Budget 2021: View of Canada’s defence spending needs a wider lens
Douglas Roche wrote in the influential Hill Times on April 16, 2021 that several studies have shown that more jobs are created from expenditures on education, health care, and clean energy than from the same amount spent on defence.
John Ivison, a columnist for the National Post, is dangerously wrong when he asserts that Canada “should increase, not reduce” military spending in next week’s budget to counter new threats in the world.
His April 13 column made the case that, because Iran is reactivating its nuclear program, Russia is gathering forces on the Ukraine border, and China is intimidating Taiwan, Canada needs to boost its present defence budget of $21.9-billion.
I don’t know Ivison, and I frequently find his columns perceptive of the Ottawa political scene. So I am certainly not attacking him personally here. But the kind of shop-worn thinking he’s now reflecting—that more military spending is the cure to threats in the world—has got to be debunked.
Is he serious when he suggests another billion or so injected into Canada’s military budget would be a productive contribution to peace? Doesn’t he realize that the real problems Canada is facing revolve around the COVID-19 global crisis, climate change, and strengthening international systems so they can respond to the overwhelming migration challenge mounted by millions of vulnerable people?
Ivison should pay more attention to the new report of the U.S. National Intelligence Council, which said that climate change, disease, financial crises, and technology disruptions are at the top of the list of new global challenges.
Ivison’s thinking is locked in the tentacles of the military-industrial complex, whose only answer to every problem is more guns. That is not what Canada should stand for.
Of course, I should not direct my ire only at Ivison. It is Chrystia Freeland who is responsible for giving credence to the idea that Canada’s defence spending must increase. In a 2017 speech in Parliament, when she was foreign minister, she praised “military power in defence of our principles and our alliances.” The next day, the government presented a new defence policy laying out a plan to increase the defence budget by 70 per cent over the next decade, thus giving muscle to its declaration that the military are an “indispensable tool” of Canada’s foreign policy.
Canada already spends 20 times more on its military than diplomacy. The country’s current defence budget is programmed to rise to $32-billion by 2027, far outstripping any other department’s growth. The government’s plan to spend $553-billion on defence in the next 20 years, much of this to buy 88 fighter jets and 15 warships, dwarfs our contribution to sustainable development.
A wholly new moment of opportunity has opened up for Canada. Transferring even a portion of money from arms to development is not only morally the right thing to do—the economic payoff is immensely higher. Several studies have shown that more jobs are created from expenditures on education, health care, and clean energy than from the same amount spent on defence.
Canada would by no means be a lone ranger in such efforts. Dozens of states want to move in this direction. Aligning with Ireland, Norway, Germany, Mexico, and Costa Rica, to name but a few progressive states, would be the basis of a new coalition for a new social contract. The Alliance for Multilateralism, founded by Germany and France in 2019 to stabilize the rule-based international order, has already shown that forward-minded countries want to work together in a new way.
As a respected middle power, Canada can command attention and provide leadership in the multilateral fora by speaking up—provided it has a clear and credible message. That message should be to move, in a phased manner, public funding from militarism to human development. This central idea must inform the government’s approach to meeting the global challenge of the coronavirus. A 10 per cent cut in military budgets across the world would free up $190-billion a year in extra funding for human needs. Canada could lead the way by devoting 10 per cent of its military budget, which would amount to about $2-billion, to the Sustainable Development Goals.
We’ll see on Monday, when Freeland presents her budget, how much of the new thinking about human security has seeped into the government’s plans. Meanwhile, Mr. Ivison, could you please widen the angle of your vision. (This article was published a few days prior to the federal budget being released on April 19, 2021)
Douglas Roche is a former senator and former Canadian ambassador for Disarmament. His latest book is Recovery: Peace Prospects in the Biden Era.