Ottawa (CNSNews.com) - In its first major move to improve relations with the United States, Canada's new Conservative government has announced plans to improve security along its border with the U.S., and to beef up defense spending.
The Conservatives released their first budget since taking over in January from the Liberal government of former Prime Minister Paul Martin. The Conservatives pledged to slash spending on a variety of programs but to increase allocations for the military and for homeland security, especially at land crossing points with the United States.
One of the first steps will be to start arming Canadian guards at border crossing points with the United States. Until now, an immigration or Customs official faced with a potentially dangerous suspect had to telephone the nearest detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) -- often located many miles from the border post -- for back-up.
Many of those border posts have been manned for several hours a day by a lone unarmed immigration or Customs official many miles from the nearest police post.
"Significant pressures remain to do more to improve Canada's national security and to work with the United States on facilitating the movement of people and goods while controlling risks along our shared border," said Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, as he released the budget to the House of Commons Tuesday.
He pledged the equivalent of $90 million U.S. "to begin arming officers and eliminating 'work-alone' posts" along the U.S. border.
Another $270 million (U.S. value) will be released immediately "to implement a border strategy to promote the movement of low-risk trade and travelers within North America while protecting Canadians from security threats," Flaherty said.
Included in this spending is the anticipated development of a "smart card," with biometric data for frequent travelers across the border. Canadians hope this will eliminate the need for all travelers crossing the border to possess valid passports.
But one of the biggest spending increases in the first Conservative budget is for the military. Canada has long been accused by Washington of not pulling its weight in international military operations.
So, Flaherty announced that the equivalent of $4.5 billion U.S. will be spent over the next five years on the nation's defense budget, money to be spent largely on procurement of new equipment to replace aging helicopter and strategic airlift aircraft and the purchase of new ships.
Although Flaherty did not go into the details of the new purchases, he said the government wanted "to acquire equipment needed to support a multi-role, combat-capable maritime, land and air force" and "to increase the (Canadian forces') capacity to protect Canada's Arctic sovereignty and security."
During the election campaign earlier this year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he envisioned Canada purchasing at least three frigates and two or three Coast Guard icebreakers.
"Since 1987, the Canadian Coast Guard has not purchased any new large vessels and has been operating and fulfilling its mandate with an aging civilian fleet," Flaherty said.
In addition to buying more up-to-date and combat-ready equipment, the government also plans to recruit another 13,000 people for the regular forces and 10,000 individuals to serve in the reserve forces.
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