Halifax, Nova Scotia – Members of Halifax Voice of Women for Peace, the Halifax Peace Coalition, the Raging Grannies and their friends today gathered outside the Spring Garden Branch Library to mark the second annual Global Day of Action on Military Spending.
The day was of particular relevance in Halifax, due in no small part to the $25-billion shipbuilding contract recently award to Irving Shipbuilding. Touted by the province, and the Irvings, as the road to long-term financial success, the contract has been spun as the key to revitalizing Nova Scotia. Recently, though, the contract has received negative publicity for siphoning off public money towards the upper echelons of the financial kingdom, as demonstrated most recently by the provincial government's awarding of a $304 million loan - $260 million of which is forgivable - to the Irving family, to upgrade the very shipyards that were awarded the contract.
That these ships will be used to further Canada's famous brand of “gunboat diplomacy” was not lost on Sarah Morgan, one of the Day's local organizers.
“We're probably going to resolve disputes in the North with diplomacy and international law,” says Morgan. “So the boats are probably going to used to protect commercial rights.”
Locally, the shipbuilding contract has made for a swath of development projects, as developers project for an influx of workers, and cash. Economically impoverished neighbourhoods have already seen community centres, retired schools, and public spaces - spaces that could have been otherwise used to further the social capital of the community - sold on the chopping block for condominium projects.
Certain deals have been acknowledged by Halifax Regional Municipality as not having followed the guidelines for contract tenders. But it has also been acknowledged that that doesn't matter anymore. It would appear that it is a shipbuilding boom, and the rules are out the window.
“If it continues at the rate it is, it doesn't create a sustainable community,” says Morgan. “With boom and bust economies, it is projected that there will be a large increase in real estate prices which will drop afterwards.”
All of this is set in the backdrop of a Canadian society that has been rendered increasingly dependent on a militarized economy. For 2010-2011, National Defense accounted for 26% of federal expenditures, not including transfer payments. In 2011 this was upwards of $20 billion.
That this spending is not sustainable, and requires deep cuts to other areas of government expenditures, including the environment, health care, arts and culture, and education, was also addressed by the crowd in Halifax. In an entertaining example of street theatre, passersby over the noon hour were invited to take 25 cents and deposit it in one of five glasses.
“We're giving a choice to people as to where they'd like to put their $25 billion, if they'd been in charge of the budget,“ said Linda Christensen-Ruffman of Halifax Voices of Women for Peace, in explaining the glasses on the table. “We've been giving people 25 cents, representing $25 billion, and they've been choosing. It's unclear between health, education, environment and arts, but the military doesn't have any money so far.”
Indeed, if the empty glass marked “military”, and the willingness of the Raging Grannies in attendance to be photographed giving Prime Minister Stephen Harper the "reverse peace sign", are any indication, the people of Halifax are no longer represented by the militarized spending choices of their governments.