Former prime minister Brian Mulroney says the Trudeau government should choose the very best fighter jet to confront the growing threat from Russia as he urged Canada to play a more forceful role within NATO and the United Nations.
In a prepared text for a major foreign policy speech to the NATO Association of Canada on Monday night, Mr. Mulroney warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin is attempting to create a new Eurasian union dependent on Moscow.
"The primary challenge now is to thwart further expansion by Russia and to ensure that those NATO members that border Russia, especially Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, remain secure and firmly under NATO's wing," he said.
NATO is scrambling to contain the threat by stationing four battalions of troops in the Baltic countries, but more needs to be done, Mr. Mulroney said.
"Canada is being invited to contribute troops in some way and, in my view, we should respond positively," he said. "We need to be equipped and ready, as necessary, to preserve our values."
Mr. Mulroney said Canada should double defence spending to 2 per cent of GDP.
"The simple reality is that if Canada expects NATO to do more on global security, we must decide to do more for NATO. That should be a top defence priority. What we cannot do is talk about Canada 'being back' in the world without making tangible commitments that will anchor our aspirations," he said.
Mr. Mulroney was sharply critical of the Liberal government's waffling on an open competition for a new fighter jet. During the election campaign, Justin Trudeau promised to reject the former Conservative government's favoured aircraft, the F-35 stealth jet, which 11 western allies have now bought.
The government is considering Super Hornets as an interim replacement for the aging CF-18s.
"We need new fighter aircraft, but most of all, we need a decision on what we will buy to serve our strategic needs, not an interim purchase driven by political considerations that risk repeating the helicopter fiasco," Mr. Mulroney said.
The former prime minister noted the problems that happened in the 1990s, when the Chrétien Liberals succeeded the Mulroney Conservatives and cancelled their $4.4-billion purchase of EH-101 helicopters. Mr. Chrétien's decision cost taxpayers half a billion dollars in penalties. The government ended up buying the same helicopters, but the costs had then risen to $7.6-billion.
U.S. defence giant Lockheed Martin has already said Canada could lose $825-million in aerospace contracts that were signed with Canadian companies to build equipment for the F-35 jets if the Liberal government buys the Super Hornets.
Mr. Mulroney said Canada should follow the Australian model and set up an independent, arms-length agency to handle major defence procurement through an open bidding process.
He also urged Mr. Trudeau to join the U.S. anti-ballisic missile defence system to protect Canada from countries such as North Korea that are heavily investing in long-range nuclear missile capability.
"We cannot subcontract our responsibility to national security to our southern neighbour, no matter how secure we may believe ourselves to be relying exclusively on American continental security," he said.
Mr. Mulroney supported Mr. Trudeau's plans to be more engaged in UN peacekeeping and to play a more prominent role in the world body.
The UN is in urgent need of an overhaul in its personnel policies, and requires much tighter accountability, Mr. Mulroney said.
"Since Canada remains the 7th-largest contributor of funds to the UN and its agencies, we should move beyond fuzzy sentiments and position ourselves in the vanguard of those seeking genuine reform at the UN," he said.