Day of action against fighter jets
$19 billion better spent elsewhere
On Friday, July 24, around 20 Regina residents gathered at the constituency office of Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer to protest the Canadian government’s decision to spend $19 billion on 88 fighter jets, the second most expensive procurement in Canadian history. They joined protestors in 20 locations across Canada in a movement backed by Canadian Voices of Women for Peace (VOW) calling on the federal government to divert the funding towards a just COVID-19 recovery and a Green New Deal.
The Regina Peace Council, which coordinated the city’s participation in the day of action, has been challenging military spending and military interventions by the federal government since 1949. “We’ve always been in the position of being a critic of Canadian foreign policy,” said Ed Lehmann, president of the Peace Council. “We feel Canadian foreign policy has generally not been aimed at making peace in the world but aimed at war making and war propaganda.”
Lehmann said the fighter jet purchase is part of a broader problem with the Canadian military, namely that it acts not as a defender, but as an aggressor. “The government’s idea now of the major role Canada should play on the world stage is as a military power, working along with the US, rather than taking a more independent stance and trying to be more of a voice for reason and diplomacy.” He gave Canada’s support for the OAS/US-backed coups against elected leaders in Venezuela and Bolivia in 2019 as recent examples of Canada’s interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign states. “We shouldn’t be supporting the United States in its efforts to overturn the government of Venezuela,” he said. “We shouldn’t have helped in the overturn of a government of Bolivia, and we should stop supporting all these so-called regime-change wars.”
Lehmann noted that the violence of Canadian foreign policy doesn’t always come in the form of guns and bombs. “Canada right now has economic sanctions on 19 or 20 countries,” he said. “Economic sanctions are a kind of warfare. It’s saying to people, ‘we’re going to starve you until you do what we want.’ I don’t think that’s the way the western powers who say they believe in democracy should be conducting themselves on the global scene.” Economic sanctions have also hindered some countries’ ability to respond to COVID, leading to higher rates of infection and higher death tolls than if they weren’t subject to economic warfare.
In addition the high price paid by other nations for Canada’s imperialism, the $19 billion price tag is a tab Canadians themselves will have to pick up. “There’s just so many different issues that could be addressed with 19 billion,” Lehmann said. For instance, Canadian domestic undergraduates spend around $6.5 billion per year on tuition – for the price of 88 fighter jets, the Canadian government could send more than one million students to university for three years, tuition free. They could also afford to cancel the roughly $19 billion in student loan debt burdening Canadian graduates. And Oxfam estimates that universal childcare – the absence of which keeps tens of thousands of mostly women from participating fully in public life – would cost roughly $11 billion per year.
And while $19 billion is a drop in the bucket when it comes to a Green New Deal (in the US, the cost has been estimated at anywhere between $10 and $90 trillion), diverting funds from fighter jets to a just and sustainable future has the dual benefit of moving money to the areas that it’s needed most while avoiding the devastating environmental impact of jets. “Part of the reason for this particular action is the great pollution that these jets cause,” Lehmann said. “I call it the military bootprint.” Given that the National Roundtable on the Economy and the Environment (NRT) has estimated that climate change will cost Canada $21-43 billion each year by 2050, investing money that would otherwise be used on high-emission war machines into a just transition isn’t idealistic so much as it’s downright prudent.
Lehmann said that the Regina Peace Council, along with VOW, is urging Canadians to write to their MPs, their local papers, and to party leaders in Ottawa, asking them to divert the $19 billion towards activities that will contribute to a sustainable future for Canadians and the world. They have further actions planned for the fall.