Liberals under fire for delaying release of defence policy update
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.
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.