According to a leaked secret Pentagon assessment, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau privately told NATO that Canada would never meet their GDP spending targets for the collective security organization.
Obtained and first reported by The Washington Post, the document acknowledged Canada suffered from "widespread" military deficiencies that harmed relations with Western allies.
According to NATO, Canada spends an estimated 1.29 percent of its economic output on defence — well short of the 2% of GDP guideline that members agreed to try to meet. Amid the Russia-Ukraine war, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said recently that a growing number of countries view the benchmark "as the floor, not the ceiling."
Canada's defence policy calls for spending to increase by more than 70% from 2017 to 2026, said Defence spokesperson Daniel Minden, falling short of the 2% baseline.
Trudeau has not committed to meeting that target, as the document claims he privately "told NATO officials that Canada will never reach 2% defence spending." It notes that the military budget has been below 1.4% of GDP for 26 years.
"Widespread defence shortfalls hinder Canadian capabilities," reads the document, "while straining partner relationships and alliance contributions." It claims these shortfalls prevent the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) from "[mounting] a major operation while maintaining its NATO battle group leadership [in Latvia] and aid to Ukraine."
As of February 24, Canada donated roughly $5 billion in aid and military equipment to Ukraine, including artillery, air defence systems, rocket launchers, defensive equipment and eight Leopard 2 tanks.
The assessment says nearly all of Canada's 78 Leopard II tanks "require extensive maintenance and lack spare parts." In one unit, only nine of 40 are wholly or partially operational.
Trudeau controversially sent Ukraine $406 million in air defence equipment in January despite Canada's military operating without similar capabilities since 2012.
Plans for a new air defence system for CAF remain in limbo. The proposed purchase of an air defence system in its 2018 defence capability plan remains under review, with costs projected between $500 million and $1 billion.
The federal government also donated 200 armoured vehicles as part of a larger $500 million assistance package announced in November, with $406 million for a ground-based air defence system and an unspecified number of air-defence missiles.
CAF has also trained more than 36,000 Ukrainian military and security personnel since 2015 and leads a NATO battle group in Latvia.
Washington has long requested that Ottawa bolster defence spending and focus on military upgrades to infrastructure in the Arctic amid growing concerns about Russia and China being more assertive in the region.
Trudeau and U.S. President Biden discussed defence spending and NORAD modernization when they met in Ottawa in March.
Canada is spending $38.6 billion to "modernize its NORAD capabilities," said Defence spokesperson Daniel Minden, who said the ministry is "working diligently to surge the Canadian-led NATO battle group in Latvia to brigade level."
NORAD said the Canadian military lacks "significant Arctic capabilities and modernization plans have not materialized despite multiple public statements."
Ottawa committed to upgrading a northern military airstrip in January despite incurring 53% higher costs than estimated.
National Defence Minister Anita Anand said extending and modernizing an airstrip in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, would exceed the $150 million price tag by $80 million, citing higher prices for materials and faltering supply chains caused by the COVID pandemic.
First announced in 2019, officials estimate the airport upgrades will be complete in 2027.
The decision to upgrade the Arctic airstrip comes amid the feds purchasing of 88 F-35 fighter jets for $19 billion over the next decade.
Amid growing domestic concerns, NATO ally Germany expressed uncertainty about Canada maintaining its commitments to Ukraine while meeting its NATO pledges.
"We will be there until Ukraine wins the war," said Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland on April 12.
According to a report by Auditor General Karen Hogan, Ottawa diverted $3.5 billion in aid for Africa to Ukraine. After announcing Budget 2023 on March 28, Parliament pledged a $2.4 billion loan to the war-torn nation.
"Ukrainians right now are fighting for the fundamentals of democracy, for the U.N. Charter — for the values and principles that underpin our country and so many others. That's why we stand with Ukraine," added Trudeau the following day.
On Wednesday, Trudeau heralded questions regarding the comments he allegedly made but did not respond directly.
"I continue to say and will always say that Canada is a reliable partner to NATO, a reliable partner around the world," he told reporters in Ottawa. He said his government would commit to providing the CAF with its necessary tools.
Minden told The Post that Ottawa's "commitment to Euro-Atlantic and global security is ironclad — and we continue to make landmark investments to equip our Armed Forces."
In an open letter released Monday, the Canada-based Conference of Defense Associations Institute called Ottawa to "radically accelerate the timelines for procurement and redress the poor state of our nation's current defence capacity, capabilities and state of readiness."
"Years of restraint, cost cutting, downsizing and deferred investment have meant that Canada's defence capabilities have atrophied," said 60 signatories that included former Canadian defence ministers, military commanders, and security and intelligence officials.
It said Canadian military leaders "perceive that politicians do not care about supporting them and that senior politicians publicly misrepresent defence spending for political gain."
The leaked assessment says CAF lacks half the pilots it requires and calls procurement decisions "politically motivated, constrained by limited staffing and not properly codified in budget items."
The document lists problems with what it categorizes as readiness, personnel, "political apathy," and procurement.
As part of Operation Unifier, Defence Minister Anita Anada sent approximately 1000 Canadian Armed Forces members to train Ukrainian military personnel in Poland last October, with more arriving in February and March.
Canada did not send military cooks on the mission, ordering the troops to eat at local restaurants. Due to a massive backlog of reimbursing soldiers, some have accumulated thousands of dollars in debt.
CAF also concluded its 14-year skirmish with the Treasury Board by replacing the military's existing cost-of-living allowance with a new housing benefit.
Unfortunately, the plan would cut the cost-of-living allowance for thousands of troops without much notice. According to a service announcement in late March, about 7,700 military members will not receive housing benefits when the program begins in July.
"We're pissing people off," said retired lieutenant-general Guy Thibault, who previously served as vice-chief of the defence staff. "This may be the final straw that pisses them off.
"It's not really about compensation," contends Thibault. "It's just that they're not feeling valued."
Despite recent efforts by National Defence to adopt anti-racism initiatives, department polling unveiled that most visible minorities consider the military a "last resort" as a career option. "Newcomers did not immigrate to Canada and endure hardship, so their children should join the military," it said.
Andy Knight, a political scientist from the University of Alberta, received a grant earlier this year to produce a 25-minute documentary and devise policy suggestions from his findings on the "radicalization, antisemitism, xenophobia, and anti-black sentiments" in the Canadian military.
"Engaging in dialogue is the first step to understanding one another," he said. The professor claimed CAF's institutional racism is problematic because it provides white supremacists cover to pursue "xeno-racism" against newcomers.