Politics

Defence getting billions of dollars in new money from Thursday's budget: source

The federal budget is expected to pour up to $8 billion in new money into the Department of National Defence, CBC News has learned — an investment that will lean heavily on improving the military's ability to defend North America.

The new money — as much as $8 billion — won't bring the defence budget up to NATO's 2 per cent target

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Defence Anita Anand speak with Canadian troops deployed on Operation Reassurance as he visits the Adazi Military base in Adazi, Latvia, Tuesday, March 8, 2022. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The federal budget is expected to pour up to $8 billion in new money into the Department of National Defence (DND), CBC News has learned — an investment that will lean heavily on improving the military's ability to defend North America.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland will deliver the new fiscal plan on Thursday. A senior government source, speaking on background Wednesday, said that the budget's billions of dollars in new defence spending will be over and above the increases the Liberal government committed to in its 2017 defence policy.

As Defence Minister Anita Anand signaled in a speech last month, the federal government is making a major multi-year investment in NORAD, the joint U.S.-Canada air and maritime defence command. The backbone of NORAD is a chain of radar stations that are nearing the end of their service life.

The source said the Liberal government also plans to invest heavily in buying weapons for Ukraine to help it defend itself in the face of an increasingly brutal Russian invasion.

Anand recently acknowledged that the Canadian military's stock of weapons it can donate has been largely depleted. The source said Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky's top request of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government is for more arms.

The confidential source — who was not authorized to speak on the record but has knowledge of the file — said the budget will also contain funding to cover critical equipment shortfalls within the Canadian military itself.

Some of the investments, such as the funding for NORAD, will be spread out over several years, while other more direct purchases — such as the weapons for Ukraine — would affect the existing bottom line.

An elderly woman walks by an apartment building destroyed by Russian shelling in Borodyanka, Ukraine on Wednesday, April 6, 2022. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

The Liberal government has been under increased pressure from allies to hike defence spending in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Trudeau, Freeland and Anand have all said recently the military can expect more funding. They've declined to say whether Canada will hit the NATO benchmark for member nations' military budgets — two per cent of national gross domestic product.

The source said the budget measures to be announced Thursday are expected to bring Canada's defence budget to 1.5 per cent of GDP and are intended to demonstrate "a real effort" toward hitting the long-established two per cent target — a goal to which all 30 countries in the western military alliance have committed.

The pressure on Canada to meet that pledge — or to at least have a plan to do so — increased recently when Germany, often considered among the most pacifist of allies, reversed decades of foreign policy by announcing its intention to meet the two per cent GDP goal.

Conservative motion on military funding passes

Inside the House of Commons, the Opposition Conservatives saw their motion calling on the federal government to meet the NATO two per cent benchmark pass with the support the governing Liberals and Bloc Quebecois. The NDP and the Green Party's two MPs voted against it.

Despite the victory, Conservative defence critic Kerry-Lynne Findlay said the results were troubling, given the New Democrats' position as a power broker in the Commons.

"At a time when the world is becoming less safe, it is imperative that Canada contributes its fair share to the NATO alliance, which has safeguarded the peace and security that Canadians have enjoyed for the past 73 years," she said in a media statement.

Outside the House of Commons on Wednesday, Anand would only say she's "excited" for the budget.

"Leadership demands that we confront the challenges before us while building for the future. Canadians expect that of us and I look forward to sitting beside Minister Freeland tomorrow as she delivers her budget," she said.

Defence policy is getting another rewrite

In addition to the extra cash in the federal budget, Freeland is expected to announce a major new defence policy review.

It's intended to refresh the Liberal government's five-year old plan, which critics have argued is out of date — mostly because of the rise in competition among great powers such as the U.S., Russia and China, and the threat of more state-to-state conflict like the war in Ukraine.

Rob Huebert, a defence expert at the University of Calgary, said he's "heartened" to hear there will be a major investment. But he said the size of that investment "illustrates just how far behind we have fallen."

He said the last Liberal defence policy — which laid out a roadmap to increase the defence appropriation by 70 per cent, bringing the overall budget to $32.7 billion by 2026/27 — is still a work in progress.

A number of major equipment purchases have been delayed, with delivery and spending kicked down the road to the latter part of this decade.

'Is this a change in behaviour? I hope so.'

Huebert said he's skeptical of the federal government's intentions.

"If they actually start spending the $8 billion ... once again, I'm so suspicious," he said. 

"This government doesn't like dealing with the international community in terms of [hard power] geopolitics. So, is this a change in behaviour, a change in perspective? I hope so. We need it … but I still have to be convinced to see that this is actually sustained."

Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi defended the Liberal government's record on buying military equipment.

"I would say [that] on military spending, we have been strong," she said. "I mean, right now we're in the midst of ... procuring 88 fighter jets. We've committed to the national shipbuilding strategy and as of December of last year, 2021, we've invested over $21 billion in that."

Both of the projects cited by Tassi have faced significant delays and have experienced cost increases or expensive life extensions to existing weapons systems. Only last week, the Liberal government announced it was proceeding with the purchase of the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet after a four-and-a-half-year competition.

Experts will be watching to see how much of the increased spending will go toward NORAD. Although NORAD was mentioned in the last defence policy, it had no price tag attached.

The improvements to the more than six-decade-old continental defence system have to be made, regardless of the war in Ukraine, say experts. Some of those experts have estimated the cost to Canada of upgrading NORAD at between $4 billion and $6 billion over several years.

RCAF Col. Travis Morehen speaks in the North American Aerospace Defense Command command center inside Cheyenne Mountain, Colo., May 10, 2018. (Dan Elliott/The Associated Press)

Jim Fergusson, a defence expert at the University of Manitoba, said the public is going to have to watch closely to see how much of this expected expense makes up the federal government's new investment in defence.

"This was coming," he said, referring to NORAD modernization. "The political situation in Europe made it, I'm not sure if I say palatable, but it certainly pushed the government to be seen to be doing something, particularly in the context of reported pressure from the NATO allies."

The other thing to be mindful of, he said, is DND's ability to actually spend the money. Such major projects require staff to shepherd them to completion, he said, and both Liberal and Conservative governments have shortchanged the staffing requirement over the years.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said a Conservative motion on military funding failed. The motion passed with the support of the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois.
    Apr 06, 2022 7:17 PM ET

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.

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