A war-free economy is possible

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Federal budgets are about priorities. The numbers in this week's budget will underscore the Harper government's prioritization of corporate profits and war. Canadian military spending is now the highest it has been since World War II. Canada is one of the top 15 military spenders in the world and the sixth largest of NATO's 28 member countries.

The Canada First Defence Strategy, launched by Harper in 2008, outlines how he will have Canada spend up to half a trillion dollars on weapons and other aspects of the military. The 20-year, $490 billion plan aims to increase annual military spending from $18 billion in 2008, to more than $30 billion annually by 2028. This works out to about $13,000 per Canadian. Peter Mackay confirmed last year in a speech to the Ottawa arms trade show CANSEC that at least $60 billion of these funds are earmarked for military corporations.

Spending this significant should be clearly outlined in the federal budget so it can be subject to parliamentary scrutiny, debate and confidence votes. However, despite these historic spending plans, the 360-page 2009 federal budget contained not one mention of the words military or weapons.

Added to the government's stonewalling of investigations into the Afghan detainee scandal, this is even more troubling. Will we see this same lack of transparency and accountability in the 2010 budget? There's a good chance of that, considering Harper started the year by dissolving Parliament so as not to have to answer to questions about his government's alleged complicity in torture.

Governmental accountability is key to democracy -- and key to an honest budget process. Accountability is key to ensuring that the government spends on the needs of the citizens -- and not on political or ideological whim.

In fact, demilitarizing the economy creates more jobs and more effectively addresses social needs. Just last year,Jane's Defence Weekly -- one of the world's leading military affairs publications -- wrote that a "sure-fire way to advance deeper into recession is ... spend even more on the Department of Defense." Jane's noted that increased military spending "will not generate new jobs" and "would be a money surge for Lockheed Martin, but not a jobs engine." In the context of the recession, redirecting military spending has become an economic imperative. Yet the Harper government is doing the opposite -- while trying to conceal it.

The Center for Defense Information in Washington notes that $1 billion (U.S.) would create 19,795 jobs in public transit or 17,687 jobs in education (131 and 107 per cent more than the same amount of defence spending, respectively). The CDI points out that "if employment is the aim, it makes more sense to cut defence spending and use the money in programs that do it better... the same amount of money spent elsewhere would generate more jobs, often better ones, and it would do it faster."

As the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has pointed out, Canada could surpass Germany to become the second largest provider of international aid in the world, if we increased our foreign aid -- which would by definition increase human security -- on the same scale as Harper's military spending.

And what better time than now, in the lead-up to the G8/G20 in Canada, to redirect military spending toward priorities like building a strong green economy that serves the needs of Canadians rather than military contractors and Harper's political ideology.

If the G8, G20, and the Harper government spent even a fraction of the amount spent on weapons and war on human needs and the environment, they would actually be doing more for security than is claimed as an objective of the war in Afghanistan. By credible accounts, the war is not improving security either for Canadians or Afghans.

Instead, Prime Minister Harper is risking further economic hardships for all of us with his undemocratic stealth war stimulus, while abdicating responsibility to people and the planet.

Labour and environmental groups have been calling for a just transition to a green economy based on climate justice that would provide the necessary training to workers and create meaningful green jobs. Peace and anti-war groups have been demanding a conversion of military production facilities to peaceful purposes.

It's time to unite these two visions. It is time for a just conversion to a war-free economy based on green jobs and social justice. It is time to recognize that bringing the troops home is not only the right thing to do for the Afghan people, but the right thing to do for the Canadian economy. It is time to set a new economic path away from war and toward peace.

We have no illusions that the Harper government will share this economic vision. And so it is up to the rest of us to make it a reality.

Christine Jones is co-chair of the Canadian Peace Alliance. Dylan Penner is founder of Operation Objection, a pan-Canadian campaign to counter military recruitment and an organizer with ACT for the Earth. This article appeared in The Toronto Star on March 2, 2010.

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