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Bill Blair discusses plan to buy new weapons and reach 2% GDP target

Photo: Adrian Wyld La Presse canadienne Le ministre de la Défense du Canada, Bill Blair

Canada's Minister of Defense touted in Washington the existence of a plan for new military spending capable of helping the country reach the target of 2% of the country's GDP required by NATO, which a report from Parliamentary Budget Officer questions.

“I believe I have a clear plan, and I know exactly what I need to invest in. I have to replace my destroyers, my surface ships. We must [also] replace our submarines,” Minister Bill Blair said on Monday during a conference in Washington, on the eve of the launch of the summit of NATO countries.

The minister also mentioned the contracts awarded by Ottawa to acquire some 200 military aircraft in recent years, as well as the integration of anti-aircraft missile systems, as examples of major investments that will allow Canada to respect its promise to spend enough for his army.

“All these things will inevitably take us to 2%,” Minister Blair promised. He provided no explanation for his calculations, but repeatedly stressed the importance of “spending” money well.

All member states of the NATO have voluntarily committed to dedicate at least 2% of their gross domestic product (GDP) annually to defense, and to allocate at least 20% of these sums to the acquisition of new equipment.

The most recent projections presented by Ottawa so far indicated that Canada is far from reaching the 2% objective. However, major investments are planned to increase the military budget to 1.76% of GDP for 2029-2030, according to the government's calculations. But Canada simply wouldn’t be able to spend all that money, which would cause it to miss its target even further, according to the most recent estimates from the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO).

Inflated spending

In a report released Monday, the taxpayers’ watchdog estimates that Defence will instead spend the equivalent of only 1.42% of GDP in 2029-30 (peaking at 1.49% of GDP in 2025-26).

“The PBO is planning a more modest major equipment acquisition than National Defence, as recent experience and various PBO reports suggest significant risks of delays and underspending,” explains the document.

The parliamentary agent believes that the army will not be able to spend 25% of the budget allocated to it by the government on new equipment, an estimate based on the failures the organization has experienced in its supply over the last six years.

“The fact is that when we make plans for the defense budget, we are quite optimistic about the moment when the projects are going to be approved,” explains Philippe Lagacé, professor at Carleton University and expert on military procurement.

He compares the situation of the Canadian army to a athlete who stopped playing sports for a long time: despite the efforts, he will not be able to get back into shape overnight. “Even if we want to significantly increase our capabilities, it will take time because it is not easy to buy military equipment,” he analyzes.

The PBO also criticizes the government's calculation based on an estimate of nominal GDP growth different from the projections that the Ministry of Finance itself uses for its budget, distorting the conclusions. On the contrary, Ottawa defends its methodology, which is shared by NATO.

Trudeau defends its record

In a speech at the Canadian Embassy in Washington on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recalled that the country spent the equivalent of less than 1% of its GDP on the military when he arrived in power, in 2015.

“We have invested more in our troops, in their capabilities, all while providing more assistance to our allies,” he argued. Contrary to what Minister Blair said the day before, he did not mention a plan to meet NATO's 2% requirement.

The office of the Minister of National Defence disputes the calculations of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. “We have implemented new measures to close this gap [of 25% between announced investments and amounts spent, such as] new measures to reform our procurement processes, to move more quickly,” wrote Minister Blair's director of communications, Daniel Minden, to Le Devoir.

The Prime Minister of Canada will be in Washington until Thursday to participate in the summit of NATO member countries. The meeting notably brings together the American President, Joe Biden, struggling with a fringe of his party who wants him to leave his place for the next presidential elections, and the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, whose country is plunged into political uncertainty after the last French legislative elections.

Justin Trudeau announced last week the appointment of General Jennie Carignan as the first woman to head the Canadian Armed Forces , starting next Thursday. Several experts mentioned recruitment and replacement of obsolete equipment as priority files already waiting on his desk.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116