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Canada’s Military Lobby

Canadian Politics

In this country today a battle is being waged over Canada’s role in the world. On the one side is a powerful alliance between those who want Canadians to give up their sovereignty and integrate with the United States and those who reject a role as a peace-broker and embrace the Bush doctrine of military and economic totalitarianism. On the other side are the majority of Canadians, who steadfastly refuse to give up the idea that Canada should be an independent force for good in an increasingly unipolar and violent world.

The most powerful lobby in Canada is composed of corporations engaged primarily in finance, energy, manufacturing and natural resources, with military industries making up only a small part. Canada’s corporate lobby is not driven by a demand for more military contracts – though it will not object to them – but by greater integration with the U.S. market as a whole.

Organizations like the Business Council on National Issues (BCNI) have in the past promoted deregulation, privatization and especially free trade. Its greatest achievement was the 1988 Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, which was later expanded to NAFTA in 1994. More recently, the BCNI – renamed the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE) – was alarmed by the closing of the Canada-U.S. border after 9/11. As the U.S.’s ambassador to Canada at the time explained to an audience of CEOs in Toronto, “Security will trump trade.” In response, the CCCE launched a campaign to support the Bush Administration’s security and military agenda – be it the invasion of Iraq or assistance with “Star Wars” – under the dual assumptions that U.S. security measures won’t impact Canadian trade because we will be inside their “security perimeter”; and that the ensuing goodwill with the President would help end U.S. protectionist measures like softwood-lumber tariffs (despite the fact these are determined by the U.S. Congress).

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As CCCE president Tom d’Aquino exhorted a 2003 meeting of mandarins in Ottawa, “Now we must integrate our plans for achieving economic advantage within North America with a strategy for assuring the security both of our own borders and of the continent as a whole.”

The Military Lobby

Much smaller but no less successful than the corpora-te lobby, the military lobby comprises corporations seeking contracts and hawkish policy groups, or “think tanks.” Organizations like the Conference of Defence Associations and various academics funded by the Department of National Defence (DND) produce a steady stream of hawkish reports and analysis for the media and politicians.

On the industry side, the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries reports that in 2000 (the latest figures available) there were more than 1,500 firms with significant defence interests (i.e. more than $100,000 in defence revenues) comprising an industry worth roughly $7 billion per year.

A third of the industry’s revenues are derived from arms exports, half of that to the United States. As a result, both the Washington-based Congressional Research Service and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute ranked Canada as the sixth-largest global arms exporter in 2004.

These companies build everything from wheeled tanks to tactical helicopters. But most Canadian defense companies are branch plants or subcontractors, building components for U.S. systems, like gearboxes for the Apache helicopter.

According to Project Ploughshares, the industry is dominated by a handful of companies who typically win the lion’s share of Canadian military contracts: CAE Inc., General Dynamics Canada and General Dynamics Land Systems Canada, SNC-Lavalin Group, Bell Helicopter Textron and Bombardier. Half of the top-ten companies are foreign-owned or -controlled, and only six of the ten actually rely on military contracts for more than 20 per cent of their revenue.

Finally, one cannot exclude the DND itself from the military lobby. It spends millions of dollars each year on public relations, including public-opinion polling, cultivating favourable coverage from journalists and funding conservative think tanks and university research institutes.

Military Lobby Successes…

Studies on the difference between Canadian and American values frequently conclude that Canada has a much less militaristic political culture than its American neighbour. Canadians consistently put health care, the environment and the economy at the top of priority lists and defense at the bottom. Even more, Canadians are much more likely to support the United Nations, international law and diplomacy over military solutions to international conflicts.

Public opinion, and its impact on Canada’s political system, is therefore the main obstacle to the military-corporate complex in Canada. Chief amongst the lobby’s goals is to convince Canadians to give up the notion of peacekeeping and accept the U.S.-led “war on terrorism” as a Canadian priority, whether through a stronger defense of the homeland (immigration) or military interventions abroad (Afghanistan).

The military lobby has achieved many victories:

  • Dollar for dollar, the military’s $15-billion spending is the seventh-highest among the 26-member NATO alliance, and 15th-highest in the world.

  • The 2005 federal budget added $12.8 billion over five years to the military, and the Conservatries will top that by $5.3 billion, putting spending much higher than at any time during the Cold War.

  • In the last federal election, all the national political parties supported these massive increases to military spending, including the NDP.

  • The media’s support for joining the U.S. “missile-defense” program was near total, despite widespread public skepticism and opposition.

  • Once a top-ten contributor of soldiers to UN peacekeeping activities, today we can fit all our Blue Helmets onto a single school bus – less than sixty, out of more than 60,000 UN peacekeepers worldwide, are Canadians.

  • Our 2,300-troops-strong effort in Afghanistan, a counterterrorism mission currently under U.S. command, is a proving ground for the adoption of U.S. war-fighting doctrine and a symbolic end to Canadian/UN peacekeeping.

…And Military Lobby Failures

The military-corporate complex does not win every time, as proven when tens of thousands of Canadians who opposed the invasion of Iraq neutralized the lobbying effort to join the “Coalition of the Willing.” And again, taking advantage of the minority government and public distrust of the Bush Administration, peace groups prevented the Martin government from joining the U.S. “missile-defence” shield.

Sufficiently aroused or organized, Canadian public opinion can prevent the government from adopting the military-corporate complex’s agenda. Its lobby can always be rebuffed when Canadians become informed and act upon their values.

This article appeared in the November/December 2006 issue of Canadian Dimension (Canada: A New Imperial Power?).

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