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Economic update signals continued commitment to half-a-trillion dollars for the military

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Protesters outside of Parliament. Image: Koozma J. Tarasoff

On November 30, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland presented an economic update on Canada's finances in the House of Commons.

CBC reports: "The Liberal government is preparing to spend up to $100 billion [over the next three years] to kick start the post-pandemic economy as it stares down a record-high deficit projection of more than $381 billion for this fiscal year."

That article adds: "The government says the stimulus spending -- intended to build a greener, more inclusive, more innovative and competitive economy -- will launch after a vaccine is distributed and life begins to return to normal."

Despite the expected record deficit, the Canadian government does not plan at this time to introduce austerity measures (spending cuts) to rein in spending.

CBC further reports: "To counter the pandemic, Freeland now predicts that the federal government will have to spend $267.3 billion in the current fiscal year to support individuals, businesses and provinces."

That support is expected to be reduced to $45.9 billion in 2021-22.

That article adds: "The vast majority of that stimulus -- as well as any new permanent spending -- will be detailed at a later date."

What is known at this point is that the Canadian government appears to be fully committed to spending half a trillion dollars on the military over the next 20 years.

Prior to the pandemic, the government committed to increase spending on the military from $18.9 billion in 2016-17 to $32.7 billion in 2026-27, with total spending over a 20-year period of $553 billion on a cash basis.

That spending includes $19 billion to purchase new fighter jets in 2022 and up to $58 billion more to operate and maintain those warplanes.

On the same day as the economic update was tabled in the House of Commons, DefenseNews published an interview with Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

In that interview, Sajjan notes that the government is on track for the purchase of the fighter jets in 2022 and that there are no plans to cut military spending.

This is consistent with a Canadian Press article from June that reported:

"[The Defence Department deputy minister] said she had not received any order or direction [from Sajjan] to slow or cut defence spending and that officials are continuing to work on the planned purchase of new warships, fighter jets and other equipment."

And yet Kevin Page, the former parliamentary budget officer who now leads the University of Ottawa's Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy, said Freeland's update failed to address concerns about the size of the federal debt and expressed concern that the deficit is the largest this year among almost all advanced economies.

And just three weeks ago, the current parliamentary budget officer stated the government could increase spending or reduce taxes -- or pursue a combination of the two -- by $19 billion in permanent spending before its finances become unsustainable.

The economic update noted that while the deficit will reach $381.6 billion by the end of March 2021 it is expected to decline to $121.2 billion in 2021-22 (the fiscal year in which the contract for 88 new fighter jets is expected to be signed). It remains to be seen how such a drastic reduction in the deficit will occur.

Peace Brigades International-Canada is part of a No Fighter Jet network that highlights that dollar for dollar spending on renewable energy and education creates more jobs than military spending, emphasizes that heavily-polluting warplanes cannot be part of a green recovery, and believes that even at a time of increased spending, more resources should be redirected into public services and income support rather than the tools of war.

To sign a petition that reflects these demands, please click here.

Brent Patterson is the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. You can follow on Twitter at @PBIcanada @CBrentPatterson.

Image: Koozma J. Tarasoff

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