Trudeau Budget Under Fire For Massive Defense Cuts

REUTERS/Chris Wattie

David Krayden Ottawa Bureau Chief
Font Size:

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has retained his Liberal caucus in Ottawa for a weekend strategy session that will focus on how to sell this week’s federal budget.

The budget has proven to be controversial. For left-leaning Liberals there is not enough spending forecast in the document, while fiscal conservatives are criticizing the budget’s $28.5 billion deficit, the second consecutive spending shortfall from the Trudeau government.

Virtually unmentioned in the budget was defense spending.

Spending estimates show Liberals are planning a massive defense spending reduction of historic proportions: they have cut almost $1 billion from the defense budget in the next fiscal year and are postponing major capital acquisition projects — worth billions — for over two decades.

Conservative defense critic James Bezan expressed shock when he spoke to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons on Thursday.

“I wasn’t expecting much in the budget, but (an) eight-and-a-half-billion dollar cut even blew my socks off,” he said.

“This is also not only the biggest deferral of capital investment in Canadian armed forces in history, it’s also the longest deferral in history…It doesn’t live up to what NATO is expecting of us.”

Bezan reminded reporters that Canada has consistently promised to increase its defense spending to two percent of its GDP. It’s currently at barely one percent and Bezan said it looks like it will continue to decline, despite warnings from President Donald Trump that the U.S. is growing weary of shoring up deadbeat NATO members who refuse to contribute to defense spending.

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau told Canadian Press on Thursday that the Canadian Armed Forces are “appropriately provisioned” to carry out Canada’s defense role.

Although Morneau suggested there might be some “adjustments” to defense spending in the future, he gave absolutely no indication what kind of need would necessitate further spending and admitted that the ongoing defense policy review is no where near completion.

Sounding exactly like Trudeau, the finance minister dismissed concerns that Canadian defense spending is dangerously low and risks becoming an issue in cross-border trade negotiations with the United States. Morneau insisted the U.S. recognizes the essential “can do” Canadian attitude and our willingness to participate in international peacekeeping deployments.

“They recognize very clearly how well we’ve worked together with our allies,” Morneau said of a recent meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly.

“They talked about, in specific terms, how much of an impact Canada’s military made in Afghanistan. I think we’re recognized as being a country that is playing our part. We’ll continue to do that.”

Follow David on Twitter