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Blair announces training and equipment contracts at military fair

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OTTAWA – Defence Minister Bill Blair arrived at the country's largest defence industry trade show Wednesday to announce billions of dollars in training and equipment contracts for the armed forces, and again faced questions about Canada's commitment.

OTTAWA — Defence Minister Bill Blair arrived at the country's largest defence industry trade show Wednesday to announce billions of dollars in training and equipment contracts for the armed forces, facing renewed questions about Canada's commitment to NATO spending targets.

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

He praised the administration's updated defense policy, which calls for $73 billion in projects and procurement over 20 years, including additional spending of $8.1 billion over the next four years.

This brings the country closer to the NATO target of spending two percent of GDP on defense, but will still not reach the desired target by 2029/30, at just 1.76 percent.

Last week, a group of 23 U.S. senators signed a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressing concern and “deep disappointment” that Canada will not meet its commitments by the end of the decade.

The senators called on Trudeau to present a plan to reach the two percent target at the next NATO summit in Washington DC in July.

Speaking to journalists, Blair stressed that the government was on a “very clear path” and planned to increase defense spending by 27 percent next year compared to the current year.

“But this increase also requires that we spend the money wisely, that we provide real value for the investments Canadians are making in defence,” he said.

He pointed out that the defense policy does not include cost estimates for projects that the government has not yet started, such as plans to purchase a submarine fleet.

He expressed his confidence that with the new capacities the country would “significantly exceed” the two percent target.

“I am very confident that I can assure our NATO allies and our American partners that Canada is on a strong upward trajectory in defence spending. We will do what is required,” he said.

Blair on Wednesday announced 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 contract 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 scheduled to arrive in 2027 and, according to Blair, they will be used in both domestic and overseas disaster relief operations.

The fair attracted anti-war protesters who staged demonstrations outside the venue in the morning, some of whom wanted to block access to the fair altogether.

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

“Here at CANSEC, people come with taxpayer 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 passersby, but only a few accepted them.

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

Many of the demonstrators carried Palestinian flags. Some carried signs and posters with graphic images of injured children from the war zone.

Some protesters covered their hands and bodies with red paint and splattered red paint on the road where they lay down, preventing vehicles from entering the parking lot.

Ottawa police restricted traffic in the area and monitored the protests.

World Beyond War Canada posted on social media that seven activists were arrested at CANSEC before the group moved to Parliament Hill for a demonstration.

Police did not confirm the number of arrests or answer questions about the reasons for the arrests, but said a list of charges would be released later Wednesday.

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

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Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press