Sajjan says Liberals 'committed to investing in defence,' but won't say by how much

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan reaffirmed the Liberal commitment to defence spending on Tuesday, but was mum on whether the government will live up to its election pledge to maintain pace of planned Tory increases.

Liberal election promise was to 'maintain current DND spending levels, including current planned increases'

'Canada-U.S. relations in defence has been forged on the battlefield,' says Sajjan of meeting with new Secretary of Defense. 9:54

Canada will be spending more on defence, but how much more, and in what areas remained unclear Tuesday as Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan made the media rounds in Ottawa following his first-ever sit-down with his new U.S. counterpart.

"We are committed to investing in our defence," Sajjan said in an interview with CBC News Network's Power & Politics, a message he repeated on other news programs, and in front of reporters on Parliament Hill.

That the message needed to be hammered home in public following his meeting on Monday with U.S. Defence Secretary James Mattis should be no surprise.

The Trump administration has made it clear it expects allies to put more money into military spending, but the Trudeau government has been decidedly fuzzy on what it intends to do in the upcoming federal budget.

Last year, the newly-elected Liberals were able to claim — justifiably — that their military spending plans would be calibrated after they had conducted a defence policy review — something that's now largely completed.

Sajjan candidly acknowledged Tuesday that Washington had significant input into the review, which is expected to be released sometime in the next few months.

"We get input from all our allies, particularly in the Five Eyes community," Sajjan told host Rosemary Barton, referring to the U.S., Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canadian intelligence sharing pact.

The British were also heavily involved in giving advice to Canadian defence planners.

How the opinions of the country's two longest-standing allies helped shape the Liberal views on defence spending and global engagement, remains to be seen.

Allies lean on Canada

At the 2015 Nato summit in Wales, both the Obama administration and the government of former British prime minister David Cameron, leaned on Canada to meet the Nato benchmark of spending two per cent of gross domestic product on defence.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper countered the pressure by saying allies should look at what Canada is doing for the alliance, the kind of equipment it brings to missions and the fact that it can always be counted on to show up.

It is an argument that the Trudeau government has also adopted — and Sajjan has often repeated, including on Tuesday.

But it is a line that many experts in the defence community don't believe will wash with U.S. President Donald Trump, who has often questioned the relevancy of Nato.

Liberals backed Tory plan

During the last election campaign, the Liberals promised to hold the line on defence spending, which runs in the vicinity of $21 billion per year. Their platform also pledged to carry on with military budget increases outlined in the last budget tabled by Harper's government in 2015.

That fiscal plan allowed for a gradual increase over 10 years of $11.8 billion to the baseline appropriation at National Defence, beginning in the 2017-18 fiscal year.

According to former finance minister Joe Oliver's projections, that would mean a $184 million increase this year, with the cash ramping up gradually to $2.3 billion per year by 2026-27.

Sajjan was asked directly on Tuesday by Barton whether the Liberals still intended to live up to that pledge — he deflected the question and talked about what Canada contributes to international missions.

About the Author

Murray Brewster

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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