Hillman expects Biden to be less critical of defence spending ahead of visit


Canada’s ambassador to the United States says U.S. President Joe Biden may be less critical of Canada failing to meet its defence spending targets than former President Barack Obama was when the latter addressed Parliament.

When Biden makes his first official state visit to Canada this week, discussions around defence and security, Norad modernization, and how to deal with Russia and China are on the agenda.

The last American president to visit Ottawa — and to address Parliament — was Obama in 2016, when in a 50-minute speech he said: “NATO needs more Canada.”

Canada has long faced calls to increase its defence spending to two per cent of its GDP, the agreed-upon target by NATO members as part of the Wales Summit Declaration in 2014.

But Kirsten Hillman told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos, in an interview airing Sunday, she expects there to be “recognition” from Biden during his visit of what the Canadian government is “doing right”: what it’s done, what it’s doing, and what it’s committed to spend.

“Will that mean that they won’t urge us do more? I don’t know. We’ll see,” she said. “As I say, I think that the U.S. is always eager for all partners to do as much as they can.”

“I’m not saying that the U.S. wouldn’t always like to see Canada and all allies do more, because I think that we’re not the only ones that they are often asking to do more,” she also said. “They always are interested in all the allies in NATO doing more, but there’s definitely been a shift in my experience over the past couple of years, as they’ve really seen us put some serious commitments on the table.”

Meanwhile U.S. Ambassador David Cohen told Kapelos — also in an interview airing Sunday — that Canada has “stepped up” in many of its spending commitments, including in support for Ukraine, and plans to modernize Norad, so he’d “rather look at Canada’s conduct and what it’s actually doing, as opposed to any formula.”

“But that doesn’t mean that (defence spending) won’t be, and shouldn’t be, a topic of ongoing conversation,” he added. “Because we do need more dollars for defence.”

“We’re facing 21st century threats that require 21st century solutions, and that require 21st century funding,” he also said.

Particularly when it comes to Norad, Cohen said, it’s likely the American delegation will be looking for specifics on when Canada’s commitments — such as the over-the-horizon radar systems it’s promised to pay for — will be delivered.

“I think Norad has a perspective around the threat posture, which would call for an earlier investment than the current plan by the Canadians,” he said.

Hillman said “the spend is starting to happen,” on Norad modernization, but that the new systems will take time to install, because they’re not something that can be purchased “off the shelf.”

“As to the specifics on what will be rolled out, I think it’s too soon for me to be able to say,” she also said. “Those are discussions that we’re having internally to figure out how we’re going to manage that conversation with the Americans.”

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