Why the NDP needs a new defence critic

Randall Garrison with Canadian soldiers in Mali

What should be expected from a “defence critic” for a left-wing political party? An easy answer might be criticism from the left, but in the case of the NDP that doesn’t happen much.

The Department of National Defence/Canadian Forces is far and away the largest federal government department. It has the biggest budget, staff, public relations machine and intelligence-gathering capacities of any ministry. With approximately 120,000 employees, DND spends $30 billion annually, 15 times the budget of Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Across the country, DND manages the “largest infrastructure portfolio in the federal government” with its many bases and stations covering over two million hectares. DND/CF is also the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the federal government.

Offensively oriented, the Canadian military has innumerable ties to the “greatest purveyor of violence”, in Martin Luther King’s words, the world has ever seen. Canada has hundreds of cooperation agreements with the US military and Canadian Forces are deployed on more than 20 international missions.

Despite numerous accords, deployments, expenditures, etc. that warrant questioning, the NDP defence critic barely challenges DND (with the exception of sexism within the force). In fact, Randall Garrison mostly advocates for those within the force. As the NDP defence critic told Canadian Defence Review, “if we’re going to send people out and ask them to do tough work we better make sure they’ve got the equipment they need to do it.”

Garrison has stayed silent on Canadian naval vessels taking over NATO’s Standing Naval Forces in the Baltic, North and Norwegian seas. He has also said nothing about Canadian vessels participating in provocative maneuvers in the South China Sea or Canadian vessels engaged in multinational patrols with their Saudi Arabian counterparts. Nor has the NDP defence critic mentioned rotations of Canadian pilots in Romania or the small detachment of troops at a US base in Saudi Arabia. He openly backed Canada’s sizable ‘training’ deployments to Iraq, Ukraine and Latvia.

Garrison has stayed mum on Canadian Defence Attachés promoting arms exports. Nor does he appear concerned with the costly, ecologically damaging and violent nature of Canada’s planned fighter jet purchase.

As I wrote recently, Garrison’s most egregious position concerns the Canadian Surface Combatants (CSC) procurement, which is the largest in Canadian history. “Amidst growing media criticism,” I noted in early January, “Garrison has said nothing regarding the frigates’ cost, secrecy or weaponry. He hasn’t released a single tweet (or retweet) about any of the recent stories on the surface combatant vessels.”

The silence continued after the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated last month that the cost of acquiring 15 highly armed CSCs at $77 billion. Three times the initial estimate, $77 billion is just the sticker price. In a recent Hill Times article former Assistant Deputy Minister of Materiel at DND and Assistant Deputy Minister, Supply Operations Service in Public Works and Government Services Canada, Alan Williams, suggests the full life-cycle cost of the CSC will be an eye popping $286 billion. That would cover tuition for every university student in the country for 15 years or guarantee safe drinking water on every reserve 100 times over. But the CSC’s ballooning costs haven’t elicited a peep from Garrison. He supports plowing a quarter trillion dollars into strengthening the navy’s ability to subjugate others.

To get a sense of Garrison’s deference to the military, he responded to a September Canadian Defence Review question about spending millions of dollars into the ecologically destructive public relations tool that are the Snowbirds by saying: “I go with what the Canadian Forces say they need and want to do, so I don’t have a personal opinion about whether this is what they need to do. If the Canadian Forces tell me, and they clearly have, that this is an important part of what they do and we need to spend money on it, then I’ll support them.”

NDP members, activists and MPs shouldn’t accept this. It is past time Garrison was removed as party defence “critic”.

 

If you are interested in hearing voices that question the military, check out the April 3 discussion on “Why Canada should leave NATO”

 

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