Canada’s fighter jet purchase faces turbulence as pandemic fallout could mean cuts to military spending

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo by the Canadian Press.

What does the pandemic driven increase in unemployment and the deficit mean for the planned $19-billion-plus fighter jet purchase in 2022? Will the $37,521 an hour operating cost of a F-35 fighter jet seem steep in comparison to the needs of low-wage workers (those earning less than $16.03 an hour) hit the hardest by the pandemic?

The Canadian Press reports: “Fears have been rising in defence circles that the Liberals will look to the military’s budget to rein in what is now projected to be a $343-billion deficit this year alone as the government keeps spending to help Canadians with the pandemic.”

That article adds: “Those fears are based on past experience as the Canadian Armed Forces was hit by deep cuts when Ottawa struggled to balance the books during the 1990s and again in the early 2010s after the last economic downturn.”

While Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says that the $553 billion promised to the military over the next 20 years is “secure”, the Ottawa Citizen recently reported: “Behind the scenes, however, there is significant concern within some quarters in the military about the cuts expected in the coming years.”

That article by Ottawa Citizen reporter David Pugliese adds: “Some organizations within National Defence headquarters have already told staff to prepare for a rocky road in the future.”

Pugliese further notes: “The Canadian Armed Forces and Department of National Defence, with the largest source of discretionary funds in the federal government, is a ripe target for cost-cutting. DND’s current budget is listed as $21.9 billion.”

Various analysts agree.

As early as this past April, Elliot Hughes, a senior advisor at the Ottawa-based Summa Strategies, observed: “The soaring deficits [associated with COVID-19 relief and stimulus spending] will place tremendous pressure on government to reduce its spending in non-COVID-19 areas in favour of healthcare and related priorities.”

Then in July, David Perry, a defence analyst with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, commented: “When the government’s deficit is eye-wateringly large and its revenue hole is astoundingly high [a finance minister might] hesitate [to approve a military contract worth many billions of dollars].”

By September, Perry noted: “If the government writ large turns its mind to budget cutting and deficit reduction, then National Defence is very, very unlikely to survive that for a number of different reasons. The biggest one is just the straight arithmetic of it being the largest share of federal budget share.”

And University of British Columbia defence expert Michael Byers has said he thinks the most likely outcome for the acquisition program in the current fiscal climate is the Canadian government opting to buy fewer fighter jets (perhaps 65 rather than 88).

Many are saying that no fighter jets should be purchased.

In an attempt to counter this, the Defence Minister has argued that military spending means jobs. Lockheed Martin and Boeing – two contenders for the fighter jet contract – have also tried spinning the jobs argument.

But research by the Costs of War Project based at Brown’s University in Providence, Rhode Island found that $1 million spent on “defence” creates 6.9 direct and indirect jobs, while the same amount invested in solar power creates 9.5 jobs, in health care 14.3 jobs, and in education 19.2 jobs.

With 1.1 million more people unemployed than prior to the pandemic, dollar for dollar the $19 billion allocated for fighter jets would mean more jobs if spent elsewhere. The imperative of jobs suggests the fighter jet purchase should be jettisoned.

This coming Friday October 2 people across the country will be mobilizing to call on their Member of Parliament to say no new fighter jets. You can also add your name to this petition co-sponsored by Peace Brigades International-Canada that calls on the Prime Minister to choose people and peace, not weapons and war.


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