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Blair announces billions in training, equipment deals at military trade show


May 29, 2024  By Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press

National Defence Minister Bill Blair delivers a keynote address at the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries annual defence industry trade show CANSEC in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 29, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Defence Minister Bill Blair came to the country’s largest defence industry trade show on Wednesday to announce billions of dollars in training and equipment deals for the armed forces, and faced yet more questions about Canada’s commitment to the NATO spending target.

Blair was the morning’s keynote speaker at CANSEC, the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries annual trade show in Ottawa.

SkyAlyne Canada awarded $11.2 billion training contract for RCAF

He touted the government’s updated defence policy, which sets out $73 billion worth of projects and procurements over 20 years, including an additional $8.1 billion in spending in the next four years.

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That brings the country closer to the NATO alliance target of spending two per cent of GDP on defence, but still falls short at just 1.76 per cent by 2029-30.

Last week, a group of 23 U.S. senators signed a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, saying they were concerned and “profoundly disappointed” that Canada won’t meet its obligation by the end of the decade.

The senators urged Trudeau to come to the next NATO summit in Washington, D.C., in July with a plan to get to two per cent.

Speaking to reporters, Blair insisted the government is on “a very clear path” and plans to grow defence spending by 27 per cent next year over this year.

“But that increase also requires that we spent that money well, that we produce real value for the investment Canadians are making in defence,” he said.

He noted the defence policy does not include cost estimates for projects the government is yet to begin, like a plan to purchase a fleet of submarines, for example.

He said he’s confident that with new capabilities, the country will “well exceed” the two per cent target — though he did not say when that may happen.

“I’m very confident I will be able to assure our NATO allies, our American partners, Canada is moving very strongly in an upward trajectory of defence spending. We are going to do what is required,” he said.

Blair’s announcement Wednesday was for a $2.5-billion deal to buy logistics vehicles for the army and an $11.2-billion deal for flight training for Royal Canadian Air Force pilots.

The 25-year flight training deal with SkyAlyne Canada Ltd. includes classroom training, simulations and the purchase of 70 training aircraft.

The first of 1,500 logistics vehicles from General Dynamics Land Systems Canada and Marshall Canada are set to arrive in 2027, and Blair said they will be used in domestic disaster assistance as well as overseas deployments.

The trade show attracted antiwar protesters who staged demonstrations outside the event space in the morning, including some who hoped to shut down access to the trade show altogether.

Kathrin Winkler, a member of Nova Scotia Voice of Women for Peace, travelled from Halifax with five other people to call for an end to increased military spending.

“Here at CANSEC, this is where people are coming with taxpayers’ money and shopping lists that will lead them to the reckless destruction of human lives, livelihoods, infrastructure and a livable planet,” she said.

Winkler handed out white-and-green “peace poppies” to people walking inside, though there were few takers.

Nearby, several dozen people gathered on the sidewalks and the main road leading to the event, shouting “shame” at attendees as they walked inside and accusing them of supporting genocide.

Many of the protesters carried Palestinian flags. Some carried signs and posters with graphic images of injured children in the Gaza Strip.

A number of the protesters covered their hands and bodies in red paint and splashed red paint across the road where they laid down, blocking vehicles from entering the parking lot.

Ottawa police were restricting traffic in the area and monitoring the protests.

World Beyond War Canada posted on social media that seven activists were arrested at CANSEC before the group moved to Parliament Hill to demonstrate. The group has protested at CANSEC events in past years.

Ottawa police said in a news release Wednesday night that eight people were arrested at the event, with five of them released and the other three remanded into custody to appear in court Thursday. Police did not say what led to the arrests.

The antiwar group had said a conference attendee was arrested after punching a Palestinian woman in the head, sending her to hospital.

Police said protesters at Parliament Hill were given “multiple notices and ample time to vacate the road.” They said demonstrators were told that anyone who remained would be arrested for mischief, and that one person was arrested.

World Beyond War has been calling for an arms embargo on Israel that would stop both imports and exports.

Asked for his response to the protests, Blair said Canada has a “very rigorous arms export regime.”

“There has not been a single arms export permit issued since January by Canada for any Israeli arms, and Global Affairs has been very clear that no additional export permits will be released as long as that conflict persists,” he said.

In late March, a majority of members of Parliament voted in favour of a non-binding motion, introduced by the NDP, calling for an end to arms exports to Israel.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 29, 2024.

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2023

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