By Kimball Cariou
Rejecting the view of Canadians that the military budget should be reduced to tackle urgent domestic needs, the Stephen Harper’s Conservative government now plans to spend $9 billion on 65 new fighter jets, plus another $7 billion on “ancillary costs” such as future parts and maintenance. The total price tag has more than quadrupled since 2008, when the government first announced that it would purchase 80 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters from U.S. munitions giant Lockheed Martin for a total of $3.8 billion.
This deal gives new meaning to the term “sticker shock”. Just two years ago, the jets were priced at $47.4 million each. Now the price has jumped to $245 million at a time when the Harper Conservatives are slashing social program spending.
And the waste doesn’t end there. The original plan by the Conservatives was to replace the Canadian Forces’ current fleet of CF-18 fighter jets. Since then, $2.6 billion has been spent to upgrade the CF-18s.
A Commons committee will investigate the purchase of the new fighters, including the price tag and whether Canada actually needs these weapons. But the hearings into the largest military procurement in Canadian history won’t take place for months, and the Harper government plans to move quickly.
Eyebrows have already been raised over the news that there will be no other bids for the contract. In another apparent controversy, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is a single?engine aircraft, which may be a problem for a jet which will be used to patrol the Canadian Arctic. The CF-18s have two engines, which many pilots consider an important safety feature.
A survey conducted in early March by Leger Marketing asked “With Canada’s military role ending in Afghanistan next year, what should the focus be on the government’s military spending?”
Almost 60 percent agreed with this answer: “Canada should take a peace dividend and cut back on military spending to focus on other more pressing social issues at home.” Almost three-quarters of Quebec respondents backed this peace dividend option, compared to 44 percent of Albertans and 55 percent of those in Ontario.
Across the country, 28 percent of people wanted to “sustain or increase spending on the military because security in a post-9/11 world is of the highest priority”. Another 15 percent of respondents did not give an opinion.
“The government has not done what most of Canada wants them to do, which is transfer that [military] funding to programs within our own borders,” Leger vice president Dave Scholz said at the time.
According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, “the Canada First Defence Strategy, unveiled by the Harper government in 2008, promises that Canada’s military spending will continue to grow by an average of 0.6% in real terms (adjusted for inflation) and an average of 2.7% in nominal terms (not adjusted for inflation) per year from FY 2007–08 to 2027–28”.
A December 2009 CCPA report states:
This plan would see Canadian military spending increase to about $21.3 billion in 2009 dollars, or about $31.3 billion in 2027 dollars, by FY 2027–28. While this level is only slightly higher than the present level of spending, the incremental costs of operations such as the Afghanistan war, currently more than $1.5 billion per year, would be added on top of this baseline budget, meaning that final spending could be significantly higher.
Total spending over the 20-year life of this plan would likely be in the $415–440 billion range (2009 dollars), or about $13,000 per Canadian, surely enough to cause many Canadians to rethink the notion that their military spending is negligible. The total that would be spent over this period, if Canadian military spending instead remained at its post–Cold War minimum level, is $271 billion (2009 dollars), a difference of $145–170 billion, of which $130–155 billion remains yet to be spent.
The stunning increase in the F-35 deal alone will boost these figures even higher.
Imagine what could be done with such an amount over 20 years! To give just a few examples, the public transportation systems of Canadian cities could be provided with thousands of fuel-efficient new buses for just $5 billion. The cancelled national child-care program could receive $5 billion annually, totalling $100 billion. This would leave at least another $50 billion to build about 250,000 new low-income, social, and co-operative housing units. These initiatives would create jobs, lower greenhouse-gas emissions, and reduce provincial government spending on health and policing linked to the costs of massive street homelessness.
But Canada is governed today by a party which opposes these urgent priorities. The Harper Conservatives deny the environmental crisis, reject the concept of public childcare, and refuse to fund social housing.
In effect, Canada is ruled by a minority regime which places top priority on war-making at the expense of the people. Canadians should send the message to all parties in Parliament that the shocking fighter-jet purchase plan is a scandal and must be scrapped immediately.
Kimball Cariou is the recording secretary for StopWar.ca, Vancouver’s antiwar coalition.