Last weekend I joined Green Party of Québec leader Alex Tyrrell on the 5th stop of his tour of Quebec war factories. We traveled to Pratt & Whitney Canada’s (PWC) large facility in Longueuil in a bid to raise awareness of the Greens’ campaign to shutter the arms industry.
PWC has provided engines for US, Israeli, Saudi, UAE and Colombian military helicopters and aircraft that have meted out significant violence against oppressed groups. Between 2000 and 2019 PWC exported at least $2 billion in engines for militaries in a dozen countries.
Formally part of a larger US conglomerate, PWC is a multinational in its own right. With 4,000 of its 10,000 employees outside Canada, the Montréal firm does its own research, development and marketing.
Alongside government funds through contracts with the Canadian military, PWC has received huge amounts of subsidies. PWC received $723 million in largely unpaid loans through the Defence Industry Productivity Program and hundreds of millions of dollars more from the successor Strategic Aerospace and Defence Initiative. Since 1970 PWC has reportedly garnered $3.3 billion in subsidies from Industry Canada.
Over the past month the Green’s Tyrrell has traveled to Lockheed Martin Canada, Bombardier, General Dynamics and Héroux-Devteck’s facilities. At each site he’s made a short speech about the firm, which has been streamed live and shared on social media. In front of PWC Tyrrell declared, “I came here today with a clear message, a Green Party government in Quebec would shut down all factories that produce military equipment or the portion of these factories that is dedicated to warfare.” In his speech the Green leader guaranteed current workers they would have a job with equal or better pay and conditions.
From a broader working-class perspective, public spending on healthcare, schooling and daycare creates far more jobs than arms purchases. Healthcare spending usually creates about 50% more jobs while education and daycare can be as much as twice as many. Arms production is generally capital-intensive. Its large investments in equipment — rather than workers — is conducive to high profit margins, which makes it popular with the corporate set.
Unfortunately, the federal Liberals are doubling down on military spending. As Tyrrell noted, they recently boosted the military budget, which was already scheduled to receive a 70% increase over a decade. In 2016, military spending was $18.9 billion, which is now set to rise to $40.7 billion by 2026 (this doesn’t include $6 billion currently devoted to Veterans Affairs each year).
The Greens’ transition campaign, which began with a 2019 call for the government to investigate how Québec-produced weapons are used, is designed to stamp out the war economy and prioritize more socially and ecologically sensible endeavors.
Québec groups have long challenged arms production with varying degrees of success. Amidst the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, Block the Empire Montreal raised the subject. We organized a tour of weapons producers in the Montréal area and the public agencies enabling them. The group’s biggest success was instigating a campaign that targeted SNC-Lavalin for selling bullets to US occupation forces in Iraq. The negative attention prompted the Montréal firm to sell its bullet making subsidiary SNC Tech.
In the mid-1980s Québec unions took up peace groups An F-18 for Peace campaign. In a chapter in the 1986 book Roots of Peace: the Movement Against Militarism in Canada Eric Shragge details how the campaign, which included demonstrations, detailed better ways to spend the $62 million cost of an F-18. They produced an “Explosion Map of Québec” and presented proposals on converting the arms industry.
As we oppose wars, peace, anti-militarist and anti-imperialist movements need to challenge an economy based on death and destruction. The Québec Green’s effort to shutter arms production offers a ray of hope amidst the wave of militarism sweeping Canadian politics.