Lib­er­als un­der fire for de­lay­ing re­lease of de­fence pol­icy up­date

Cape Breton Post - - Canada -

The Lib­eral govern­ment an­nounced Mon­day it was de­lay­ing the re­lease of its long-awaited de­fence pol­icy up­date un­til af­ter Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau gath­ers with other NATO lead­ers next week.

The sur­prise move sparked ques­tions and crit­i­cism, in­clud­ing com­plaints from the op­po­si­tion Con­ser­va­tives about U.S. of­fi­cials get­ting a sneak preview of the new pol­icy be­fore it’s made avail­able to Cana­di­ans.

A se­nior govern­ment of­fi­cial, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity, con­firmed to The Cana­dian Press that U.S. of­fi­cials would be briefed on the new pol­icy at a “high level,” which he said “is cus­tom­ary with all ma­jor part­ners.”

The Lib­er­als had promised to re­lease the new de­fence pol­icy up­date, which has been a year in the mak­ing, be­fore Trudeau leaves for the NATO lead­ers’ sum­mit in Brus­sels on May 25.

The top item on the sum­mit’s agenda is ex­pected to be de­fence spend­ing, which U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has been ac­tively press­ing al­lies to in­crease.

The Lib­er­als’ de­fence pol­icy was ex­pected to lay out a plan for how Canada would start mov­ing in that di­rec­tion.

Canada cur­rently spends only about one per cent of GDP on de­fence, which is half NATO’s tar­get of two per cent and puts it in the bot­tom third of al­lies.

But De­fence Min­is­ter Har­jit Sa­j­jan an­nounced Mon­day the pol­icy would in­stead be un­veiled on June 7 – nearly two weeks af­ter the NATO sum­mit.

The de­lay would give the Lib­er­als, through For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land, time to ex­plain to Cana­di­ans how the new de­fence pol­icy fits within the govern­ment’s broader for­eign pol­icy, he said.

“Our work on Canada’s new de­fence pol­icy is done,” Sa­j­jan said dur­ing ques­tion pe­riod.

“The next step is to share it with Cana­di­ans, but first, my col­league, the min­is­ter of for­eign af­fairs, will be say­ing more about Canada’s for­eign pol­icy foun­da­tion.”

That ex­pla­na­tion did not sit well with some de­fence ex­perts or op­po­si­tion crit­ics, who ques­tioned why the Lib­er­als ap­pear to be re­al­iz­ing only now that the new de­fence pol­icy should be tied to Cana­dian for­eign pol­icy.

The Lib­er­als held a num­ber of round­tables with ex­perts and an­a­lysts last year as part of their de­fence pol­icy re­view, and a quick re­view of the re­sults show many cited the need to make ex­actly that link.

“All of us who have writ­ten about this said the first step should have been a for­eign pol­icy re­view lead­ing to a de­fence re­view,” said re­tired colonel George Petrolekas of the Cana­dian Global Af­fairs In­sti­tute.

CP PHOTO

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau and U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump shake hands af­ter hold­ing a joint news con­fer­ence at the White House, in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., in Fe­bru­ary. The Lib­eral govern­ment has de­layed the re­lease of its new de­fence pol­icy, set­ting up a po­ten­tially awk­ward meet­ing be­tween Trudeau and Trump next week.

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