Political cynicism has reached a level in Canada where there is now little surprise when government leaders break election promises. Two such promises recently broken by Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have prompted no calls for resignation, even though both are serious betrayals that undermine Canadian democracy and climate action plans.
Ford bulldozing his omnibus Bill-23 (More Homes Built Faster Act) through the provincial legislature in November was a reversal of a promise not to touch Ontario’s greenbelt. The Bill is a full-scale attack on many environmental protections, and it has rightly received outrage and opposition from Ontario conservation authorities, municipalities, affordable housing advocates, public transit supporters and not least climate and environment groups, all adversely affected by its sweeping changes.
A month later, the Trudeau government also reversed an election promise, although to date this betrayal has received less public attention. On December 21, during the media wind-down period just before Christmas (and the day before winter storms hit large parts of Canada), press reports revealed that the federal government — despite a 2015 election commitment not to do so — had approved $7 billion to purchase 16 F-35 Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft for the Royal Canadian Air Force.
The leaked federal announcement has far-reaching implications, not least for Canada’s response to the climate emergency. The easiest to recognize (although the hardest to find details on) is the anticipated enormous cost. When the Harper government originally approved the purchase of 65 F-35 aircraft in 2010 the contract was portrayed as a financial deal, a “win-win” for all parties, including Canadian industry. When the Parliamentary Budget Office looked more closely, it found that the real costs were far greater with no guaranteed contracts for Canadian industry.
There is no reason to believe Canada will get a better deal this time around. Certainly, the figure announced in December can only be a down-payment, since the 16 aircraft are less than a fifth of what the government has committed to purchase. But there also are “opportunity costs” that come with the F-35 acquisition, arising from the simple fact that federal money spent on expensive military equipment is not available for spending on climate action.
Additionally, the government has never adequately answered the question, “why this aircraft?” Especially when it has acknowledged that the F-35 is wrong for Canada.
There are many reasons to oppose the JSF purchase, not the least being its three-decade production history full of technical problems and missed deadlines that point to a high-priced product that will always fall short of touted claims. More importantly, it will never fulfill the kind of missions, such as border patrol or peacekeeping or surveillance, that most Canadians support for the RCAF. Rather, it is a single-engine stealth fighter designed for offensive strike missions. It’s “interoperability” with similar US aircraft means it could accompany the USAF in its next foreign invasion. Should a Republican be elected President in 2024 — Donald Trump or someone like him — this prospect may arise sooner than anyone might expect.
In fact, the Trudeau government has failed to justify the purchase of this aircraft. Canada’s Defence Policy has not been revised for more than five years, a period during which Covid and the climate emergency have profoundly affected our understanding of security. There is growing public awareness that major threats to national security — including pandemics and more frequent wild-fires, flooding and major storms — extend beyond threats from foreign armed forces. Rather than wasting big money on Cold War military equipment like the F-35, the federal government needs to rethink security policy to address the climate emergency as the pressing global threat it is and to spend public funds accordingly.
And if enough pressure can be directed his way, maybe Trudeau will surprise us all by keeping his election promise not to buy F-35s.
Kenneth Epps is a SCAN! member and retired from the staff of Project Ploughshares, the peace research institute of The Canadian Council of Churches. The views expressed here are his own.
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