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October 7, 2010

Harper is spending billions of our money - on what?

Reuel S. Amdur

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The Harper government is spending $18 billion on new state-of-the-art fighter jets. To protect us against whom?

As well, it wants to more than double annual expenditures on prisons to $9.5 billion a year.  That’s what Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page tells us.  And building some dozen new prisons is on top of that.  The thing driving this need for more money for prisons is the fact of a falling crime rate. Huh? 

Of course, Treasury Board President Stockwell Day puts this Tory boondoggle in proper perspective.  This major increase in expenditures for prisons takes into consideration all the unreported crime.  Perhaps another way of dealing with unreported crime would be to increase the numbers of unbuilt prisons. But let’s get back to those marvelous airplanes.

First of all, there is the question of the lack of competitive building. 

Canada simply went along with the U.S. in going with Lockheed Martin.  Monkey see, monkey do.  Or, as with the old RCA Victor ads, with the dog looking into the horn-shaped speaker, “His master’s voice.” 

Then there is the question about just how firm the cost figures are. 

Will planes cost $8 billion or $9 billion?  And will maintenance costs be $8 billion, $10 billion, or more?  But what’s a billion? 

Michael Ignatieff says that if the Liberals win the next election they would, as the BBC put it, “put a hold on the contract.”  But would they cancel it? 

There is a question of the underlying rationale for Canada’s need for such planes and for hefty military expenditures generally.

For such a rationale we turn to Peter MacKay.  “We need to ensure our fighter aircraft fleet remains the best in the world to meet the threats of the 21st Century.” And in reference to the danger posed by an alleged Russian incursion into Canadian air space, “Surely even the most cynical, partisan person would not suggest that we engineered the visit of a Russian bomber to boost support for our air force.”  The Russian danger is real.  Certainly MacKay would not lie.  Just ask David Orchard.

Canada’s military program is little better than a rehash of the Cold War.  We serve as lackeys to the Americans, and Harper would have us expand that role. 

While Jean Chrétien on the one hand announced that we would stay out of Iraq and on the other supplied a series of generals and a handful of troops, Harper (and Ignatieff, for that matter) originally wanted to jump in with both feet.  If it were not for the marked war-weariness in Canada and our disenchantment with the government in Afghanistan, Harper would be staying the course there.

But what is to be gained by this role of doing Uncle Sam’s bidding?  We are in NORAD, paying something like 10% of its operational costs.  We will follow, in one way or another, any military actions that the United States decides upon.

Harper–and the Liberals as well, incidentally--speak of our need to do our share in our common continental defense.  All kinds of people have it in for the United States, but who in the world gives a damn about Canada?  Unless we choose to backstop U.S. military power and American international policies.

So what else might Canada do with another $22 billion? 

That’s the increase in costs for prison upkeep and for those fancy new jets.  We could even leave a couple billion more or less for the purchase of a few good search-and-rescue aircraft.  But the rest? 

Of course there are the debt and the deficit, but we might also look at such luxuries as eliminating poverty, establishing a meaningful housing policy, abolishing disgraceful conditions on reserves, and fulfilling our foreign aid commitments.

 No, it seems that it would be better to squander the money on battling a nonexistent Cold War and criminalizing more of our citizens. 

MacKay does not see the real threats of the 21st Century: poverty, oppression and injustice, global warming, pollution, disease.  The jets do not meet those threats. 

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