve Sotloff is once again a reminder to us of just how barbaric and brutal this organization… truly is. We’re obviously outraged,” Harper said.
“The fact is, this is the tip of the iceberg of the tens of thousands of people who are being treated in this way.”
As Harper was speaking, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, accompanied by his opposition critics, was arriving in Iraq for a top-secret visit.
After meeting with Iraqi officials, including President Fuad Masoum and prime minister-designate Haider al-Abadi, Baird pledged some $10 million in equipment and logistics support to Iraqi forces, and another $5 million to help curb the arrival of foreign fighters.