Defence Department deputy minister says no indication the government will cut planned military spending despite record deficit

Published by Brent Patterson on

On June 11, the Canadian Press reported that Defence Department deputy minister Jody Thomas says she has received no indication from the federal government that it intends to cut (a dramatic increase in) military spending despite the unanticipated $153 billion spent on emergency support related to the pandemic.

On March 27, the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) was projecting a federal deficit of $112.7 billion for the fiscal year that started April 1, an increase of $89.5 billion from previous forecasts. In April, the PBO estimated a deficit of $252 billion. By mid-May, the PBO said it was “not unthinkable” the deficit could reach $1 trillion.

And yet the Canadian Press article notes: “[The Defence Department deputy minister] said she had not received any order or direction [from Defence Minister Harjit 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.”

The Canadian government has previously 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.

Last week the government tabled in Parliament its latest request for money which included $585 million for the continued construction of two new naval support ships. The government intends to purchase 15 new warships at a cost of $26.2 billion, plus approximately $64 billion for 30 years of maintenance.

The government is also planning to spend $19 billion plus up to $300 million a year to service 88 new fighter jets. The deadline for the corporations bidding for that contract is July 31 and the government plans to announce its decision in 2022.

British journalist George Monbiot has asked of the UK government’s plan to purchase F-35 fighter jets: “Can it bomb the coronavirus? Can its ‘advanced stealth, integrated avionics, sensor fusion and superior logistics support’ defeat climate breakdown?”

The Canadian Press news report also highlights: “[Defence Department deputy minister Thomas] went on to suggest the planned defence spending is actually needed as much now as before the pandemic as the crisis amplifies the already significant global uncertainty that existed before COVID-19.”

Thomas says: “Canada has to be equipped. In a post-COVID world, there is, I would say as the deputy minister of defence, a need for SSE [the Strong, Secure, Engaged spending plan] to in fact be done more quickly rather than slow it down or cut the budget.”

This stands in stark contrast to the calls that health care systems and long-term care homes be adequately funded and that massive job creating, planet saving investments be made in the necessary transition to a sustainable energy future.

It has already been well argued that anti-militarism needs to be at the core of a Green New Deal and that a choice needs to be made between spending billions on weapons or windmills. The contrast could also be made that $17.6 billion on public transit could create 223,000 person job years while $19+ billion on fighter jets could mean 50,000 jobs.

It is significant to note — when evaluating the spending priorities of the federal government — that the Treasury Board 2019-20 Expenditures by Purpose report lists: $21.9 billion for the Department of National Defence, $3.5 billion for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, $2.6 billion for the Correctional Service of Canada, $2.1 billion for the Canada Border Services Agency, and $1.8 billion for the Department of the Environment.

Furthermore, The Narwhal has reported, “According to a new International Monetary Fund (IMF) report, Canada subsidized the fossil fuel industry to the tune of almost $60 billion in 2015 — approximately $1,650 per Canadian.”

The soaring deficit and social needs illustrated by the pandemic, plus an emerging experiential realization of the even greater economic disruption that will come with climate breakdown, as well as the growing calls to defund the police and to transfer those funds to community supports, may generate deeper debates in this country about the continued prioritization of billions of public dollars for the military.

Peace Brigades International-Canada is participating in today’s War Is Not Essential day of action to highlight concerns about Canada’s increasing weapons exports (more than $3.757 billion in 2019), increased military spending, and the need to focus on peacebuilding, peaceful production and a green economy.

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