In the 300-page federal budget tabled on Thursday, Arctic security analyst Rob Huebert was most interested in chapter five, a 15-page section about security and defence, headed “Canada’s Leadership in the World.”
He found it a bit thin.
“It’s very underwhelming,” said Huebert, an associate professor in the department of political science at the University of Calgary.
The budget promises an $8 billion increase in defence spending, but Huebert was hopeful for more details about how NORAD will be modernized — a long-standing promise by the Liberal government, but one that still exists more as rhetoric than reality, Huebert says.
The last federal budget promised $252.2 million over five years for continental and Arctic defence and NORAD.
“Perhaps more details will come out subsequently. But what the government has released in terms of chapter five right now doesn’t give us any guidance whatsoever,” he said.
For some, including the three Northern premiers, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put renewed focus on Vladimir Putin’s territorial ambitions and Canada’s own vulnerabilities. Earlier this week, the premiers met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Defence Minister Anita Anand to make the case for greater investment in the North as a way of reinforcing Canada’s sovereignty and security.
“We’re starting to realize that we just need to be more prepared now,” N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane said earlier this week.
Speaking on Thursday, after seeing the budget, Cochrane said she was pleased to see the increase in defence spending.
“I think that’s important for all of us. The details we still need to look through,” she said.
But details are hard to find, according to Huebert. He compares the 2022 budget to the federal government’s talk about defence spending and modernizing North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) over the last few years — big on “strong words,” but little more.
Huebert points to the brief section on NORAD, which outlines four general areas of potential investment, such as “advanced all-domain surveillance and intelligence,” and “improved capabilities to deter and defeat threats.”
“But then you go down to the elements in terms of what has been actually allocated, and one is struck by the fact that you have these four strong avenues to pursue, and then it says the government is currently ‘considering options’ to fulfil this commitment [of modernizing NORAD],” Huebert said.
“The right terminology, but then no real definitive promises.”
Yukon premier ‘disappointed’
Yukon Premier Sandy Silver, who’s never made of a habit of criticizing his fellow Liberals in Ottawa, also admitted on Thursday that he was a little “disappointed” to see no funding specified for Arctic security.
“We wanted to see something specific for [Canadian] Rangers. We wanted to see something specific to identify… again, this my big thing, is that the federal government absolutely has to make a commitment to NORAD and to defence,” Silver said.
Still, Silver is willing to give the benefit of the doubt. As Yukon’s finance minister, he says he understands the budget process and how the Northern premiers’ lobbying for Arctic security may have come a bit late.
“We got a lot of attention on this. A lot of commitments have been made. It’s just, I think it just didn’t have enough turnaround time to make it into the pages of the budget,” Silver said.
“I’m giving them the time to make good on their commitments. Let’s say that.”
Yukon’s opposition leader also weighed in this week, on the need for beefed-up security in the Arctic. In an op-ed for The Ottawa Citizen newspaper, Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon calls for an updated North Warning System, and a new deep water port on Yukon’s north slope.