Hopefully that’s all it would take for Left NDP MPs to join Neil Young, Stephen Lewis, Teagan and Sarah, David Suzuki and many other notable Canadian and international figures in calling for government resources to “be used to eliminate boil water advisories on reserves, build light rail lines across the country and construct thousands of units of social housing”.
So far, it seems the federal NDP wants to be seen as supporting the “best equipment” for the military, even when the government plows $19 billion — $77 billion over the planes’ full lifecycle — into strengthening the force’s capacity to bomb in US-led wars.
“As wildfires blaze in western Canada amidst record breaking heat waves, the Liberal government is planning to spend tens of billions of dollars on unnecessary, dangerous, climate destroying fighter jets”, explains a public letter released last week by the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute and Canadian Voice of Women for Peace. The letter was signed by Canadian musicians Neil Young, Teagan and Sarah and Sarah Harmer as well as environmentalists David Suzuki and Naomi Klein. The No New Fighter Jets for Canada statement is also endorsed by authors Michael Ondaatje Yann Martel and Gabor Maté as well as four former NDP MPs, city councillors, a senator, NDP MPP and former leader of the Ontario NDP Stephen Lewis. Prominent international figures such as Roger Waters, Daryl Hannah and Noam Chomsky have also backed a call addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The Green Party’s two MPs, Elizabeth May and Paul Manly, signed the statement. But no NDP MP was an initiating signatory. (After former NDP foreign affairs critic Svend Robinson complained on Twitter “Is there no NDP MP opposing this outrageous waste?” Leah Gazan signed on.)
I doubt that Matthew Green, Niki Ashton, Alexandre Boulerice or even other less internationalist minded members of the NDP caucus want public resources going to fighter jets over, as the letter puts it, “a just recovery, green infrastructure and investing in Indigenous communities.” But Randall Garrison is the NDP defence critic and he’s a staunch militarist, so they tread carefully on the issue.
Soon after the letter was released and MPs began receiving hundreds of emails about it Garrison replied. In a long message he wrote, “on fighter jets, New Democrats have called on the government to support the purchasing of fighters that can operate safely and effectively in the Arctic while also being interoperable with our allies in NATO and NORAD.” In response Robinson quoted part of Garrison’s statement and wrote “shame on the NDP”.
While Garrison is an extremist within the party, NDP militarism runs far deeper than him. The 2015 NDP platform said the party would “meet our military commitments by maintaining Department of National Defence budget allocations”, which is more than 10 times the size of Environment and Climate Change Canada. In 2011 the NDP supported two House of Commons votes, initiated by the minority Stephen Harper government, endorsing the bombing of Libya. (Green leader Elizabeth May was the only MP to vote against a war in which Canada played a significant role.) To the best of my knowledge the NDP has never apologized or suggested it erred in supporting a Canadian-led bombing campaign that was strenuously opposed by the African Union, which worried (correctly) that the conflict and weapons would spill southward.
Eight days before Canadian fighter jets began dropping bombs on Libya in 2011, military intelligence officers told Ottawa decision makers that the country would likely descend into civil war if foreign countries assisted rebels opposed to Muammar Gadhafi. An internal assessment obtained by the Ottawa Citizen noted, “there is the increasing possibility that the situation in Libya will transform into a long-term tribal/civil war… This is particularly probable if opposition forces received military assistance from foreign militaries.” Ten years later Libya has yet to fully extricate itself from the civil war.
The public letter about the warplanes notes that “Canada’s current fleet of fighter jets has bombed Libya, Iraq, Serbia and Syria.” The NDP opposed the first Iraq war and the 2014–16 bombing of Iraq/Syria. But it supported the illegal 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and the Libya war so it’s not surprising elements of the party want to purchase expensive new fighter jets. But parts of Garrison’s reaction don’t add up.
The fighter jet purchase offers the NDP an opportunity to differentiate itself from the Liberals who are angling to buy the F-35 — they’ve paid hundreds of millions of dollars to remain part of the consortium — by reminding voters of Trudeau’s explicit promise not to do so. Oddly, Garrison didn’t even repeat his opposition to purchasing the F-35 in his long response to the public letter even though he could have stuck with a militarist lens by questioning spending huge sums on fighter jets when drone technology is advancing rapidly.
More substantively, the Covid-19 pandemic and destruction wrought by climate change — the heat wave and subsequent obliteration of Lytton, BC — is rapidly undermining militarist conceptions of “security”, as noted in a long commentary in Saturday’s Globe and Mail. It explained, “increasingly, the foes we have to fight aren’t foreign armies, but pandemics, climate change and other disasters that destabilize the world around us. Our armed forces should adapt accordingly”. In this political moment it’s hard for a progressive to argue that resources should be devoted to fighter jets rather than pandemic recovery and mitigating the climate crisis.
Perhaps a few hundred more phones calls, emails and tweets could move the NDP to just say no to spending “tens of billions of dollars on unnecessary, dangerous, climate destroying fighter jets.”
Please take a minute to email all MPs to say NO to the $77 billion fighter jet purchase.
Yves Engler’s Stand on Guard For Whom? — A People’s History of the Canadian Military is available next month.