Sunday, 8 April 2012

Guns, Fighter Jets and Democracy in Canada

Canada's democracy in the last decade has deteriorated largely because of  the recent faulty leadership of the Stephen Harper's Conservative Party which first came into power in 2006.  In my observation, the art of governing has become more authoritarian and military-minded, less respective of diversity, more secretive, and meaner. 'You are either with us, or against us' seems to be the mantra of the day.

The March 29th, 2012 Conservative Budget tabled in Canada's Parliament reflects cuts that will make Canada a more conservative nation as it projects a deficit of $21-billion for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. The Government plans to chop some 20,000 jobs, cut federal program spending by $5.2-billion a year, and extend the retirement age of millions of Canadians to 67 from the current 65.

The government has argued that extending the retirement age will keep people in the workplace, and paying taxes, for a greater number of years. That's unlikely. All indications are that low-income seniors will ultimately pay the price for the new plan.

Heritage is being cut by $191-million, including cuts to the CBC ($115-million), the National Film Board ($6.7-million) and Telefilm ($10.6-million), all to be phased in over three years. The hidden agenda is privatisation and a covert attack on cultural institutions that raise critical questions about poverty, war, violence, power, economic equality, and the good life. The government wants to stifle this discussion.

In addition, to raising cash to pay off the big debts that the Government has incurred largely for the military and security, Harper and his Conservatives want to sell diplomatic residences in foreign capitals and generally reduce the presence of diplomacy, particularly if it evokes Lester B. Pearson's legacy of peace keeping. For a country as wealthy as Canada, to argue that we abandon diplomacy and peace keeping because we cannot afford it is simply embarrassing.

Also there are plans to create more jails (despite arguments from most experts that the changes are costly and unnecessary in an  era of falling crime rates) and to allow the police and authorities unprecedented and checkless power to gather information on the Internet of everyday Canadians, without a warrant. All of this is one step closer to the 1984 Orwellian world that Mr. Harper seems to be clearly in favour of.

However, the former  hidden elephant in Canada's parliament is the $30-billion F-35 fighter jet plane project. This is an attack aircraft that is not needed for Canada and is not appropriate for what we really need  that of search and rescue. Harper's government did not mention this exorbitant cost in its annual Budget, until it was uncovered by the media and Auditor-General Michael Ferguson. This has since become a national scandal.

As serious investigative journalist Andrew Coyne of Postmedia wrote in his column titled 'F-35 debacle demonstrates a system of government in collapse':
  • 'Guidelines were evaded, Parliament was lied to, and in the end the people of Canada were set to purchase planes that may or may not be able to do the job set out for them, years after they were supposed to be delivered, at twice the promised cost.' (Ottawa Citizen, April 5, 2012: A13).
It was that deception by the Conservatives that led to the dissolution of the 40th Canadian Parliament  in March 2011 and led to the May 2011 federal election in which Harper's Conservative Party won a majority government. Surely the 2012 scandal that Mr. Coyne reports on is a case of contempt of Parliament and resignations should follow.

Let's recall that it was this government that spent $1-billion for the G-20 meeting in Toronto in  2010 as well as the G-8 in Ontario's Muskoka region.

Harper's intent in militarizing the country has had negative consequences not only in foreign policy, but in the social life of the country and the education of children.

During the past year, the government has been ridiculously spending $28-million celebrating the 1812 war between Canada and the USA.  One of these events took place on February 2012 at a family-oriented park in Gatineau, Quebec, where children were encouraged to play war games with replicas of vintage weapons.

The majority of parents surveyed by the Le Droit paper seemed uneasy that the activity was sponsored by the federal Parks Canada. 'Who had this idea?' asked Julia Robinson of Ottawa, 'When you put a gun in the hands of a child, even a replica, it trivializes violence.'

Years back in Saskatchewan, my mother used to remind us youngsters not to point a toy gun at a person. From her Doukhobor legacy (which included refusing to go to war on Easter Sunday1895 along with the mass demonstration in June of getting rid of militarism and wars), mother knew that violence begins at home.

Fast forward, in the March 26, 2012 issue of The Globe and Mail (page L7), mother's wisdom is supported by science entitled 'Hold a gun, see a gun':
  • 'Simply holding a gun increases the chances that you think other people are armed as well, new research has found' reports Psych Central. 'In a series of five experiments, subjects were shown images of people on a computer screen and asked to determine whether the person was holding a gun  or a neutral object, such as a foam ball. ... Regardless of the situation, the study showed that those participants who were holding a gun reported "gun present" more than the other participants.'
All of this reminds me of Tolstoy, Gandhi, King and the recent Center for Global Nonkilling findings, where nonkilling has become the wisdom of a healthy world community. The current Harper Conservative Government today is grossly out of step with a sustainable society. It ought to take note and learn an important lesson in governance and the creation of a real sustainable equalitarian society based on love instead of hate. Yes, it is this truly human ingredient that is necessary to create a genuine democracy in Canada and to make the world safer for everyone!


  1. Ramesh Chaitoo8 April 2012 at 22:43

    Excellent comment Koozma. And yes, the Harper government is certainly autocratic and somewhat paranoid and mean, and it seems to be following the George Bush II (Big Ears) agenda regarding militarization and wars. It is scandalous for a country with Canada's peace-keeping and social traditions that they find it easy to spend 35 billion on fighter jets but argue that they have to cut spending on more important things to Canadian life. Pity that Canadians gave him a majority government. What is it with Conservatives and wars? Have they not learnt anything from the wastage and futile efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan?

  2. So now the government has decided to obey their own procurement rules. What does this exactly mean? To me this means questioning all assumptions that go into this procurement. Who are we as Canadians on the world stage, war fighters or peacemakers? What should we be doing in the world? What is affordable? Perhaps we need to start there.

    In the world of war fighters there is denial, but no doubt, that we are seeing the last generations of the fighter pilot, and probably already past the military utility of horrendously expensive manned fighter aircraft. The mid east conflict has shown definitively the value of unmanned and remotely controlled aircraft in reconnaissance and ground attack roles. There is no doubt that soon the air to air combat mission will be unmanned. The same for the maritime patrol roles or to meet any airspace sovereignty requirements. So what missions should the Canadian people ask an air force to fulfill? Certainly sovereignty surveillance, aid to the civil power in disasters, UN peacekeeping assistance, and alliance contributions for mutual defence. Hopefully, some mix of strategic transport, helicopters, maybe certain classes of drones will suffice.

    On the subject of the F35, I hope that DND is very embarrassed, as well they should be, in how this was handled. They know better. The political interference, the air force “old boys” network among allies, and the self interest must have been unbelievable.

    If this procurement is now to be fair, then we need to remember that we buy aircraft generally on a COST, PERFORMANCE, SCHEDULE, AND INDUSTRIAL OFFSET BASIS. A quick look would seem to indicate:

    COST. The F35 fails miserably against all competitors, which are cheaper by a huge margins. The F35 life cycle cost is 25 billion only if we are very very lucky.

    PERFORMANCE. The F35 fails again and is mediocre at best against competitors. Canada is huge and stealth compromises range, payload and manoeuvrability. Who pays for new air to air refuelling tankers? The F35 has limited range and capacity compared to competitors. Hanging fuel tanks and weapons on the F35 eliminates stealth. All others are better except possibly in the stealth mode. Stealth is not an overriding criteria for Canadian requirements Do we need it?

    SCHEDULE. The F35 fails miserably against competitors. The delivery schedule is totally unknown with the F35. The F35 will be manufactured under a block concept. Block 1 basic aircraft that can fly with very limited mission capacity will be delivered first. Then further capability will be developed and tested and incorporated in succeeding block upgrades. Clients will have to retrofit every upgrade developed at great expense. 5 to-6 blocks are expected. This will be a configuration nightmare. Whereas current competitors are tested and largely developed BEFORE DELIVERY. Development requirements are a NIGHTMARE to any aircraft procurement project as it is a license for massive cost overruns.

    INDUSTRIAL OFFSET. If this is what this is about, this money could probably pay for 400,000 students through university, and many other things, and more industrial development than this project will ever bring. We can extend the life of the CF-18 or begin to invest in unmanned aircraft which is the next generation.

    We have a chance to do this right, so let us get it right this time. This must be a shining example of fairness, transparency , affordability and consistent with Canadian values of peace and security.

    Paul Maillet
    Colonel Retired (Former CF-18 Aerospace Engineering and Life Cycle Fleet Manager)
    Tel: 613.841.9216 Cell: 613.866.2503
    President Paul Maillet CENTER FOR ETHICS
    Peace Services

  3. Koozma,

    Excellent, Educational, Constructive—should be done in every county in the world.

    Glenn D. Paige
    Chair, Governing Council
    Center for Global Nonkilling
    3653 Tantalus Drive
    Honolulu, HI 96822-5033 USA
    Tel. (+1) 808-536-7442

  4. Hello my friends,
    Thank you for your comments. On April 14th, the Ottawa Citizen ran a letter to the editor from Alex Hay which stated in part: 'Buying F-35s is participating in the arms race. We want our weapons to be better than their weapons; they will want theirs to be better than ours; then it will be our turn again.'
    I agree with the writer that the F-35 action creates 'an arms race.' Why should our elected leaders want to spend our money on an arms race? Let's send a strong message to our leaders to stop the F-35 and instead select planes that will be used for rescue and the like. That will be the real action in which we can say that 'Canada has come of age' Peace is the way, not the bloody and immoral arms race.