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FIRST READING: Buckle up for a Canadian defence spending splurge


Brian Mulroney urges Tories to stop “destroying” each other

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First Reading is a daily newsletter keeping you posted on the travails of Canadian politicos, all curated by the National Post’s own Tristin Hopper. To get an early version sent direct to your inbox every Monday to Thursday at 6 p.m. ET (and 9 a.m. on Saturdays), sign up here.

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TOP STORY

Defence Minister Anita Anand said this week that she will be tabling “aggressive” options to significantly boost Canada’s rate of defence spending once the cabinet starts planning its spring budget. Depending on how it goes, this could spell the biggest surge in Canadian defence spending in more than 50 years.

Canada, of course, has one of the most lacklustre defence spending records in NATO. While members of the alliance are expected to spend 2 per cent of national GDP on defence, Canada only spends about 1.4 per cent. Speaking to CBC this week, Anand said she was drafting proposals under which Canada could hit or exceed the 2 per cent baseline. That would be roughly an extra $10 billion to spend on the military each year.

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So, about five stealth bombers’ worth. Although Ottawa will probably opt for something cheaper.
So, about five stealth bombers’ worth. Although Ottawa will probably opt for something cheaper. Photo by Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Pessimists, however, will argue that the Canadian Armed Forces’ problem is not merely one of spending, given that it can’t seem to spend the money it already has. Last year, for instance, the Department of Defence failed to spend $1.2 billion of its allocated budget, continuing a trend of lapsed defence spending that has been occurring quite regularly since the government of Stephen Harper.

The Canadian military also has a penchant to make procurement far more expensive and painful than it needs to be. We’ve brought this up before, but when the British Army replaced its standard-issue pistols in 2010, it took them three years and $14.5 million. For the Canadian Army, replacing the exact same pistol has required 15 years and more than $100 million.

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We also happen to have one of the most top-heavy militaries in NATO. Despite an ever-shrinking pool of enlisted personnel, Canada retains about as many generals and admirals as at the height of the Cold War.

After the Russian Federation asked the U.N. Security Council for a resolution backing humanitarian relief for Ukraine, the Canadian delegation took the liberty of “editing” their request and posting it online.
After the Russian Federation asked the U.N. Security Council for a resolution backing humanitarian relief for Ukraine, the Canadian delegation took the liberty of “editing” their request and posting it online. Photo by Canadian Mission to the United Nations

WAR IN UKRAINE

In late February, two RCAF C-130s were sent to Europe to help ferry Canadian guns, bullets and rocket launchers into an undisclosed NATO airfield in Eastern Europe, where the weapons are then moved into Ukraine. But the National Post’s John Ivison felt he should remind us that this is a recent development for the Canadian government, who has thus far made it a habit to strenuously ignore Ukrainian requests for lethal aid. Virtually until the moment that Russian warplanes began to bomb Kyiv, Canada refused to send guns to Ukraine, demanded that its aid not be used for weapons and even gave the Ukrainians a hard time when they tried to buy Canadian-made arms with their own money.

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As of this week, 3,368 Ukrainians have been able to make it to Canada as refugees since their country was invaded by Russia. Canada is accepting as many Ukrainian refugees who will come, although the influx is necessarily going to be constricted by how many can afford to come here. A recent Angus Reid Institute survey found that as many as 80 per cent of Canadians support Ottawa’s pledge for an “unlimited” Ukrainian refugee policy.

Remember Michael Ignatieff? After his not tremendously successful bid to become prime minister, he took a job as rector of Hungary’s Central European University, which is only about a three hour drive from the Ukrainian border. Ignatieff also has an interesting family history with Russia; his grandfather fled Tsarist Russia after the 1917 Revolution, and his father George was a Canadian diplomat who served time in the Soviet Union. In a recent video, Ignatieff laid out the historic background to the current war, and forecast that “it will be a long time until the (Russian) regime cracks under the weight of sanctions.”

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We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

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Canada has found more names to add to its list of individuals we are personally sanctioning due to their involvement with the invasion of Ukraine. This latest batch of 22 are from Belarus, the autocratic state to Ukraine’s north which is a close ally of Russia.

Three years ago, Canadian art historian Maya Asha McDonald agreed to attend a black-tie dinner in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Speaking to the National Post’s Tom Blackwell, she said the experience gave her a chilling sense of the 19th century-style imperialism that seemed to animate the Russian leader. “It was so possessive the way he talked about (Russian art), it really felt unhealthy … that word ‘greatness’ came up multiple times … The hairs on the back of my head stood up,” she said. McDonald added that she suspects Putin’s forces are already looting Ukraine of art treasures that they deem to be representations of Russian culture.

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A border crossing between Hyder, Alaska, and Stewart, British Columbia mockingly dressed up with Cold War-era signage in 2016. Alaska was originally a Russian colony before it was purchased by the United States. This week, Russian parliamentary member Oleg Matveychev said they should get it back as compensation for Western sanctions.
A border crossing between Hyder, Alaska, and Stewart, British Columbia mockingly dressed up with Cold War-era signage in 2016. Alaska was originally a Russian colony before it was purchased by the United States. This week, Russian parliamentary member Oleg Matveychev said they should get it back as compensation for Western sanctions. Photo by Jim Wilson/The New York Times

CONSERVATIVE LEADERSHIP RACE

As the Conservative leadership race descends into vicious name-calling (particularly between Pierre Poilievre and Patrick Brown), no less than Brian Mulroney is calling for calm. In a recent address to St. Francis Xavier University, the 82-year-old former prime minister said that the Tory candidates shouldn’t “seek to destroy” each other.

(Also, since yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day, here’s that video of Mulroney singing When Irish Eyes are Smiling to Ronald Reagan).

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Jean Charest is still sidelined from the campaign trail due to a COVID-19 diagnosis, but he managed to write an op-ed for The Line about how he would spend more money on the military. Here’s a guess that this isn’t really going to be a controversial take among the Conservative leadership candidates.

And yet another candidate has entered the race: Scott Atchison, the Conservative MP for Parry Sound—Muskoka. He wants to bring “respect” and “unity” to the party.

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IN OTHER NEWS

The Canadian population jumped by more than half a million in 2021, marking a return to the country’s pre-pandemic rates of population growth. Given Canada’s lacklustre birth rates, this was almost entirely represented via immigration. A net total of 400,176 new Canadians arrived in the country last year.

With Canadian Pacific Railway workers having recently voted to strike, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe is calling for federal legislation to make railway strikes illegal. More specifically, he called for railway employees to be classified as “essential workers” who, like police and firefighters, would be denied the right to strike.

Earlier this week we mentioned how the U.S. Senate heroically voted to kill twice-yearly clock changes (potentially providing a model for Canadian governments who have been waiting on the Americans before enacting similar reforms). It turns out that might have been an accident. The Americans have a provision wherein they can fast-track legislation if it receives unanimous consent. And while there were senators who opposed the “permanent daylight saving time” bill, none of them happened to be at their desks when a unanimous consent motion was successfully sought and obtained. Of course, like most U.S. bills, it could still be quashed with a veto from U.S. President Joe Biden.

Due to increasingly stringent media controls imposed in the Russian Federation, many Russian nationals are not getting a clear picture of the war in Ukraine aside from jingoistic updates being transmitted via state-controlled media. So, actor, bodybuilder and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (who is quite famous in Russia) recorded a video trying to catch them up. Click here to view.
Due to increasingly stringent media controls imposed in the Russian Federation, many Russian nationals are not getting a clear picture of the war in Ukraine aside from jingoistic updates being transmitted via state-controlled media. So, actor, bodybuilder and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (who is quite famous in Russia) recorded a video trying to catch them up. Click here to view. Photo by Twitter

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