Canadian defence budget needs a hike, says parliamentary secretary

Situation in Ukraine shows need to give more money to defence

OTTAWA – The parliamentary secretary to Defence Minister Rob Nicholson says Canada has to ramp up its defence budget in the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine.

James Bezan said Thursday that Canada’s defence spending should be increased to 1.7 per cent of GDP.

He also said Canada needs to do more in NATO unless the crisis between Russia and the West manages to “de-escalate.”

Current defence spending stands at one per cent of GDP, a decline from 1.2 per cent during the war in Afghanistan.

“We need to at least get our spending up to 1.7 per cent,” Bezan told an audience of diplomats, bureaucrats and military brass at a security symposium sponsored by the European Union.

He said the extra spending is needed to meet future needs as well as to replace fighter jets, upgrades for the navy and to continue to equip the army.

NATO would like to see its 28 member countries reach the two-per-cent of GDP goal.

Earlier this week, U.S. Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s operational commander in Europe, said only five NATO nations have achieved that goal, but the crisis in eastern Europe has prompted three other countries to promise higher military spending.

Bezan said he understands many countries are struggling with defence spending, but he noted that while it is declining in NATO countries, Russia’s continues to rise.

He said the Conservative government should revisit its decision to cancel Canadian participation in the NATO surveillance program known as the Airborne Warning and Control System, or AWACS.

“On the standpoint of responsibilities within NATO, things change, there’s no question. We do have to revisit, in my personal opinion, AWACS … and how we move forward.”

Canada has made numerous contributions to recent NATO efforts in Europe. It has sent a frigate to join NATO’s standing task force in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, six CF-18 jet fighters to operate out of Romania, and troops from the 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry to participate in a land exercise in Poland.

Bezan said he also expects the deployment of the 50 Canadian troops in Poland to be beefed up. “That will probably be enhanced for a longer deployment at company strength.”

National Defence has said the troops would return to Canada in May after several days of military exercises.

“Unless things de-escalate, the Canadian commitment to NATO will be growing,” Bezan said.

In February, an analysis by the Conference of Defence Associations Institute concluded that years of budget-cutting had reduced the Harper government’s original defence strategy by as much as $30 billion.

Dave Perry, a senior analyst at the institute, concluded that the cuts brought military spending back to 2007 levels.