The Austerity Agenda Undermines Peace and Subsidizes Arms Dealers
When the Arab Spring swept through the Middle East, the people of Bahrain saw their chance to put a democratic government in place after decades of minority rule under a monarchy. In February 2011, thousands of demonstrators braved police violence to take the streets of the capital, demanding a change in government and democratic rights. Less than a month later, 1200 Saudi Arabian troops rolled in, and the anti-democratic crackdown began in earnest. When the smoke cleared, 100 people, mostly dissidents, had been killed, and many more tortured, jailed or forced into exile.1
Canada stayed quiet about the human rights abuses and repression in Bahrain. Four years later, Canada signed an arms deal with Saudi Arabia worth $15 billion that would provide the country with a massive new array of weaponry and military hardware.2
As the austerity agenda cuts social spending, it has boosted arms dealers, contributed to disastrous wars, and pushed extraction projects. Harper's Conservatives have shed Canada's "honest broker" image completely in favour of an approach more akin to an American pitbull with a long leash.3
It began with close ties to arms manufacturers. In 2008, the Harper government announced plans to invest $490 billion in Canada's military over the next 20 years. The aim was to nearly double the entire budget of the defence department from $18 billion in 2008 to $30 billion in 2027.4 The defence budget hit $22.8 billion by 2011, but further expansion was delayed due to the recession.5
These extra billions have not benefitted Canada's soldiers and veterans; the windfall has gone to Canadian and international military contractors.6 Nine regional offices that provided veterans with treatments for trauma or disabilities have been closed. In 2014, it was revealed that Veterans Affairs returned $1.1 billion that was slated to be spent on veterans. 7 Veterans Affairs will decrease its budget by $54 million in 2015, while military spending will increase by $280 million.8
Soldiers, and their families, live in uncertain circumstances with decreasing supports. In 2014, Canada's military ombudsman noted that salaries in the junior ranks were not enough to compete in many Canadian housing markets.9 Many soldiers were forced to take second jobs to support their families.
Canada has made use of its new armaments, bombing Libya with the goal of regime change in 2011, maintained operations in Afghanistan until 2014, and deployed troops and bombers to Iraq in 2014.10 Libya has collapsed into a long-term, low-level civil war and has become a source of arms and recruits for the Islamic state.11 After twelve years of military occupation, Afghanistan is faced with the choice between a corrupt and violent western-backed government and a surging Taliban.12 In Iraq, the rise of the Islamic State is a direct result of US policies of stoking ethnic divisions, and many observers say the situation will get worse until that underlying cause is addressed.13
After making deep cuts to human rights groups14, the Harper government has increasingly tied funding to collaboration with industrial development and resource extraction abroad. NGOs have entered partnerships with companies like Rio Tinto Alcan, IAMGOLD and Barrick Gold to maintain their funding.1516 Programs that advocate on behalf of underprivileged groups were slashed. The Canadian Council on International Cooperation was defunded, and was forced to lay off 17 of its 25 employees. International organizations that campaign for women's rights and reproductive rights have also been targeted for cuts.17
In 2006, the Honduran government put in place a moratorium on new mining projects. In 2009, a military-backed coup removed the elected government and put an end to that. Canada neglected to denounce the coup itself, and the Canadian government got right to work lobbying for a mining law that worked for industry in 2009, backing a technical project related to it in 2012.18
Canada's military and extractive industries have been the winners of Harper's approach to foreign affairs. Companies like Irving Shipbuilding19 and General Dynamics20 have reaped billions, while veterans struggle to access services. Their windfall has come, in most cases, at the expense of peace, democracy and sustainability abroad.
- "While Canada was helping to remove Libya’s government for attacking demonstrators, Bahrain’s uprising fell from favour in the Canadian media, and Canadian diplomats stayed quiet about Bahrain’s repressive measures." –Media Co-op, 2014. See also: New York Times, 2011 and Bahrain Center for Human Rights
- "The Canadian government is refusing to say whether it obtained assurances that light armoured vehicles being sold to Saudi Arabia in a massive $15-billion deal would not be used against the Saudi people" –Globe and Mail, 2015
- That said, the Liberals began this process. "We are the Canadian Forces and our job is to be able to kill people," Rick Hillier declared in 2005. –Toronto Star, 2008
"The Ukraine debacle represents the latest in a pattern of Harper and Baird supporting coups and ignoring human rights violations as a nasty but necessary part of doing business." –Matthew Behrens, 2014
"[W]hen massive numbers of defenceless civilians are being killed, a national leader should call for the killing to stop." –Linda McQuaig, 2014
- "A military with stable, predictable funding." –Canadian Armed Forces, 2013
- The plans were ambitious, and eventually proved to be overreaching, with many purchases scrapped or delayed. The parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page called the out the federal government saying "There isn't actually enough money in the capital program to both buy everything that's on the list and then to maintain it once it's in service." –Maclean's, 2013
- Veterans speak out against loss of front line services –PSAC, 2015.
- "'Has he no shame?' NDP veterans critic Peter Stoffer asked of Gill during question period. 'These veterans and many others go without while they transfer a billion dollars back to the finance department for their useless tax schemes.'" –CBC, 2014
- National Post, 2015
- "In spite of receiving $319 per month under the program, many CF members are forced to take second jobs to make ends meet, Daigle said. He pointed out that those at the junior rank levels earn less-than-average Canadian or Alberta wages." CBC, 2014
- "The fanaticism of the ISIL terrorist group is a real threat to regional security and millions of innocent people in Iraq, Syria and beyond. Left unchecked, ISIL is also a direct threat to Canada and its Allies." –Prime Minister's Office, 2014. See also: Globe and Mail, 2014
- "Today Libya is at war with itself again. It is split between a government in Beida, in the east of the country, which is aligned with the military; and another in Tripoli, in the west, which is dominated by Islamists and militias from western coastal cities." –Economist, 2015
"'Canada is proud to have played a leading role in the UN-sanctioned NATO mission that helped protect civilians during the liberation of Libya,'" Media Co-op, 2014
- "The Taliban usually hunker down during the colder months... But snow and cold have brought little relief this year, with American military officials saying that the fighting this winter has been among the most intense since the war began." New York Times, 2015
Afghanistan is 174 on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, tied with North Korea and Somalia –TI, 2012
- "Intentional or not, the scores of tortured, mutilated bodies which turn up on the streets of Baghdad each day are generated by the death squads whose impetus was John Negroponte. And it is this U.S.-backed sectarian violence which largely led to the hell-disaster that Iraq is today." –Dahr Jamail, 2007. See also: Truthout, 2006
- Including the closing of Rights and Democracy, whose last director died of a heart attack after months of harassment. Voices/Voix, 2012
- "The Harper government recently announced a publicly funded agreement between three of Canada's mining giants and three of Canada's leading non-governmental organizations (NGOs)." The Dominion, 2011
- "NGOs, including World Vision and Plan Canada, have had to engage in an uncomfortable public debate to argue that their projects are not just another subsidy to a lucrative industry whose projects often lack community consent." Canadian Dimension, 2013
- "Over the past five years, exercise of the fundamental freedom of speech in Canada has been curbed and discouraged… Particularly affected have been organizations dependent on government funding which advocate for human rights and women's equality." –CCPA, 2011
- "The new law is both a setback compared to what Hondurans had been proposing and opens the gates to new mining projects in what is now the most violent country in the region. Journalists, lawyers, organized communities and social organizations are regularly targeted and murdered." –Canadian Dimension, 2013
- "The Harper government has quietly indicated it will designate Halifax-based Irving Shipbuilding as the prime contractor on the planned replacement program for the navy's frigates…. Several defence and government sources say the word came during a closed-door presentation Tuesday to defence contractors looking to bid on the yet-to-be designed $26-billion Canadian Surface Combatant program." –Canadian Press, 2014
- "The federal government has helped secure a $10-billion US deal for a Canadian company to sell armoured vehicles to Saudia Arabia, a country widely condemned for its human rights abuses." –CBC, 2014
Send a message:
We believe that communities and countries are best-placed to make decisions about their society, their lands and their natural resources. Canada must break from its legacy of playing junior partner to the US, and we must stop actively imposing our mining companies and exploitative economic policies abroad.
Instead, let us develop cooperative relationships that are mutually beneficial. The first step is to stop handing our arms manufacturers the billions of dollars that make them a dominant political force in this country.