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Canada’s fighter jet purchase is a waste of public money—and a disaster for the climate

In this political moment, resources should be devoted to pandemic recovery and the climate crisis, not expensive jets

Canadian PoliticsWar Zones

CF-188 Hornet. Photo by Corporal Pierre Habib/Department of National Defence.

How about a little friendly pressure?

Hopefully that’s all it would take for left wing New Democrat MPs to join Neil Young, Stephen Lewis, Tegan and Sara, David Suzuki and many other notable Canadian and international figures in calling for government resources to “be used to eliminate boil water advisories on reserves, build light rail lines across the country and construct thousands of units of social housing.”

This is according to a public letter released last week by the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute and the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, which condemns the Liberal government’s decision to “spend tens of billions of dollars on unnecessary, dangerous, climate destroying fighter jets… As wildfires blaze in western Canada amidst record breaking heat waves.”

So far, however, it seems the federal NDP wants to prioritize securing the “best equipment” for the military, despite a sticker price of $19 billion—$77 billion over the planes’ full lifecycle—to strengthen the Canadian Air Force’s ability to participate in future US and NATO-led wars.

The letter was signed by Canadian musicians Neil Young, Tegan and Sara and Sarah Harmer as well as environmentalist David Suzuki and renowned author Naomi Klein.

The ‘No New Fighter Jets for Canada’ statement is also endorsed by authors Michael Ondaatje, Yann Martel and Gabor Maté as well as four former NDP MPs, city councillors, one senator, and former leader of the Ontario NDP, Stephen Lewis. Prominent internationalists including Roger Waters, Daryl Hannah and Noam Chomsky have also added their signatures to the letter addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

And while the Green Party’s two MPs, Elizabeth May and Paul Manly, have signed the statement, no NDP MP was an initiating signatory. Finally, after former NDP foreign affairs critic Svend Robinson expressed his disappointment on Twitter, Winnipeg Centre MP Leah Gazan signed on.

One would doubt that some of the NDP’s most left-leaning Members of Parliament including Matthew Green, Niki Ashton and Alexandre Boulerice want public resources funnelled into fighter jets at the expense of, as the letter puts it, “a just recovery, green infrastructure and investing in Indigenous communities.” But NDP defence critic Randall Garrison is a staunch supporter of the Canadian military, so they tread carefully on the issue.

Soon after the letter was released and MPs began receiving hundreds of emails about it, Garrison replied. In a long message he wrote, “on fighter jets, New Democrats have called on the government to support the purchasing of fighters that can operate safely and effectively in the Arctic while also being interoperable with our allies in NATO and NORAD.” In response, Robinson quoted part of Garrison’s statement and tweeted “shame on the NDP.”

While Garrison is a relative outlier within the party, NDP militarism runs deeper than most Canadians think. The 2015 NDP platform said the party would “meet our military commitments by maintaining Department of National Defence budget allocations,” which amounts to ten times the funds earmarked for Environment and Climate Change Canada.

In 2011, the NDP supported two House of Commons votes initiated by Stephen Harper’s minority government endorsing the bombing of Libya (Green Party leader Elizabeth May was the only MP to vote against the war in which Canada played a significant auxiliary role). The NDP has never formally apologized for supporting the Canadian-led bombing campaign that was strenuously opposed by the African Union, which warned the conflict would spill southward, extending the flow of illicit weapons across the Maghreb region.

Eight days before Canadian fighter jets began dropping bombs on Libya in 2011, military intelligence officers told Ottawa decision-makers that the country would likely descend into civil war if foreign countries assisted rebels opposed to Muammar Gadhafi. An internal assessment obtained by the Ottawa Citizen noted, “there is the increasing possibility that the situation in Libya will transform into a long-term tribal/civil war… This is particularly probable if opposition forces received military assistance from foreign militaries.” Ten years later, Libya has yet to fully extricate itself from the civil war, and the nation is a failed state.

The ‘No New Fighter Jets for Canada’ statement notes that “Canada’s current fleet of fighter jets has bombed Libya, Iraq, Serbia and Syria.” The NDP opposed the First Iraq War and the 2014–16 bombing of Iraq and Syria. But it supported the illegal 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and the NATO campaign in Libya—so it’s not entirely surprising that elements within the party are throwing their support behind the Trudeau government’s decision to purchase expensive new fighter jets.

But parts of Garrison’s reaction don’t add up.

The fighter jet purchase offers the NDP an opportunity to differentiate itself from the Liberals who are angling to buy the F-35 (they’ve paid hundreds of millions of dollars to remain part of the consortium) by reminding voters of Trudeau’s explicit promise not to do so.

Oddly, Garrison didn’t repeat his opposition to purchasing the F-35 in his long response to the public letter by questioning the decision to spend huge sums of public money on fighter jets when drone technology is advancing rapidly.

More substantively, the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing destruction wrought by climate change is rapidly undermining militarist conceptions of “security,” as noted in a long commentary by novelist and essayist Kevin Patterson, which appeared in Saturday’s Globe and Mail. According to Patterson, “increasingly, the foes we have to fight aren’t foreign armies, but pandemics, climate change and other disasters that destabilize the world around us. Our armed forces should adapt accordingly.”

In this political moment, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for progressives to argue that resources should be devoted to fighter jets rather than pandemic recovery and mitigating the climate crisis.

Perhaps a few hundred more phones calls, emails and tweets could move the NDP to just say no to spending tens of billions of dollars on unnecessary, dangerous, climate destroying fighter jets.

Take action today and email your MP to say ‘No’ to Canada’s planned $77 billion fighter jet purchase.

Yves Engler has been dubbed “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left today” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I.F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), and “part of that rare but growing group of social critics unafraid to confront Canada’s self-satisfied myths” (Quill & Quire). He has published nine books.

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