NATO is getting ready to twist Canada’s arm on defence spending
As the old saying goes, there are some things one must never discuss in polite company. Politics and money usually top the list.
If you’ve ever been to a NATO leaders’ summit, you know these gatherings are the epitome of polite company (with the exception of Donald Trump).
NATO leaders — at least in public — sometimes go far, far out of their way to avoid criticizing other leaders and nations, especially those who are perceived as not pulling their weight.
A military alliance looking to present a solid front to an uncertain outside world hates any real or perceived signs of division.
There was, however, one cringe-worthy moment at the 2019 NATO leaders’ summit that’s worth noting in the context of storm clouds building over this year’s planned event in Vilnius, Lithuania. A bullish President Trump turned to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — in full view of the cameras and after being questioned about the adequacy of Canada’s defence spending — and asked, “So, what is your number anyway?”
He was asking how far off Canada was from achieving the alliance-driven benchmark of spending two per cent of national gross domestic product on defence. Members of the Canadian delegation accompanying Trudeau, seated to one side of the two leaders, began barking out numbers, some of them conflicting. (The consensus they landed on at the time was 1.39 per cent of GDP).
It was a made-for-TV moment that almost never happens at the kind of highly stage-managed summit NATO is used to presenting.
As he welcomed U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken along with the alliance’s newest member, Finland, to this week’s regular foreign ministers meeting, NATO Sec. Gen. Jens Stoltenberg casually rolled a verbal grenade across the floor when talking about the agenda.
“We will also address how to ensure that allies are investing enough in defence, and we will start preparations for the summit in Vilnius, where I expect allies to agree a more ambitious pledge, to regard 2 per cent of GDP for defence not as a ceiling but a floor, a minimum, that we should all meet,” Stoltenberg said.
Canada has no plan to meet NATO’s target
In late March, NATO published an annual report that shows Canada’s defence spending amounted to just 1.29 per cent of GDP in fiscal 2022-2023.
It’s not much of a stretch to say Canada has no plan to meet that 2 per cent target. There wasn’t one when the previous Conservative government signed on to the notion at the 2014 NATO leaders summit (when the goal was for allies to reach 2 per cent by 2024).
The Liberal government’s 2017 defence policy tiptoed around the subject. Whenever they’ve been asked about it since, Trudeau and his ministers have bobbed and weaved and talked about what Canada delivers in terms of capability.
Their latest talking points are that Canada has the sixth largest defence budget in NATO and the country is among the top contributors to the alliance’s $4.8 billion common fund, the budget that pays for the headquarters, joint operations and major construction investments.
The pressure on Canada to focus on funding the needs of its own military, as opposed to the overall alliance, is growing — especially since Russia’s full-on invasion of Ukraine last year.
In a French-language speech delivered in Montreal last Tuesday, France’s Ambassador to Canada Michel Miraillet trumpeted his country’s recent boost in military spending and proposals for deeper European military cooperation.
A ‘weak defence effort’
He suggested Canada needs to demonstrate a similar commitment to global security.
“The same goes for Canada and its weak defence effort, nevertheless, somewhat forgetful of the memory of its past commitments, of the courage shown in all major conflicts, as in peacekeeping operations,” Miraillet said in remarks quoted by The Canadian Press.
In an interview with the London bureau of CBC News this week, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly was asked point-blank about Stoltenberg’s assertion that allies would soon consider the two per cent benchmark the floor, not the ceiling.
She responded that Canada recognized the world changed with the war in Ukraine and that tensions in the Indo-Pacific mean “we need to make sure that we step up our game and that’s what we’ll do.”
“Step up our game” may be a relative term, because Joly went on to say that the government is engaged “in a very important defence policy review, which is required before announcing any further investments.”
That defence policy review was announced in the 2022 federal budget. A year later, shortly after presenting its latest fiscal plan, the government announced there would be public consultations on how best to defend Canada in a more uncertain world.
The best-case scenario, according to several experts, is the defence policy being delivered next year and the necessary investments being made at some indeterminate point in the future.
In fairness, the Liberals have committed to spending $19 billion on new fighter jets, starting in 2026. They have agreed to put $4.9 billion toward modernizing continental defence through NORAD.
But ahead of President Joe Biden’s recent visit to Ottawa, the Americans were expressing their impatience with Canada’s habit of kicking defence expenditures down the road and publicly pressed for projects to be moved forward more swiftly.
The Liberal government’s answer was to put a price tag on modernizing airfields and infrastructure to accommodate the new F-35s. The timeline for delivery, however, remained the same. The only project to hit the fast-track, according to defence experts, was an Arctic over-the-horizon radar station.
Two different government sources said the matter of meeting the two per cent defence spending target wasn’t even raised when Biden and Trudeau met.
The Americans, it seems, have slipped back into polite company mode.
Asked this week on CBC’s Power & Politics about Canada’s defence spending, U.S. Sen. (D) Chris Coons politely deferred.
“I think that’s a decision for Canada and the Canadian people to make, but I am satisfied that we have a close partnership, an alliance, that we are making progress towards improving our security,” he said.
Meta to test blocking news on Facebook, Instagram in Canada over Bill C-18 – Global News
Meta is preparing to block news for some Canadians on Facebook and Instagram in a temporary test that is expected to last the majority of the month.
The Silicon Valley tech giant is following in the steps of Google, which blocked news links for about five weeks earlier this year for some of its Canadian users in response to a controversial Liberal government bill.
Bill C-18, which is currently being studied in the Senate, will require tech giants to pay publishers for linking to or otherwise repurposing their content online.
Meta said it’s prepared to block news permanently on Facebook and Instagram if the bill passes, which the government said could happen this month.
Rachel Curran, head of public policy for Meta Canada, said this first temporary move will affect one to five per cent of its 24 million Canadian users, with the number of those impacted fluctuating throughout the test.
Meta set to block news on Facebook, Instagram from Canadian users
Randomly selected Canadian users will not be able to see or share news content in Canada either on Instagram or Facebook.
She said that could include news links to articles, reels — which are short-form videos — or stories, which are photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours.
However, the experience won’t be the same for every user who is subject to the test.
“It won’t be a uniform experience, necessarily. Some news links won’t be shareable on Facebook, but it might not be that experience on Instagram. It will be a different experience on different surfaces,” Curran said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
Trudeau calls Meta’s decision to block news in Canada ‘irresponsible and out of touch’
Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said in a statement Thursday evening that the fact that Facebook is still refusing to work with Canadians shows how deeply irresponsible the company is.
“When a big tech company, whatever the size is, the amount of money and the powerful lawyers they have, they come here and they tell us, ‘If you don’t do this or that, then I’m pulling the plug,’ — that’s a threat and that is unacceptable,” he said in the statement.
“I never did anything because I was afraid of a threat, and I will never do it.”
Rodriguez added in a tweet that “Canadians will not be intimidated by these tactics.”
Meta said it is picking random news publishers that will be notified that some people in Canada will not be able to see or share their news content throughout the test. They will still be able to access their accounts, pages, businesses suites and advertising.
International news companies such as the New York Times or BBC could also have their content blocked in Canada during the test, if they are randomly selected. However, people outside of Canada will not be affected.
“It’s only going to impact your experience … if you’re in Canada,” Curran said.
Trudeau slams Google for blocking news content from Canadians
Meta is defining news as it’s described in the Liberal government’s online news act.
“The legislation states that news outlets are in scope if they primarily report on, investigate or explain current issues or events of public interests,” said Curran.
Content that doesn’t fall under that definition will not be blocked from Canadians. When Facebook blocked news in Australia in 2021 because of a similar bill, there was widespread concern that trusted sources would be unavailable, while pages that published misinformation flourished.
Curran said affected Canadians will still be able to use their platforms to access information from a variety of sources including government pages, organizations and universities.
“We think all of that is good information. They’re also seeing and sharing things that interest them and entertain them. We would not classify that as misinformation. That’s great information and that will continue to be shared and to be viewable,” Curran said, adding that the company will continue to address misinformation on its site through a global fact-checking program.
Meta’s test is designed to ensure that non-news agencies don’t get caught in the dragnet should they block news permanently.
Google blocks some Canadian news sites from results in protest of Bill C-18
The company said it doesn’t want to accidentally block emergency services, community organizations, politicians or government pages, which happened in Australia.
Legacy media and broadcasters have praised the federal Liberals’ online news bill because it would bring in more money for shrinking newsrooms. Companies such as Meta and Google have been blamed for disrupting and dominating the advertising industry, eclipsing smaller, traditional players.
Curran said removing journalism from Meta’s platforms is a business decision, and the company makes “negligible amounts” of revenue from news content.
The company said less than three per cent of what people see in their Facebook feeds are posts with links to news articles, and many of its users believe that is already “too much” news.
“We’re facing a lot of competitive pressures and competition for user time and attention. We’re also facing some pretty serious economic headwinds, and a macro economic climate that’s a bit uncertain,” Curran said.
“Of course news have value from a social perspective. It’s valuable to our democracy. It just doesn’t have much commercial or economic value to our company.”
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© 2023 The Canadian Press
Housing affordability in Canada just saw the biggest improvement in almost 4 years – Global News
Stable interest rates and a continued cooling in home prices helped give housing affordability in Canada its biggest jump in almost four years in the first quarter of 2023, according to a new report.
On Thursday afternoon, National Bank of Canada released its quarterly housing affordability monitor, which it tracks through mortgage payments as a percentage of income (MPPI).
Mortgage payments as a percentage of income reached 60.9 per cent in the quarter, down 3.2 percentage points from the previous period and down 5.4 percentage points from recent highs. Q1’s affordability boost was the best improvement in the last 15 quarters tracked by National Bank.
Affordability was better for the second quarter in a row in Canada, according to the report. Each of the 10 markets monitored by National Bank showed improvement, the first time that’s happened in two and a half years.
National Bank noted that while there has been improvement in MPPI, it remains elevated, and has not retrenched the massive rise in unaffordability observed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Canadians looking to enter the housing market in a major urban centre now need to save an average of just over $50,000, which National Bank estimates requires 73 months of saving. The historic average since 2000 is 40.5 months of saving.
The bank cited a continuing price decline in the first quarter as helping Canadians better afford their homes. National Bank said median home prices were down for a third consecutive quarter, marking an overall decline of 7.3 per cent, which the bank called “the biggest drawdown in a generation.”
Vancouver, Toronto, and Hamilton, Ont., saw the biggest price declines and, by extension, the best improvements in affordability in the quarter. Despite the improvements, MPPI in Toronto (82.8 per cent) and Vancouver (94.9 per cent) are still well above the national baseline and the cities’ historical averages.
At the same time as the housing correction was proceeding, the Bank of Canada announced a conditional pause on interest rate hikes in the quarter, providing some relief to mortgage rates.
National Bank says that its benchmark five-year fixed rate mortgage used to calculate affordability declined 14 basis points.
Looking ahead to the rest of the current quarter, National Bank expects Canadians will continue to see relief on the interest rate side of the equation, though home prices and sales activity are beginning to tick up as buyers move off the sidelines.
The report’s authors said they have doubts about whether the price rise will be sustained, however, given the Bank of Canada policy rate’s current “restrictive” levels following a series of rate hikes in the last year.
Median household incomes were also up 1.3 per cent quarter-to-quarter, National Bank said, helping to improve the overall affordability picture for Canadians.
To learn more about how you can break into Canada’s housing market, check out Global News’ Home School series here.
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Man charged after allegedly threatening to shoot Toronto mayoral candidates, police say – CBC.ca
A man is now facing several charges, Toronto police say, after allegedly threatening to shoot mayoral candidates on Thursday, which prompted some leading contenders to pause their campaigns and was followed by the cancellation of a debate.
In a news release issued Friday, police said they were called to the area of Mortimer and Greenwood avenues in the city’s east end around 10:45 a.m. Thursday.
They said a man “entered a location,” allegedly threatened to shoot mayoral candidates and then brandished what looked to be a gun.
Toronto Police spokesperson Victor Kwong said Friday that it was a “blanket threat.”
“There was no threat specifically to one mayoral candidate over another,” Kwong told reporters.
Investigators say 29-year-old Toronto man Junior Francois Lavagesse has been charged with two counts of weapons dangerous, carrying a concealed weapon, uttering threats, and failing to comply with a recognizance.
He is due to appear in court Friday morning.
Kwong said police are also investigating online threats that investigators were made aware of Thursday.
“That is going to be a separate investigation … we do believe that it is the same person responsible,” Kwong said.
Kwong said police will not provide further details of the location where the alleged threats were reported as they were “not related to the mayoral candidates” and in effort to protect witness privacy.
Debate cancelled out of ‘abundance of caution’
The incident led several leading candidates to cancel public appearances, and a debate that was scheduled to take place at The Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) University Thursday night was cancelled.
An OCAD spokesperson told CBC Toronto Friday that the event was cancelled “out of an abundance of caution,” after some candidates raised concerns for their safety.
Several candidates had withdrawn, including Brad Bradford, Josh Matlow and ex-police chief Mark Saunders.
Olivia Chow, Chloe Brown and Mitzie Hunter were also set to attend and Ana Bailão had previously pulled out of the debate over a scheduling conflict.
There were no reported injuries and several candidates issued statements saying they, along with their teams and families, were safe.
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