Trudeau sidesteps Trump question about Canadian defence spending

Canada spends 1.31 per cent of its GDP on defence

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives in London on Monday, Dec. 2, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau deflected questions from Donald Trump Tuesday about how much Canada is spending on its military even as the mercurial U.S. president threatened trade action against countries that don’t invest enough in their own defences.

The exchange, in which Trump called Canada “slightly delinquent,” came on the sidelines of a major NATO military alliance meeting Tuesday, the first face-to-face meeting between the two North American leaders since Trudeau won re-election in October.

It also came as other NATO members, including the alliance’s secretary-general and the president of Latvia, where 600 Canadian troops are deployed as a check against Russian aggression, reiterated to The Canadian Press the importance of spending more on defence.

All 29 NATO members agreed in 2014, following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region, to stop cutting their defence budgets and work toward investing two per cent of their gross domestic products on their militaries within the next decade.

Trump, whose country spends far more on defence than any other NATO member, both in raw cash and as a share of GDP, has personally taken up the target as critical for ensuring all members of the 70-year-old military alliance are contributing their fair share.

The U.S. president appeared ready to give Canada a pass during his meeting with Trudeau, blasting “delinquent” countries that spend one per cent or less of their GDPs on their militaries as “unacceptable” while describing Canada as “just slightly delinquent.”

Canada spends 1.31 per cent of its GDP — a standard measure of the country’s total economic output — on defence.

“They’re getting up to a level that’s getting to be very acceptable,” said Trump, who at one point threatened trade action against countries that aren’t spending enough. Canada, he said, has “been under the two per cent, obviously, but they’re moving up.”

When asked whether Canada should have a plan for meeting the two-per-cent target, Trump joked: “We’ll put Canada on a payment plan.” But then he turned to Trudeau and asked: “What are you at? What is your number?”

It was at that point Trudeau tried to sidestep the question by pointing to his government’s plan, first unveiled in 2017, to increase Canadian defence spending by 70 per cent over the next 10 years, which includes the purchase of new fighter jets and warships.

“OK,” Trump said, before repeating: “Where are you now in terms of your number?”

That prompted Trudeau to look to his delegation, which included Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance, who offered several answers before Trudeau replied with 1.4 per cent.

READ MORE: Trudeau to mark NATO’s birthday amid questions about military alliance’s future

“They’re getting there,” Trump told reporters, seemingly satisfied. “They know it’s important to do that and they’re economy is doing well. They’ll get there quickly, I think. And look, it’s to their benefit.”

The Liberals’ defence plan is only expected to hit 1.4 per cent of GDP in the 2024-25 fiscal year and does not provide any timetable beyond that for reaching two per cent.

Even then, Canada’s figure comes after the Liberals in 2017 changed the way the government calculates its defence spending to include such things as veterans’ programs and the Canadian Coast Guard. The change was approved by NATO.

The Liberal government has refused to say whether it actually believes in the two-per-cent target and has instead repeatedly pointed to Canada’s contributions to NATO missions in Latvia, Iraq and other places as a better measurement of its contributions to the military alliance.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Coastal GasLink gives $100K to United Way efforts in Northern B.C.

Organization’s COVID-19 Relief Fund benefits seniors in isolation, among others

Fisheries and Oceans Canada lifts at-sea observer requirements due to COVID-19

Fisheries Management Order went into effect April 2 and will remain for 45 days

B.C. firefighters only responding to most life-threatening calls during COVID-19 pandemic

The directive comes after province spoke with paramedics, fire services, according to top doctor

City hall, RCMP getting complaints about lack of physical distancing

So far, there’s no public health order to enforce the safety measure

Here’s how to talk to people who aren’t taking physical distancing seriously

Approach the conversation with empathy says conflict expert

B.C. clears more acute hospital beds as COVID-19 case growth slows

Province holding about 40% of beds empty for peak still to come

As 500K+ apply for emergency benefit, Trudeau says aid coming for Canadians left behind

Canada Emergency Response Benefit provides $2,000 per month

UPDATE: UK PM Boris Johnson moved to intensive care after COVID-19 symptoms worse

He has been quarantined in his Downing St. residence since being diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 26

Travellers, travel agents ‘in agony’ over refund policies and customer service

Many Canadian carriers are offering customers flights rebookings or travel vouchers — but not refunds

Introverted and extroverted kids likely to react differently to COVID-19 restrictions

B.C. child psychologist says your parenting approach can’t be one-size fits all in social isolation

B.C. begins taking submissions for $2M COVID-19 research fund

Rural health, impact of shifting hospital resources among priorities

Wearing non-medical masks can stop spread of COVID-19 before symptoms start: Tam

Health officials had previously not recommended wearing them

Most Read