It is increasingly clear that a dramatic reduction in military spending has become an economic necessity. Yet, the Harper government is doing the opposite, while trying to conceal it. And so, as President Obama makes his first visit to Canada, Prime Minister Harper is busy forging ahead with a stealth 'war stimulus' that will actually stoke the fire of the economic crisis.
In an article titled 'Assist US economy by cutting defence budget,' one of the world's leading military affairs publications, Jane's Defence Weekly, recently highlighted that "A sure-fire way to advance deeper into recession is now being spread around: spend even more on the Department of Defense". The article says increasing military spending "will not generate new jobs" and "would be a money surge for Lockheed Martin, but not a jobs engine".
Winslow T. Wheeler of the Center for Defense Information in Washington, argues in the article that "if employment is the aim, it makes more sense to cut defence spending and use the money in programmes that do it better." In fact, Wheeler writes, "the same amount of money spent elsewhere would generate more jobs, often better ones, and it would do it faster. For example... USD1 billion in spending for mass transit would generate 19,795 jobs (131 per cent more than for the DoD) and in education would generate 17,687 jobs (107 per cent more) - and the hiring could start in early 2009."
Just last year, Harper launched the Canada First Defence Strategy, which dedicated nearly half a trillion dollars to the military. The 20-year, $490 billion plan aims to increase annual military spending from $18 billion in 2008, to over $30 billion annually by 2028. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has pegged the Canadian cost of the war in Afghanistan to reach over $18 billion by 2011. Yet a search through the 2009 federal budget's 360 pages literally reveals not even one mention of the word military. What happened?
For a government elected on a platform of "accountability" it is very difficult to account for how much is actually being spent on the military and Canada's war in Afghanistan. Page 226 of the budget does say that "Direct program expenses include operating expenses for National Defence" and that direct program expenses will rise from $99.61 billion in 2008-09 to $121.79 billion in 2013-14, on page 225. But, the Harper minority government needs to clearly itemize how much of these direct program expenses are actually military spending. At the moment, the answer is far from clear. And in the midst of the economic crisis, this kind of sleight-of-hand accounting is the last thing we need.
Where has all the war money gone?
The Conference of Defence Associations, one of the military industry's leading lobby groups in Canada, suggested last week that the misplaced military spending would appear in this month's "Supplementals", which are expenditure estimates not included directly in the budget. However, this week's Hill Times notes that supplementary budget estimates B and C only contained a combined $6.38 billion. Even if this were all military spending, it would come nowhere near what was projected in Harper's Canada First Defence Strategy.
The Hill Times did note earlier this month that the Privy Council Office "is asking for $4.7-million to establish the Afghanistan Task Force" as part of the supplementary estimates. In a federal government news release on supplementary estimate B, "$331.1 million for Canada's military mission in Afghanistan" is announced for 2009. This is still a far cry from the $19.1 billion Harper committed to in the Canada First Defence Strategy, which, according to the CBC, has made Canada "the 15th-highest military spender in the world", yet there is no clear sign of this money in the budget or its supplementary estimates.
So where has all the military spending gone? According to the Ottawa Citizen, a Defence Department audit warns, "The Land Command Support System contract was awarded to General Dynamics Canada in 2002 and originally cost taxpayers $105 million. But that cost soon increased to $291 million as the contract, to provide support and repair for the army's radio systems, was extended and expanded... it appears there were problems with payments and contractors being paid for work not performed." The reason for the near tripling of the contract cost cited in the article is that Harper's government was "not enforcing the terms of the contract." Just how systemic are these kinds of cost overruns? It appears that the Canada First Defence Strategy is intended to have no public oversight and no transparency.
Yes We Can solve the economic crisis peacefully
People around the world have soundly rejected the policies of George Bush. Yet as Obama arrives in Canada, he will be met by a Prime Minister who is carrying on the policies of the Bush administration.
Prime Minister Harper is risking further economic peril with his undemocratic stealth war stimulus. Indeed, under Harper's watch military contractors are receiving huge sums of money "for work not performed." Sound familiar? The Liberals were voted out of office just a few years ago for paying advertising agencies for work they never performed.
It's time to hold the Harper government to the same standard, given its fiscally reckless and secretive military spending. It is time to set a new course away from war and toward peace.
Yes we can redirect military spending away from corporate greed and toward the needs of nature and society. Yes we can climb out of this crisis by demilitarizing the economy and bringing the troops home. Yes we can, and yes we must, end the war in Afghanistan.
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