Connect with us

News

Trudeau expected to face tough questions on Canadian military spending at NATO summit

Published

 on

MADRID — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to face tough questions at a major NATO summit this week as a new report released by the alliance ahead of the meeting shows Canada heading in the wrong direction when it comes to military spending.

Members of the 30-member military alliance agreed in 2014 to increase their defence spending to two per cent of their national gross domestic product, and the target is expected to be front and centre when the summit begins on Wednesday.

Trudeau met with NATO leaders Tuesday evening at a dinner hosted at the royal palace in Madrid by King Felipe VI, and will begin formal talks in the morning.

The new report released by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg estimates Canadian defence spending will instead decline as a share of GDP to 1.27 per cent this year, down from 1.32 per cent last year and 1.42 per cent in 2020.

The report did not specify the reason for the expected decline, or whether it includes $8 billion in new military spending that was promised in April’s federal budget and whose purpose has not been clearly defined.

Asked about the report during a news conference at the end of this year’s G7 meeting in Germany, as he prepared to head to Madrid for the NATO leaders’ summit, Trudeau said the government has announced several “significant” new investments.

Those include $4.9 billion to upgrade Norad, the shared U.S.-Canadian system used to detect incoming airborne and maritime threats to North America, as well as plans to buy new fighter jets to replace Canada’s aging CF-18s.

The prime minister also said Canada has repeatedly proven its commitment to the NATO alliance by deploying troops and equipment on a variety of missions, including by leading a multinational NATO force in Latvia.

“Canada is always part of NATO missions and continues to step up significantly,” Trudeau said.

“We know how important it is to step up and we will continue to do so to make sure that the world knows that it can count on Canada to be part of advancing the cause of democracy, the rule of law and opportunities for everyone,” he added.

Successive Canadian governments have shown little appetite for meeting the two per cent spending target, which the parliamentary budget officer has estimated would require an extra $75 billion over the next five years.

They have instead emphasized Canada’s numerous other commitments to the alliance, including the provision of 700 Canadian troops to Latvia along with several naval warships to assist with NATO patrols in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean.

That is despite Canada having agreed to the target, as well as repeated exhortations from Stoltenberg and criticism from American officials in Washington calling on Ottawa to invest more in its military and collective defence.

The continuing decline in Canadian defence spending as a share of GDP will almost certainly lead to even more pointed questions for Trudeau in Madrid than was already expected, said defence analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

This is particularly true given confusion surrounding the government’s announcement last week that it plans to invest in Norad modernization, with uncertainty around where the money is actually coming from, when it will be spent and on what.

“I would assume that they were hoping to send a message with the continental defence piece that irrespective of what’s happening in Europe, Canada’s got other defence commitments and that contributes to overall alliance security,” Perry said.

“But the mechanics of how the continental defence piece rolled out would take away from some of that.”

That defence spending is on a downward track when Canada is facing pressure to contribute more overseas and struggling with significant military personnel and equipment shortfalls is also a concern, said Robert Baines of the NATO Association of Canada.

“I’ve always been amazed that Prime Minister Trudeau has facility for dancing over the very serious situation Canada is facing when it comes to defence,” Baines said. “Trying to do so much, and then having so many resource issues and challenges.”

To that end, Trudeau sidestepped a question over whether Canada is prepared to send more troops to Latvia, as NATO seeks to double the size of its forces throughout eastern Europe in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Latvia’s ambassador to Canada told The Canadian Press earlier this week that Canada is talking with allies about reinforcing the Canadian-led battlegroup in his country.

The battlegroup in Latvia is one of four established by NATO in 2017, with Germany leading another such unit in Lithuania and Britain and the United States responsible for forces in Estonia and Poland, respectively.

Germany and Britain have both said in recent weeks that they are ready to lead larger combat units in Lithuania and Estonia, but Canada has so far remained silent about its plans in Latvia.

Trudeau also wouldn’t say whether Canada is prepared to put more of the military on high readiness, as Stoltenberg announced on Monday that the alliance plans to increase the number of troops on standby from 40,000 to 300,000.

“We have been working closely with NATO partners, with the secretary-general of NATO, and especially with the Latvians, where Canada leads the (battlegroup) and is committed to making sure we continue to stand up against Russian,” Trudeau said.

“We, like others, are developing plans to be able to scale up rapidly,” he added. “And those are conversations that I very much look forward to having over the next couple of days in NATO.”

Baines predicted whatever additional troops and equipment are added to the Canadian-led battlegroup in Latvia will predominantly come from other NATO members as Canada only recently deployed more troops to the region.

The government announced in February that it was sending an artillery unit and 100 additional soldiers to bolster the 600 Canadian troops already in the Baltic state. It also recently deployed two additional warships to the region.

Perry said it remains unclear how much more the Canadian military, which is short about 10,000 service members, has to spare.

“Maybe there’s an ability to find some more at the back of the cupboard,” he said.

“But if the alliance is going to collectively be stepping up with some additional … troop and equipment commitments, then I’m sure there’d be lots of pressure on us to be part of that as well.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2022.

— With files from Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa

 

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

News

Bill Graham, ex-interim Liberal leader and post-9/11 foreign affairs minister, dies

Published

 on

OTTAWA — Condolences from Canadian politicians past and present poured out Monday as they learned about the death of Bill Graham, who served as foreign affairs minister when the country decided against joining the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“Mr. Graham will be remembered as a master negotiator and a skilled statesman who shared his love for Canada with the world,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement Monday evening.

Former Liberal MP John English told The Canadian Press that Graham died Sunday, according to a member of his family who shared the news with him earlier Monday.

English said Graham had cancer and died peacefully after being in poor health for some time.

“He was a fun guy. I went out with him for drinks just three or four weeks ago. He wasn’t drinking … He enjoyed a good glass of wine but he couldn’t join us,” he recalled.

“He’s such a wonderful presence. So positive, so optimistic. He’s a person to be taken seriously, but he never took himself seriously. He was full of laughter. He laughed very easily.”

Graham, 83, was serving as chancellor of Trinity College at the University of Toronto. Both he and his wife, Catherine, were students there and married in the chapel. They had two children: Katy and Patrick.

Graham was first elected as a Liberal member of Parliament for the riding then known as Toronto Centre-Rosedale in 1993, after two unsuccessful runs.

Former colleagues eulogized Graham as a skilled MP, having spent time on the backbenches before entering cabinet, and someone who demonstrated a deep passion about helping those in his community.

George Smitherman, who represented the same downtown Toronto area for the Liberals provincially as Graham had federally, said Graham had a remarkable way of connecting with people, no matter their background.

Smitherman, who is gay, said he first arrived in what is now known as Toronto Centre as a kid finding comfort with his sexuality and at the time Graham and the local Liberals had embedded AIDS activism in their politics.

“That, to me, was one of the most defining attributes of the way political parties ought to operate,” Smitherman said.

“It was really a huge impact on me in my life.”

Longtime Liberal MP John McKay said Graham was a “complete politician.”

“A good constituency person, a good national person and a good international person. Not many people can say that,” said McKay, who represents the Toronto riding of Scarborough-Guildwood.

“He was (an) immensely smart, decent, classy man,” he added.

In January 2002, months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks shook the world, Graham was appointed to serve in cabinet as foreign affairs minister by then-prime minister Jean Chrétien.

At that time, Canada had to decide whether to join the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and then navigate its relationship with its closest ally when it opted against doing so.

Graham was roundly praised for not only assisting in that decision, but his overall handling of the role at a turbulent time in international relations.

“He was an outstanding minister of foreign affairs and a skilled parliamentarian,” tweeted John Baird, who served as foreign affairs minister under former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.

After his time in foreign affairs, Graham was moved to the defence portfolio.

Eugene Lang was his chief of staff at the time and said Graham, who was well travelled before entering politics, was well liked by most everyone, including MPs of different political stripes and public servants.

“He treated everybody with a huge amount of respect. There was no arrogance in Bill.”

Lang said while Graham was only in the role of national defence minister for less than two years, he had many accomplishments, including securing a funding boostand also recommending the appointment of Rick Hillier as chief of defence staff.

Former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin released a statement after learning of Graham’s death, saying he “helped our government and the country navigate a challenging period of history as we deployed into Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.”

“His loss will be felt by all who knew or worked with him.”

After the Liberals lost government to the Conservatives in 2006 and Martin resigned, Graham stepped into the role of the party’s interim leader.

“The Liberal party owes him a huge debt of gratitude,” said McKay, who said he was an obvious choice for many.

Harper said Graham was the first official Opposition leader he faced after winning government.

“Bill was always a gentleman,” he tweeted.

“He always kept the best interests of the country in mind.”

Former Liberal cabinet minister Ralph Goodale, who was Opposition House leader when Graham was interim Liberal leader, called his former colleague “wise and thoughtful, especially in matters of foreign policy and defence.”

“In an era of deep polarization and extremist populism, Bill’s sense of moderation, propriety and balance is sorely missed. Our love and respect surround his family, friends and colleagues,” Goodale said in a statement.

Longtime Liberal cabinet minister Carolyn Bennett said she remembers Graham as someone who was comfortable around everyone and a generous listener in conversation.

“There’s no one else you’d rather have dinner with. And I think that’s what a lot of us feel,” she said Monday.

“He just was so special. It’s just really hard to believe he’s gone,” Bennett said, her voice breaking.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 8, 2022.

— With files from Allison Jones and Jordan Omstead in Toronto

 

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

 

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly referred to Liberal MP John McKay, who represents the Toronto riding of Scarborough-Guildwood, as a former MP.

Continue Reading

News

Canadian warships missing from NATO naval forces for first time since 2014

Published

 on

OTTAWA — For the first time in eight years, Canadian warships are not involved in either of two NATO naval task forces charged with patrolling European waters and defending against Russian threats.

The revelation has cast a spotlight on what experts say are the growing trade-offs that Canada is having to make with its navy, which is struggling with a shrinking fleet of aging ships and a lack of trained sailors.

Canada had been a consistent presence in the Standing NATO Maritime Groups since Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, deploying at least one Halifax-class frigate to the North Atlantic or Mediterranean on a rotational basis.

The federal Liberal government made a point of deploying a second frigate in March as part of its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That ship had been planned for a months-long deployment in the Indian Ocean and Middle East.

But Defence Department spokeswoman Jessica Lamirande says Canada does not have any frigates attached to either of the NATO naval groups since HMCS Montreal and HMCS Halifax returned to their home port last month.

“With the return home of HMCS Montreal and Halifax on July 15, the CAF does not currently have a ship tasked to either Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 or 2,” Lamirande said in an email. “This is the first time this has occurred since 2014.”

Lamirande linked the decision not to send any new frigates to Europe to the deployment of two such vessels to the Asia-Pacific region, as well as the Halifax-class fleet’s maintenance and training requirements.

Canada has instead deployed two smaller Kingston-class coastal defence vessels to work with a different NATO naval force that is focused on finding and clearing enemy mines.

Chief of the defence staff Gen. Wayne Eyre said that will help Canadian sailors gain experience in an important area of naval warfare while still showing Canada’s commitment to European security.

But he conceded in an interview with The Canadian Press on Monday, “we are stretched from a resource perspective. And so we’ve got to make those decisions as to where we invest, and when we invest.”

He added that he approved the decision to send two frigates to the Pacific, where tensions between the West and China are growing, “because we want to deliberately increase our presence in Asia-Pacific, because we are a Pacific nation.”

China last week launched a massive military exercise around Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing considers its territory, after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei. The exercise came amid growing fears of a potential Chinese invasion.

University of Calgary shipbuilding expert Timothy Choi said the decision to send two frigates to Europe at the same time earlier this year played a large role in constraining Atlantic Fleet’s ability to send another frigate in the short term.

“To my mind, it doesn’t mean the availability of the ships and crews have deteriorated over the last few years,” he said.

“Rather it’s the unavoidable consequences of forcing a small fleet to concentrate more resources into a smaller time frame which results in more time required to recuperate.”

But defence analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute predicted Canada will have to make increasingly difficult trade-offs in where to send its warships given the size and state of its navy.

While Canada has 12 frigates, Perry said the navy’s maintenance and training requirements mean only a handful are available to deploy at any given time. Canada used to also have three destroyers, but those vessels were retired in 2014.

Adding to the difficulty is the growing age of the frigates, which entered service in the 1990s and are becoming increasingly more challenging to fix and maintain, according to both senior officers and internal reports.

“Those decisions about trade-offs are going to become increasingly difficult because, and we’re already experiencing this, the maintenance cycle on a ship that old is becoming more intense, more labour-intensive and longer,” Perry said.

Adam MacDonald, a former naval officer now studying at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said the navy and Canadian Armed Forces are also expected to face growing pressures to maintain a presence in not Europe, Asia and the Arctic.

“It’s going to be very pressing because there’s going to be demands on all three of those geographic environments,” MacDonald said. “On top of anywhere else we operate: the Caribbean, West Africa, South America.”

The federal government is overseeing construction of a new fleet of warships to replace the frigates and destroyers, but the multibillion-dollar project has been plagued by cost overruns and repeated delays.

The navy, like the rest of the military, is also facing a severe shortage of personnel.

In the meantime, MacDonald predicted the Kingston-class minesweepers will continue to pick up more slack as the navy faces increasing demands overseas.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 8, 2022.

 

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Continue Reading

News

Montreal Pride Festival starts internal probe after embarrassing parade cancellation

Published

 on

MONTREAL — Pride Montreal, the organization that runs the city’s annual celebration of LGBTQ communities, is conducting an internal investigation after it abruptly cancelled the official Pride parade on Sunday.

“Pride Montreal will release its review of the 2022 festival later this week,” Nathalie Roy, a spokesperson for Pride Montreal, said in a statement Monday. The group said it couldn’t make anyone available for an interview.

The decision to cancel the signature event came hours before it was to begin Sunday. The festival’s executive director, Simon Gamache, cited security concerns stemming from a lack of volunteers to ensure the event could go ahead safely.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said Sunday she was not informed of the labour issue before organizers announced the cancellation. The weeklong festival, which included concerts and other events and ended Sunday, received $600,000 from the City of Montreal.

Festival organizers were expected to meet with city officials Monday afternoon to explain what went wrong, according to city spokesperson Marikym Gaudreault.

This year’s festival also received more than $1.1 million from the Quebec government, and the provincial Tourism Department said in an emailed statement that it learned of the parade’s cancellation through media reports Sunday morning. It declined to comment on whether the poor organization of this year’s parade would affect future funding.

“It’s important to mention that although the event was cancelled, the majority of the other activities on the Montreal Pride Festival schedule took place,” the statement said. The department said it has asked to meet with the parade’s organizers to address the situation.

Meanwhile, one of the festival’s major sponsors, Loto-Québec, said the surprise cancellation will not affect its support of the Montreal Pride Festival next year. “Loto-Québec has been supporting Montréal Pride for several years,” Renaud Dugas, a spokesperson with the organization, said in an emailed statement Monday.

“Last week, several activities took place on the Loto-Québec stage and at the Casino de Montréal, to everyone’s delight.”

TD Bank Group, the festival’s official presenter, said it supported the decision to cancel the event and would “continue celebrating 2SLGBTQ+ communities.” The bank, however, declined to comment on if it would fund the event in the future.

“TD provides unwavering support to 2SLGBTQ+ communities, and Pride Montreal is a long-standing and trusted partner that we work with in this regard,” TD spokesperson Caroline Phemius said in an emailed statement Monday.

The Société de transport de Montréal, the city’s transit authority, said on Monday it was “disappointed with the turn of events.”

“We are partners with Pride Montreal and the parade since 2016,” said Amélie Régis, a transit authority spokesperson. “This is an important event for us.”

Pride Montreal initially wrote on Twitter Sunday that the decision to cancel the parade was made with the support of city police. The organization clarified later Sunday that police were not involved in the decision.

Montreal police said in a statement Sunday they were ready to supervise the parade, “and we will be there for every edition.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Aug. 8, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

 

Virginie Ann and Stéphane Blais, The Canadian Press

Continue Reading

Trending