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FIRST READING: Canada’s perennial status as a NATO freeloader is getting awkward


Tory leadership race no longer just a Poilievre coronation

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On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continued his tour of Europe to “work closely with allies to strengthen NATO.” But even as Canada places 500 troops in Latvia and pledges CF-18s for Romania, there is an elephant in the room whenever Trudeau talks to NATO members about collective security: He happens to represent a country that has spent more than a generation phoning in its NATO commitments.

NATO members are generally expected to spend about two per cent of their GDP on defence. Canada spends about 1.39 per cent – one of the lowest in the alliance. Even if you try to tweak the numbers by adding in the RCMP and the coast guard (which are technically considered “military forces” by NATO), we’re still looking at a defence budget of around 1.4 per cent of GDP. Tack on a round of planned Liberal defence spending increases, and we’re still at just 1.5 per cent.

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This used to be common among the non-American members of NATO, but with countries across the alliance now ramping up their military budgets as a direct response to Russia, Canada’s cobwebbed armed forces is increasingly an outlier among its Western allies. And even while he jets to European capitals on a tour that was specifically booked to discuss NATO issues, Trudeau has remained noncommittal on plans to boost Canadian defence spending.

This dissonance came up Monday during Trudeau’s press conference with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Specifically, Johnson was asked whether it was “acceptable” that Canada spent so little while the U.K. was spending 2.4 per cent. Here was Johnson’s rather diplomatic response:

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“Canada is a fantastic ally and I’m not going to make any comment on Canada’s approach, except to say … that I do think the world is clearly changing … and we need a new focus on our collective security.”

And it’s not just raw spending. The Canadian Armed Forces is unable to perform many of the basic tasks that would be expected from a G7 nation – particularly a G7 nation that is home to the world’s largest coastline. Some examples …

  • The Royal Canadian Navy has no amphibious capability. The fleet doesn’t have a single landing craft or assault ship.
  • The army has no self-propelled artillery. To throw shells at an enemy, Canada does it the same way we’ve been doing it since the First World War: We tow one of our 60-or-so guns to the battlefield and set it up.
  • The navy can’t really resupply itself at sea. Canada’s last resupply ship kept catching fire, so until a replacement is completed, navy ships need to be refuelled and restocked using a former container ship that is not rated for combat.

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The MV Asterix, currently Canada’s only resupply vessel. Notably, it can’t enter combat zones due to a lack of weapons or other defensive capabilities.
The MV Asterix, currently Canada’s only resupply vessel. Notably, it can’t enter combat zones due to a lack of weapons or other defensive capabilities. Photo by Chad Hipolito/Postmedia
  • We’re not doing great on drones. Armed Bayraktar drones have proved to be an exceedingly cheap way for Ukraine to target incoming Russian columns. But even for a Canadian military that loves to cheap out on air support, we’re still years away from getting an armed drone.
  • Even the official prime ministerial transport is an outdated embarrassment. The RCAF operates the Airbus CC-150 that is currently flying Trudeau around Europe, and as the National Post’s Colby Cosh noted in a recent column, the interior is notable for being strewn with extension cords.

A column by the CBC’s Murray Brewster noted that Trudeau’s European tour is almost exclusively occurring in countries that are either spending at the NATO benchmark, or are on track to meet it — a fact that is leading to Canada becoming “increasingly isolated” in the alliance.

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Last year, when Canada was left out of a new Pacific defence pact between Australia and the United States, military analysts chalked it up to a Canadian defence policy unconcerned “with the health of the military.”

While Canada doesn’t face the immediate threat from Russia that exists in Europe, John Ivison noted in the National Post that Moscow openly claims Arctic territory that Ottawa considers to be a sovereign part of Canada. What’s more, Ivison notes that it’s not necessarily a funding problem, considering the amount of Canadian defence money that “lapses” each year without getting spent.

Defence Minister Anita Anand meets Tuesday with the more than 500 Canadian soldiers currently deployed to Latvia, a Baltic nation located directly on Russia’s western frontier. The mission is Canada’s largest European deployment.
Defence Minister Anita Anand meets Tuesday with the more than 500 Canadian soldiers currently deployed to Latvia, a Baltic nation located directly on Russia’s western frontier. The mission is Canada’s largest European deployment. Photo by Anita Anand/Twitter

WAR IN UKRAINE

Tuesday saw the U.S. banning Russian oil imports, marking one of the first times that Washington has followed Ottawa’s lead on a foreign relations decision (we banned Russian oil imports last week). Although Canada’s ban was made significantly easier by the fact that we haven’t really bought any Russian oil since 2019. Similarly, Russian oil only makes up about three per cent of U.S. imports.

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Latvia could really use some more Canadian natural gas, the country’s ambassador to Canada told the Globe and Mail. Kaspars Ozolins said that the country is looking to build liquid natural gas ports on its coast to undercut the need for Russian gas arriving via pipeline, and would welcome both Canadian supply and investment. The Baltic nation is currently home to Canada’s largest European military deployment.

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CONSERVATIVE LEADERSHIP RACE

The Conservative leadership race has more than one candidate! Leslyn Lewis, the third-place candidate in the last Tory leadership race, announced Tuesday that she would be running a campaign on what she called the principles of “Hope, Unity and Compassion.” Lewis is definitely on the more “True Blue” side of the Conservative spectrum; she’s the top choice for anti-abortion groups and has been known to claim in recent months that Canada is in the midst of a “socialist coup.”

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And former Quebec premier Jean Charest is set to announce his candidacy on Thursday. Charest is still the leading contender for the “moderate” Tories, but if the Tories are angling to make some gains in Quebec by making a Quebecer their leader, a new poll from Abacus Data is throwing some very cold water on that notion. Nearly 47 per cent of Quebecers 

Charest’s Quebec numbers are something. Most know him but almost half have a negative impression. pic.twitter.com\/UtHDZz9Vnq<\/a><\/p>— David Coletto \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6 (@DavidColetto) March 8, 2022<\/a><\/blockquote>\n

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And while Michael Chong hasn’t said anything about joining the race, he has suspiciously started to pen op-eds for the National Post weighing in on foreign policy. Recall that suspected or declared leadership hopefuls Peter MacKay, Jean Charest and Pierre Poilievre have also suddenly felt the need to weigh in on the Ukraine crisis in recent weeks. All four have basically had the same take: Canada should be tougher on Russia, spend more on its military, boost its Arctic presence and sell more oil to Europe.

IN OTHER NEWS

It hasn’t gotten much mainstream attention, but the Senate is debating a bill that would eventually result in a monthly cheque being cut to any Canadian over the age of 17. Bill S-233, introduced by Liberal-appointed Sen. Kim Pate, calls on the Minister of Finance to develop a “guaranteed livable basic income program throughout Canada.” While a guaranteed minimum income has occasionally been promoted as a way to simplify welfare benefits, Pate’s bill specifically notes that the basic income payments would be made in addition to Canada’s existing social benefits. Arguably the closest Canada has ever come to a guaranteed minimum income was the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit program introduced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also helped usher in some of the most unsustainable levels of debt in Canadian history since the Second World War.

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While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was assailed with “boos” in London (a particularly rare phenomenon for a Canadian leader abroad), British columnist Tim Stanley couldn’t help noticing that the Canadian leader remains unbelievably attractive by the standard of British politicians. “When the average politician looks like a pink walrus, the visit of a genuine 8/10 (rising to a nine in right profile) to our ugly island is a kill-to-get-a-ticket event,” he wrote.

One of these men may be more aesthetically pleasing than the other.
One of these men may be more aesthetically pleasing than the other. Photo by Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images

Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, marked International Women’s Day with a bizarre Instagram post featuring graphic images of a live birth. Trudeau posted a 2021 video from Argentina showing a baby still in its amniotic sac following a Cesarean section. “I cry every time I look at this. Life. The miracle of life. Women. Their wombs. Our womb. No one comes into this life with war raging within them or hatred geared towards others,” she wrote.

Also to mark International Women’s Day, the Canadian Armed Forces posted a bunch of photos online of female service members looking tough, including this maintenance tech working on a Chinook helicopter.
Also to mark International Women’s Day, the Canadian Armed Forces posted a bunch of photos online of female service members looking tough, including this maintenance tech working on a Chinook helicopter. Photo by Canadian Armed Forces

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