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Will the new finance minister redirect $19 billion from fighter jets to a gender-aware budget?

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Chrystia Freeland in 2017. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The newly installed Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland has previously claimed that Canada has "pursued a feminist foreign policy," also highlighting that "women's rights are human rights."

And yet the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) has commented: "Excessive military expenditures pose an undeniable threat to the protection of human rights, especially women's human rights."

WILPF explains that's because "it is an investment, not only in the tools of war, but also in the creation of a negative masculine cultural identity inherently linked to the use of violence as a means of conflict resolution."

As such, WILPF has called on states to reduce "military expenditures in favour of strategic investment in gender-aware budgets that promote gender equality through education, health procurement, political participation and representation."

Freeland was a member of the federal cabinet when the decisions were made to increase spending on the military from $18.9 billion in 2016-2017 to $32.7 billion in 2026-27, with total spending over a 20-year period of $553 billion on a cash basis.

That's the so-called strong, secure, engaged (SSE) policy.

But these are markedly different times now. On July 8, the now-former finance minister Bill Morneau announced that he expected a $343.2 billion deficit and $1.2 trillion debt for the 2020-2021 fiscal year due to the spending related to the pandemic.

So far, we haven't seen a shift in priorities. Despite the deficit magnified by the pandemic, defence department deputy minister Jody Thomas has said she has received no indications (as of June) that the federal government is planning to cut spending on the military.

Just two months ago, she said: "In a post-COVID world, there is, I would say as the deputy minister of defence, a need for SSE to in fact be done more quickly rather than slow it down or cut the budget."

So, the challenge of defunding the military remains.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated as his rationale for proroguing Parliament: "The throne speech we gave eight months ago is no longer relevant to the reality Canadians are living."

When his government announced several years ago its intention to spend $19 billion on new fighter jets, the deficit was just 5.5 per cent of what it is now. As such, it could also be argued that priority is no longer relevant (if it ever was) to the reality we are living now.

Brent Patterson is a writer and political activist.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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