After two days in Washington, D.C., fears that U.S. President Donald Trump may attempt to dismantle the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have been put to rest.
“There were a lot of things said during the Trump campaign, like the President’s perception of NATO, which Canada is a member of, that made us wonder. Now that we are down there and we’ve chatted, I am happy to report NATO is alive and well,” said Kelowna-Lake Country MP Stephen Fuhr from Washington.
Earlier this year Trump was quoted telling European newspapers that NATO was obsolete, similar to comments he had made during the campaign about his plans for NATO if he were president and the need for the U.S. to rethink its involvement with NATO.
“NATO will continue as it has, a strong alliance between Canada, the U.S. and a whole bunch of other nations,” said Fuhr
“If there was any question about that relationship changing, that is not my impression anymore.”
As Chair of the Standing Committee on National Defence, Fuhr was in Washington until Wednesday afternoon to meet with his American colleagues.
“Our relationship with the U.S. is very, very important. Economically, defence, etcetera; so it is important for Canada to maintain really strong relationships with the people in this new administration,” said Fuhr.
“We are down here checking the temperature and to see where everyone is at.”
Fuhr said the one point of contention brought up to him by the U.S. team was an issue originally brought to Trudeau by the Obama administration. It is a request from the Americans that Canadian’s ‘pull their weight’ and contribute a higher percentage of the GDP to the national defence.
The Burden Share Agreement signed by all NATO allies states each country is supposed to commit two per cent of their GDP to the military.
“There are a whole host of countries, including Canada, that are not meeting that financial commitment,” said Fuhr.
“Their expectations are, moving forward, that we will step it up.”
He could not say, however, if Canada will beef up spending in response as he said defence spending by our federal government is currently under review.
However, he also argued that the way that number is calculated can skew the numbers. For example, when the U.S. Calculates its percentage it includes federal spending on the U.S. Coast Guard and veteran pensions, while Canada calculates those separately.
“How it is calculated is an important discussion. Also, at the end of the day, while other countries may spend more of their GDP on defence spending – Canada always shows up, not all the NATO countries do,” said Fuhr.
“If you look back in time, all the conflicts over the last 70-80 years, Canada has been a big contributing factor. We always come to the table, we always bring capability and we are always trusted.
“But, to be fair, burden sharing is a topic of discussion and there is an expectation from the U.S. that the rest of the countries, not only Canada, will start to spend more.”
While there was no plan to meet President Trump during his trip, Fuhr did get a chance to sit down with Senator John McCain on Wednesday.
“The relationship is strong, we are valued. They value us, we value them and we are in a good place,” said Fuhr.
“I’m thrilled we came down here, it was a lot of good news for us.”
Fuhr said he has been pleasantly surprised by the trip and the reception they received everywhere they went.
“Canada is valued, we are considered capable, we are trusted, we are a close ally. Our relationship was described as interdependent and connected,” said Fuhr.
“The words that were used to describe the relationship with Canada and the U.S. were very friendly and encouraging. I knew we were friends, I knew we were allies, but it surprised me how warmly we are regarded.”
As for any comment on the stark difference between Canadian and American policies under the Trump government, Fuhr said Canada will continue on its path and leave them to do theirs.
“Where Canada needs or wants to take a different approach, like on immigration, we will rest on our own values,” said Fuhr. “We are not here to criticize any other country on what they do. We can set an example by doing what we do.”
The national defence committees trip to Washington is the first of many in coming weeks by Canadian government groups vying for a chance to meet with their American counterparts.
The three-day visit from March 5 to 8 had a reported budget of just over $65,000 and was set to include a briefing at the Pentagon, meetings at the Canadian Embassy and the Brookings Institute, a tour of the U.S. Naval Academy and meetings with the House and Senate armed services committees.