Defence minister says she's considering 'aggressive options' to increase Canada's military spending
Canada's defence budget is among the lowest of all NATO members
Defence Minister Anita Anand says she will present a range of military spending options to cabinet ahead of the upcoming spring budget — some of which could result in a significant jump in Canada's defence spending.
Some of the options could see Ottawa's defence spending exceed two per cent of Canada's GDP, Anand said.
On Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called on allied nations to spend a "minimum" of two per cent of GDP on defence. He warned the upcoming expansion of NATO's deterrence and defence efforts in eastern Europe will "require major investments" by the allies.
Canada currently spends 1.39 per cent of its GDP on the military, according to the latest NATO figures, and has had no plan to hit the long-established two per cent target. Anand signalled that might change.
"I personally am bringing forward aggressive options which would see [Canada], potentially, exceeding the two per cent level, hitting the two per cent level, and below the two per cent level," she said during an interview with CBC's Power & Politics.
WATCH | Defence minister discusses spending plans on CBC's Power & Politics
When spending options are prepared for the federal cabinet, senior bureaucrats routinely give ministers three options with pricetags.
When it presented its defence policy almost five years ago, the Trudeau government projected defence spending would increase to nearly 1.5 per cent of GDP by 2024.
But a recent report by the Parliamentary Budget Office showed that much of the capital spending on new equipment has been pushed off until later in the decade because of delays in major projects, such as new frigates for the navy and fighter jets for the air force.
Canada currently has the fifth-lowest defence budget as a portion of GDP among the 30 NATO member states. The defence budgets of the United States and United Kingdom are 3.5 per cent and 2.3 per cent of GDP, respectively.
"We are going to be moving forward with increased defence spending," Anand said.
"Why? Because we see the threat environment as changing rapidly but also because continental defence is a priority for me, personally as minister, and for our government."
Anand said she has raised the issue of defence spending with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland within the past day. She said she has spoken also to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the prospect of changes to the military budget.
During his recent tour of Europe and in consultations with allies, Trudeau refused to commit to higher defence spending in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, though Freeland has said "defence spending is something that we have to look at carefully."
The federal government is expected to table its next annual budget in the first week of April.
The increased spending will include work to modernize NORAD and efforts to strengthen Canada's presence in the Arctic, Anand said.
When it presented its 2017 defence policy, the Liberal government did not include the cost of modernizing NORAD, the North American air defence network, in its projections.
With files from Murray Brewster