Trudeau blames Harper in response to letter from U.S. senators criticizing Canada's military spending

'It's important to remember where Canada was,' said Trudeau. 'In 2015 under the Harper Conservatives, in which Pierre Poilievre was minister in that government, defence spending dropped for the first time to below 1% of our spending.'

Trudeau blames Harper in response to letter from U.S. senators criticizing Canada's military spending
The Canadian Press / Tijana Martin and The Canadian Press / Darryl Dyck
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took the opportunity to blame the previous Conservative government when responding to a letter sent by 23 United States senators urging him to increase Canada’s defence spending. 

The letter calls for Trudeau to allocate 2% of GDP to defence, the NATO spending target that Canada agreed to in 2014.

“It's important to remember where Canada was," Trudeau said on Friday. "In 2015 under the Harper Conservatives, in which Pierre Poilievre was minister in that government, defence spending dropped for the first time to below 1% of our spending."

“When we got elected in 2015, not only did we re-open the Veterans Affairs offices that Harper had shuttered, not only did we start investing in our military, we actually doubled military investments over the past years.”

The letter comes just two months before the next NATO summit in Washington, D.C.

“As we approach the 2024 NATO Summit in Washington, D.C., we are concerned and profoundly disappointed that Canada’s most recent projection indicated that it will not reach its two percent commitment this decade,” the letter states. “In 2029, Canada’s defence spending is estimated to rise to just 1.7 percent, five years after the agreed upon deadline of 2024 and still below the spending baseline.”

More than half of the 32 NATO allies are expected to meet the 2% target by the end of 2024. The letter urges all countries not meeting that mark to have a "plan to reach this benchmark as soon as possible.”

“Canada will fail to meet its obligations to the alliance, to the detriment of all NATO allies and the free world, without immediate and meaningful action to increase defence spending," the letter states.

The letter was signed by 23 senators from both parties, including Republicans Mitt Romney, Ted Cruz, Joe Manchin, and Dan Sullivan, and Democrats Jeanne Shaheen, Benjamin Cardin, Tammy Duckworth, and Tim Kaine.

“By the end of 2024, 18 NATO countries will meet the Alliance’s goal to ensure NATO’s continued military readiness. This is a historic investment in our collective security, led by NATO Allies like Poland, a country that has already exceeded three percent of its GDP for defence spending,” the letter continues.

While other NATO countries have also fallen short of the 2% mark, the letter is made out to Trudeau because, unlike other countries, Canada does not appear to have a plan to reach the 2% threshold.

The Defense Department's budget last year was $26.9 billion. The new defence policy outlines an additional $8.1 billion in spending over the next five years, totalling $73 billion by 2044.

“We are now on track to reaching over 1.76% [in military spending] which is a record high for Canada. We aren't done yet, there is more to do,” Trudeau said on Friday.

Both Trudeau and Defence Minister Bill Blair have indicated that the government anticipates spending even more, as the policy includes plans for a new fleet of submarines and other yet-to-be-costed equipment.

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