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Inside Canada’s defence lobby

Canadian Politics

Photo by Fernando Serna/Flickr

The increasing influence of defence lobbyists over Canadian politics has lead to the appropriation of billions for programs with no conceivable peacekeeping purpose while establishing a dangerous precedent for their implementation.

Major defence contractors, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon and others have forged very strong ties to the Harper government. Through a web of lobbyists, former officials, generals and government insiders, critics say it is the interests of defence contractors, not the public that drives the purchase of military equipment.

As a result, billions are spent on high tech military equipment that is great business for the contractors, but out of step with Canada’s defence needs. Of course, once this equipment has been purchased, there are no refunds. Because of this, Canada’s foreign policy has been reshaped by the Harper government to suit equipment capabilities, determined, largely by defence lobbyists.

Steven Staples, director of Public Response says “the lobby has been very successful- Lockheed Martin in particular- in pushing the use, uncompetitive procurement, special deals and massive wishlists of whatever pet-project the generals had in order to get money flowing… Between the interests of the defence lobby and it’s ability to sell the arm industry in terms of industrial development to regional lobbying… All of these factors have kept defence spending about what it should be [and] we are still purchasing equipment that we don’t need.”

Last year, the CBC reported that Canada spent $ 20.1 Billion on defence with a commitment for an additional $11.8 billion over the next decade, should the Tories get re elected. Though $20 billion is roughly average for the Harper government, it is quite high as compared to $13 billion in the final year of the Martin government.

Ceasefire, a project of the Rideau Institute says the ballooning defence spending began in 2008 with the Canada First Defence Strategy. It says this “introduced a massive shopping list of military equipment including entire fleets of warships, fighter jets, helicopters, tanks, and even drones.[Costing] half trillion dollars over the next twenty years [this lead to an] unprecedented arms buildup [which] has increased the influence of the defence industry in Canada dramatically. Lobbying, publicity, conferences, and advertising are all used to secure contracts and push programs forward.”

One of the most controversial purchases in the Defence Strategy was Lockheed’s F-35 fighter jet as a replacement for the CF-18s. Critics said the plane was too pricey, ineffective and not suited to Canada’s foreign policy goals. The CBC reports that “it’s the most expensive weapon ever built in human history. [with] an estimated cost of a trillion dollars [that is, according to a leaked report,] terrible at air-to-air combat.” This was made worse by an Auditor General’s report which said that the “Department of National Defence didn’t exercise due diligence in choosing the F-35 fighter jet to replace the CF-18.” Despite this record, the Harper government, particularly the defence minister, Peter Mackay stood by the purchase, which Ceasefire says was him doing favours for the arms lobby. But, despite Mackay’s best efforts,the blowback was so severe that Harper put the F-35 on hold until after October’s election.

Staples says “The defence lobby has a massive footprint in Canada and it is all around us. You can’t walk around in Ottawa these without tripping over some arms dealer on spark street.”

Ken Epps, policy advisor for Project Ploughshare says “the corporations involved wouldn’t be spending this kind of money if it wasn’t affecting the decisions.This influence peddling has been a part of Ottawa for a long time and it’s clear that attempts to curb this influence peddling and conflicts of interest are limited and it certainly hasn’t stopped this kind of activity continuing.”

Ceasefire says the top defence companies include Lockheed Martin, Boeing, BAE systems, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, EADS L-3 and others. These companies determine spending by hiring their own lobbyists, either in-house or from firms, and by working with larger associations which represent multiple companies on overlapping issues.

Lockheed Martin, for example, has about 30 registered lobbyists according to the Lobbyist Registry. It lobbies the Department of National Defence, Foreign Affairs,the Treasury Board,the Prime Ministers Office,the House of Commons and others. Their meetings mostly concern defence and government procurement, with the company hoping to receive government contracts. Many have either met or have arranged to meet government officials. Since Harper took office, Lockheed has registered about 240 lobbyists, with 36 communication reports.

In-house defence lobbying received some attention last year when Raytheon lobbied a senator shortly before the senate released a report, arguing that Canada should, in effect, give more money to companies like Raytheon. The report urged Canada to join the US’ warhead interception missile defence network, which Raytheon would likely benefit from. The Globe says this “raises questions about the credibility of this recommendation.”

Michael Brys, professor at the University of British Columbia told the Globe that “Raytheon’s lobbying undermines the Senate report because the company is a potential beneficiary should Canada join the U.S. anti-ballistic missile program.”

Ceasefire says companies also hire from “firms [which] help their corporate clients to win military and other government contracts. While companies often have their own in-house lobbyists, these firms provide additional consultant lobbying services.” These include CFN consultants, the Capital Hill group, Hill+Knowlton and Summa Strategies.

Hill+Knowlton is notable for hiring Gordon O’connor, Harper’s first minister of National Defence as a lobbyist. The lobbyist registry says he represented BAE systems, Raytheon and General Dynamics. The Toronto Star reports that “Records show that O’Connor lobbied Industry Canada, Department of National Defence and Public Works and Government Services in the late 1990s [this] renewed the concerns of critics who say that O’Connor, because of his past work, should never have been appointed defence minister.” O’Connor became a lobbyist for the defence industry after he retired as a brigadier-general, which was certainly beneficial in his lobbying activity while also in keeping with the pro-war Tory image .O’Connor was replaced by Peter Mackay in 2007 who stayed minister until 2013.

A wooden mock-up of the F-35 in Canadian Forces markings, 2010. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Epps says “representatives of the industry have had offices in Ottawa for a long time. The bigger companies will employ Department of National Defense officials or even senior military staff who are retired as representatives of the company. There are many cases of government officials who, very early after retiring: become lobbyists or advocates of certain types of equipment or representatives particular companies.They come from government and know the ins and outs of how government decisions are made, who in government to contact and what arguments might be useful to advocate for certain types of equipment.”

Ceasefire also earmarks CFN consultants as an especially successful firm. Ceasefire says “CFN Consultants has been at the centre of many multi-billion-dollar arms deals, including the controversial F-35 stealth fighter built by Lockheed Martin, one of its clients. More than any other firm of its kind, CFN Consultants symbolizes the trend of senior military officers ‘retiring’ and then lobbying for the arms industry.”

CFN consultants received some attention during the 2011 federal election, when Raymond Sturgeon, who was running as a conservative MP was revealed to be a former lobbyist for CFN. The Globe and Mail reports that “As senior partner at CFN Consultants, an Ottawa firm specializing in defence issues, Raymond Sturgeon lobbied the government on behalf of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, the U.S. manufacturer of the F-35 Lightning II, the jet whose multi-billion sole-sourced price tag has been heavily criticized [as well as] BAE Systems, Israel Aerospace Industries and General Dynamics” One month before running as a federal Tory candidate Sturgeon stopped lobbying for Lockheed.

Another firm mentioned by Ceasefire is Summa Strategies, which represents Boeing as a crucial firm for the defence lobby. Summa is particularly notable for their vice president, Tim Powers whom The Politic says is “a trusted advisor and confidante for the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), and is the Conservative Party‘s top draft pick for television punditry.” Ceasefire says Boeing hired Summa to gain support for Long-range transport aircraft, Harpoon missiles, transport helicopters and military satellite systems.

Staples says “It’s common for lobby firms to have senior staff members with trusted relationships with the government or the departments they are lobbying. In the case of defence contractors, they will want a firm who can provide insider information about and exert influence over the government, opposition parties or departments responsible for military procurement including National Defence, Industry, and Public Works. These firms will frequently employ former government members or staff, such a cabinet ministers or people who have worked in the Prime Minister’s Office. Retired military officers are also valuable, such as in the case of CFN Consultants which is almost entirely comprised of former senior military brass.”

In addition to in-house and firm lobbyists: companies utilize the influence of much larger lobbying associations. These represent multiple corporate clients where interests overlap. These associations include the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries, Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters Canadian, the Council of Chief Executives, Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Conference of Defence Association.

Ceasefire says defence companies use “these associations [which] are funded by defence companies, the military, or both, [to] advocate for greater military spending, research and development subsidies, and business-friendly programs and regulations.”

A notable association that companies use is the Council of Chief Executives. The Council of Canadians says it “has a bully pulpit with which to create an acquiescent Canadian electorate on issues of importance to big business… to conflate corporate interests (tax cuts, smaller government, monetarist fiscal policy) with the public interest… [Allowing it to] work on government policy without the inconvenience of having to get elected.” The CCCE is also notable for its president, John Manley, who served as the deputy Prime Minister from 2002 to 2003 under Chretien,as well as minister of Foreign Affairs, Finance and industry. After 9/11, he was made chair of the cabinet committee on public security and anti-terrorism, working closely with the US.

Another lobby mentioned is the Chamber of Commerce. The top of their website says the chamber of commerce is “the voice of Canadian business,” with “the power to shape policy.”The Chamber says it is “the largest business association in Canada, and the country’s most influential [acting as a] primary and vital connection between business and the federal government.”

The Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries operates similarly to the CCCE and the chamber of commerce. CADSI identifies itself as the “voice of more than 1,000 member companies operating in the defence and securities industrial sector.” The group’s president, Christyn Cianfarani served as a director for CAE and in 2014 was appointed by Harper to the board of directors of the Defence Analysis Institute.

One could imagine these associations give the arms lobby a kind of business credibility, allowing them to push programs forward as ‘job creators.’

Staples says “we predicted that- back when Canada was signing onto all of these trade deals that introduced exceptions for the arms industry, we said ‘the government’s hands are going to be tied in terms of industrial support and job creation policies by these deals that the arms industry is going to be the only thing left,’ and I think that’s sadly been proven correct. The arms industry is particularly successful that arguing ‘oh we need all of these investments in defence for jobs.”

With these three categories of lobbyists: in-house, firm and associations, defence companies convert industry-friendly politicians to their cause. These politicians then advocate for the contractors to their colleagues.

Staples says “it is completely integrated. The government and the arms industry. For instance- for years the role of the minister of defence has been to promote the view of the democratically elected government onto the military. That’s shifted. Now the minister of defence, particularly after Peter Mackay- where the defence minister, becomes a shill for the industry inside cabinet. It’s caused some controversy for Harper in some respects with this F-35 deal that Ma​ckay strongly championed internally. But, you can see that there’s very little control over the arms industry now that they’ve really integrated themselves in the government.”

The Ottawa Citizen reports that “MacKay’s name became forever linked to the F-35 jet controversy when he became the driving force at the Cabinet table behind the purchase of the stealth fighter. Even as U.S. military officials and lawmakers warned the cost of the problem-plagued jet was spiralling, MacKay was adamant the project was proceeding smoothly.”

Epps gave spoke against the F-35 purchase in front of the house of commons. As one of the few dissenting parties, he saw first-hand how effective the arms lobby has been in influencing public officials. noting that the views of government and industry were almost identical.

Epps says during the “hearings on the F-35 to the defence committee, the morning sessions were devoted entirely to government and cabinet officials, followed by industry leaders, followed by senior officials in the military all sounding the praises of the F-35 saying they were the most remarkable thing for military procurement in a generation.It wasn’t until long after the media had gone that some of the critics, including Project Ploughshare got to speak. The interesting part of the morning sessions was that we had a clear lineup of government and industry all of the same mind in terms of promoting the F-35 as a great thing for National Defense.They all sounded like they’d been written by the industry and were doing their best to justify their position.”

Epps says “Lockheed Martin did a very good job of convincing National Defense officials that the F-35 is the right aircraft to purchase and National defense used those arguments to convince the cabinet.”

By utilizing the influence of government insiders and industry-friendly policy makers, the lobby can push programs forward and arrange contracts for multi-billion dollar purchases. Once industry has convinced government to buy their equipment, defence policy is often changed to reflect those purchases. This establishes a precedent which further engrains the power of the defence industry over Canadian politics.

Staples says “what you see in terms of deployment of the armed forces is driven by procurement. One of the criticisms of the purchase of the F-35, for example was that we so rarely deployed the F18s. Then what happens? Well, then comes Libya and then we’re at the front of the line in the anti-ISIS bombing campaign and it carries on.”

The National Post reports that in 2011 “The Royal Canadian Air Force played a key role in the NATO bombing campaign against Gaddafi’s forces. Those airstrikes destroyed large parts of Libya’s military and are credited with allowing the group of rag-tag militias and assorted armed groups to eventually seize control of the country,” which have since been key allies of ISIS in Iraq.

The Libyan intervention and the defence lobby are also linked by a key actor in the mission, as former lieutenant-general, Charles Bouchard who oversaw the bombing campaign took a high level job at Lockheed Martin in 2013. After hiring Bouchard, Lockheed delivered a statement, touting the F-35 and their plans to work with Bouchard to secure the purchase, saying “We look forward to delivering a fifth-generation fighter, expanding our business in cyberspace and security, and continuing our role as combat systems provider.”

Staples wrote in an op-ed on rabble that “Conflicts have been used to justify military projects in the past. The Libya conflict was used by the government to justify their disastrous deal for the underperforming F-35 stealth fighter. The air force tried to use the Libya conflict to fast-track their plan to buy attack drones… Would another conflict like Mali, or the next crisis, provide the political momentum to the defence lobby to advance the military’s floundering weapons projects, and avoid the budget cuts that other departments are experiencing?”

The influence of the arms lobby over our political system seems unlikely to change. During Kenney’s appearance on Power and Politics he celebrate the Harper government’s ballooning defence budget, noting that it was higher than most NATO states, saying “The secretary general of NATO told me Canada has been punching above its weight.” Despite this, Kenney still says “We don’t have all the equipment we would like immediately. It does take time to do multi-billion dollar acquisitions.

Mitchell Thompson is a freelance writer and second year journalism student at Ryerson University as well as a contributor at Disinformation.


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