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Canadian Defense Minister Says Funding Military ‘Will Cost Money’

REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

David Krayden Ottawa Bureau Chief

Scandal-plagued Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan was the guest speaker at the Wednesday luncheon of the Conference of Defence Associations Institute.

With few satisfied over his apology that he made a “mistake” in taking credit for a Canadian-led battle in Afghanistan, Sajjan decided to talk about the state of the Canadian military.

The crowd found that unsatisfying too.

The luncheon brought together a roster of serving and retired military leaders who are increasingly anxious about Sajjan’s ability to deliver as a minister in the Trudeau government.

Sajjan was refreshingly honest about what he kept referring to as “the hole” in military spending, saying “We are now in the troubling position where status quo spending on defense will not even maintain a status quo of capabilities,” he said.

But he offered few solutions to fill that hole or move from the status quo, instead tending to blame the previous Conservative government that actually initiated a host of capital acquisition projects for the Canadian Armed Forces before its enthusiasm for military spending began to cool.

Sajjan even referred to military spending as a percentage of the GDP, knowing very well that Canada is spending 1 percent of its GDP on defense even though it has promised, as a founding member of NATO, to spend double that.

“Current funding has us digging ourselves into a hole,” he said. “A hole that gets deeper every year. As a percentage of GDP, we are spending less on defense today than we were in 2005.”

Conservative defense critic James Bezan finds that very interesting. He told The Daily Caller Thursday, “This is a minister who over-promises and under-delivers.”

Bezan doubts Sajjan is capable of delivering anything for the military because he is too focused on his own image. “This is a very insecure minister,” Bezan said. “If you want to talk about a capability gap in Canada’s military, this minister embodies it: his credibility is wiped-out and he is no longer believable.”

Sajjan also made some veiled references to the upcoming defense policy review, something that Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced more than a year ago and that has been winding its way through the usual defense interest groups.

“It will be a plan to get out of the hole we are starting in and it will be a plan to build an even stronger military,” he said, stopping in tracks to clarify that it would be a plan that could take decades to implement.

The last federal budget offered no new defense spending ano actually put off vital equipment purchases for 25 years or more. The Canadian CF-18 Hornets, flown by the Royal Canadian Air Force, are at the end of their life expectancy the government is now talking about replacing the aircraft on a plane-by-plane basis instead of proceeding with the plan — first articulated by Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien — to buy the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The minister avoided any specifics, acknowledging that funding the military was “going to cost money” as he fielded questions from the audience.

Then he got back to that hole.

“When Canadians hear the defense investment that we are going to be putting in,” he added, “it’s going to be significant. It’s going to be significant because of the hole that we need to come out of.”

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