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March 14, 2011 / mike54martin

Why Can’t We Talk About Military Spending?

This is one article that I almost didn’t write. It’s been so long since Canadians have had a debate about military spending that we’ve forgotten how to do it. For the last number of years the only question up for “debate” was whether or not you “supported the troops”. This narrowing of public dialogue only served to shut people up because if you disagreed with the war in Afghanistan and Canada’s mission there you clearly did not “support the troops.” And therefore your opinion didn’t count.

Well, I do support the troops, at least the rank and file members of the Canadian Armed Forces and the civilians who help support their work. I do not support the Generals at NDHQ nor the politicians of all stripes and colours who agreed to the current military mission in that part of the world. I support the troops having the necessary tools and equipment to do their job and I even support paying them a lot more money to do a dangerous job on our behalf.

I would just like us to have a say on what that job is going to be. And I don’t mean a debate in the loony bin on Parliament Hill. I mean a real honest discussion with Canadians from coast to coast to coast on what role we want our military to play in serving us at home and around the world.

There are two issues that have prompted my thinking about this issue. First of all there is the imminent purchase of a new batch of fighter jets. The second is the release of a report on Canadian military spending produced by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Please see: http://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/National%20Office/2011/03/Canadian%20Military%20Spending%202010.pdf

I must admit that I don’t know anything about fighter jets but to purchase 65 F-35 stealth aircraft at an initial cost of over $9 billion and a long term expense of $30 billion should concern anyone. I am troubled by the expenditure of so much money but I am more concerned with exactly what they are going to be used for. Yet there is absolutely no public discussion about this at all. Are they going to be used to defend us? If yes, from whom? I thought the Cold War was over. If they are going to be used to attack someone, then whom? Or maybe that decision is already made as well.

The review by the CCPA is much too technical for me but the numbers are a bit staggering. I did not know that we will spend close to $23 billion in military expenditures this year. Nor did I know that this is as much as we spent at the peak of the Cold War. A lot of this has to do with the Afghan war which according to the CCPA accounts for about half of the total increase but even after we end our “military mission” in Afghanistan the military expenditures are budgeted to continue to rise. What is up with that? After every war in the past we received a “peace dividend”. I am not a military analyst but looks like that dividend is going to be spent on fighter jets.

The other important issue raised in the CCPA report is Canada’s recent dismal role in peacekeeping. For the country that invented peacekeeping it is a disgrace to find that in 2010 we contributed just 56 military personnel to peacekeeping operations.  That massive show of force was divided among 7 operations. It wasn’t like there wasn’t any peacekeeping happening in the world. Last year there were 15 operations that involved 84,316 UN peacekeeping troops. We just weren’t involved.

So what do I want to see changed? I want to see the fighter jets cancelled. I want to see a real “peace dividend” by a reduction in the overall military spending that reflects the military’s reduced costs when we end the military mission in Afghanistan and I want some reordering of our military spending to reflect a wider range of Canadian views than just the Generals who seem to hold every in thrall and rapt silence.

I want my Canadian military to be there for us, just like they were during the ice storm, the floods in Quebec and in Newfoundland after Hurricane Igor. I want them to help patrol our waters and support search and rescue. I want them to show our face to the world, not just through guns and artillery but in humanitarian missions and disaster relief. And most of all I want them to be restore our image in the world as peacekeepers. At one time if you travelled the world you proudly displayed the Maple Leaf and were known and respected as part of the world that believed in creating solutions and not adding to the problem. Today, in many parts of the world, Canada and Canadians are not seen that way anymore. I want that legacy back so that I can pass it on to future generations.

Military spending is one way in which we define ourselves as a country. I just want everyone to have a say in how those choices are made. I would love to hear your views, either publicly or in private. Let’s open up the discussion!!

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