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'We have to do more': Foreign affairs minister on Canada's defence spending

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Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly says she thinks that Canada’s military needs to be “better equipped” and that the government has to “do more” when it comes to stepping up the defence budget.

In an interview on CTV’s Your Morning Friday about the ongoing Russian attacks in Ukraine, Joly said she is “extremely proud” of the Canadian Armed Forces after seeing for herself earlier this year the Canadians training Ukrainians and leading the NATO mission in Latvia. But, she also thinks “that they need to be better equipped, better tooled, and quickly.”

“I'm very much aware also that other countries have stepped up the defense budget, such as Germany, to face these challenging times, and I think that we have to do more,” Joly said.

She made this comment in response to a question about her comments earlier in the week on CTV News Channel’s Power Play in which she said that Canada was not a military power, rather a “middle-size power" that is "good at convening."

Asked if Canada needs to increase its defence spending—given it is currently spending approximately 1.39 per cent of its GDP and the NATO request is to be spending two per cent—Joly said she thinks Canada needs to “adapt to the times.” In order to reach NATO’s two per cent of GDP spending target, Canada would have to commit to spend billions more annually.

Canada’s defence spending and contributions to Ukraine have been a central focus of the week, following Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Tuesday address to Parliament in which he called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to do more to help equip Ukrainians in their push to defend their country.

“You have been a reliable partner to Ukraine and Ukrainians and I am sure this will continue. You have offered your help, your assistance, at our earliest request. You supply us with the military assistance, with humanitarian assistance. You imposed severe sanctions. At the same time, we see that unfortunately they did not bring the end to the war,” Zelensky said on Tuesday.

These comments also come as the government is preparing the next federal budget, and there have already been signals that cabinet is considering upping Canada’s defence spending given the current global instability and potential for the Forces to play a larger role. 

Joly said Canada’s “red line” remains responding in any way that would start an international conflict, but that Canada is “willing to do everything possible up to that limit.”

“We need to make sure that we are protected as a country,” said Joly, adding that she’ll be working with Defence Minister Anita Anand and Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland on this.

In terms of what military lethal and non-lethal aid has been committed since Feb. 27, Canada has sent, or is in the process of sending to Ukraine:

  • 4,500 M72 rocket launchers and up to 7,500 hand grenades;
  • $1 million towards the purchase of high-resolution modern satellite imagery;
  • 100 Carl-Gustaf M2 anti-tank weapons system launchers and 2,000 rounds of ammunition;
  • 1,600 fragmentation vests and 400,000 individual meal packs;
  • $25 million in helmets, body armour, gas masks, and night vision gear; and
  • Two C-130J tactical airlift aircraft and a team of 40-50 personnel to deliver aid and support. 7

“We will provide more weapons,” Joly said.

Earlier this week Anand’s office told CTV News that the government doesn’t intend to make further withdrawals from the Canadian Armed Forces’ inventory that would compromise the military’s operational readiness or training capabilities.

“In 2016, the Canadian Armed Forces acquired a cache of military equipment to provide to partners in times of urgent need. Canada recently delivered this equipment to Ukraine to assist brave Ukrainians fighting to defend their country’s sovereignty and independence,” said Anand’s press secretary Daniel Minden in an email, adding that Canada is willing to provide additional equipment “from other sources.”

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