By Ekta Singla, STAND Canada Policy Team Member and guest Blog Writer
Research shows that public opinion on Canadian defence priorities is divided with people feeling strongly about how funds should be allocated between domestic and international affairs, and military spending. It is perhaps this lack of public consensus that prompted the government to invite public consultation on its defence policy last year. The questions addressed in the consultation paper pertain to Canada’s security in the present vulnerable international security climate; in consequence, Canada’s evolution in UN peacekeeping, its role in NORAD (North American Aerospace Defence Command) and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) alliances and improvements in its overall/general military capacity. The national defence policy review based on this public consultation is expected in the coming months. The discussion below highlights international and domestic issues e.g. terrorism, defence capacity, veteran healthcare, etc. that will shape Canada’s defence policy in coming months.
As the consultation questions highlight, NORAD and NATO will play a major role in shaping Canada’s defence policy in coming years. Especially since the U.S. has been building pressure for Canada to meet its NATO targets – i.e. increase in its military spending. In addition, Canada’s increasing involvement in peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan, Syria, and Ukraine, among others, is raising concerns of armed retaliation that the inadequately equipped Canadian border forces might find it difficult to defend. Thus in this international security scenario, the 2017 budget promises, with little detail, increased military spending including on large scale weapons purchases though not until the next financial year. This year, veteran health care and pension plans will take priority. Also, money has been allotted to providing better legal aid services to asylum seekers. Although, this is a welcome move, one hoped that if the same largesse was shown in reducing refugee financial burdens e.g. debt and loan repayment, providing additional funds for better legal aid services wouldn’t be as necessary as it currently is.
The forthcoming defence review report will paint a better picture. In the meantime, the Report of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, released on 8th May, calls into question the government’s decision on fighter jet replacement while recommending a military budget increase from 0.88% to 2% of the GDP by 2028. This report, as some have pointed out, may not be binding to the government. In fact, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan was reported in the media to have sidestepped the Senate report, diverting attention to the forthcoming defence review.
At present and from the information available, it is safe to say that the government’s military budget is looking to expand in the future. This proposal is worrying as this means greater involvement of Canada’s armed forces on other sovereign lands. For example, with all the ongoing peacekeeping operations already mentioned, the government will also be sending 600 Armed Forces personnel to an unidentified mission in Africa.
The geopolitical situation that Canada finds itself in demands that tough decisions be taken on armed forces spending for home security. Nonetheless, this expenditure should not divert attention and expenditure from Canada’s humanitarian commitments. Thus, it is imperative in this climate for us to pay close attention to Canada’s proposed military capacity and the nature of the involvement of its troops in the coming years to ensure that an appropriate balance between security and humanitarian concerns is maintained.
To read more about STAND Canada’s policy recommendations, click here!