K'jipuktuk (Halifax) - To bemoan cuts to federal environment spending, of which there have been many in recent budgets, and yet to remain mum on - indeed in some cases to actively root for - monstrous increases in federal military spending, is, to Tamara Lorincz, hypocritical. The federal budget for National Defense dwarves all other departmental budgets and while the cuts to environment are quickly lamented, the redistribution of tax-payer money towards increased militarism is at the very least ignored, and is often facilitated by a compliant federal opposition.
So it was that on Earth Day, Lorincz - a one-woman army for peace that holds regular 'Warship Wednesday' protests outside of the Irving Shipyards in Halifax - staged a protest outside NDP environment critic (and MP for Halifax) Megan Leslie's office.
Lorincz and Leslie's paths have intersected before at various points in their lives. They were classmates at law school. They also ran for the federal NDP in 2008; Leslie in the riding of Halifax, Lorincz in the riding of Halifax West.
I caught up with Tamara Lorincz on a misty Wednesday outside the Irving Shipyards in Halifax.
On Earth Day you decided to protest outside of Megan Leslie's office. What inspired you to do that?
I know that Megan Leslie is the NDP Environment critic and she cares very much about the natural environment and about climate change. She's also the member of parliament that represents Halifax, and Halifax is where the Irving shipyard is going to be building the new fleet of warships for the Canadian Navy.
This is part of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy. $25 billion will be spent to build new warships and I think that there is a link between the money that's being spent on warships and the money that is not being spent to take action on climate change and protecting the natural environment.
I think Megan should be concerned that our federal tax dollars are not going to protect our air, water and soil and instead are going to building warships.
I know that Megan is also very aware of all of the cuts under this federal Conservative government since 2006 to the environment. Cutting the National Science Advisor, cutting the Climate Change Research and Impacts Network, cutting the 1 Ton Challenge program, cutting the Experimental Lakes Research Centre, muzzling scientists; she's aware. Cutting the budget to the Canadian Environmental Protection Agency, cutting the budget and closing down of the National Roundtable of the Environment and the economy; Megan is well aware of all the cuts that have taken place to the environment.
But at the same time she is supporting $25 billion being spent on warships. And I just don't think that's right.
Do you see a hypocrisy between being pro-warship and pro-environment?
I absolutely do. There is no need for Megan Leslie and the NDP to be supporting the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy and to be supporting the building of a new fleet of warships for the Canadian Navy.
At this time we know that we can solve any marine challenges under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. We have international law. Canada ratified this piece of international law in 2003. So it is enforced. We've got diplomacy, negotiations; we have peaceful tools to solve any conflict that might take place in our Arctic or that might take place in the marine environment.
Megan Leslie's a lawyer. She knows the power of the rule of international law to solve conflict peacefully.
Warships are not what's needed at this time when we are facing catastrophic climate change. When we are seeing greater environmental degradation. We know also from polling with Canadians that health care, education, environment and job creation are the top priorities for Canadians. The building of new warships is not a priority for Canadians and it should not be a priority for the federal government.
Megan Leslie needs to be asked why the building of new warships is a priority and taking precedence over all of these other very serious environmental and social challenges that we face.
You weren't always necessarily disillusioned with the federal NDP message. You ran for the party in 2008 in Halifax West. Now your website notes that you'll never run for the NDP again. What has changed for you?
I became disillusioned with the NDP because of their support for militarism and for their unwillingness to tackle the very serious problem of the increase of military spending.
Over the last ten years I have been following the public accounts of Canada. I've seen how the federal budget for education, the environment, for First Nations people has been cut, but the military budget doubled. It went from $10 billion in 2003 to now a high of $20 billion.
We got ourselves into a war in Afghanistan, and there was very little critical analysis and dissent by the federal NDP and the provincial NDP about the troubling rise of militarism in our country and the troubling rise in military spending that we're seeing in the public accounts.
The political parties know that budgets reflect the priorities of Canadians. Budgets are kind of moral documents, and that budgets reflect choices and tradeoffs. So for the NDP not to challenge why so much money is going to the military and not going to their purported priorities [is not right]. The NDP say that they care about affordable housing, they say that they care about the environment and healthcare. But they're not advocating strongly enough that money which is going in the wrong direction in military spending should go in the right direction, into really helping on environmental and social needs in the country.
In terms of voting, there's still people who hold out hope for the democratic process. If not for the NDP, who is there to vote for on the left? Do you still hold out hope that this party in particular can be pushed, over other parties, to action?
My experience being involved with the party made me realize that parties don't lead on issues. They ascertain where the public is moving on certain issues and if they feel like there's enough momentum behind certain issues then they'll step out on it. But they never truly lead on the issues. It's really the public that is not hamstrung or hampered by party messaging and party manoeuvring and the party whip. The public really has the power. The public can push the parties in the right direction. The public can lead on issues.
So I left the party because I realized it was never going to lead on the issue of militarism. It would never really be a strong voice for peace and for non-violence and for disarmament. They just weren't going to move. So I really wanted to leave the party and push in that direction.
I think that the democratic system that we have right now, where we have first past the post, makes it very difficult for Canadians to truly have their votes reflected in the make-up of the House of Commons. I think that the party system is problematic. The first past the post system does not reflect, truly, the will of the Canadian public. We need electoral reform. We need proportional representation. And we need greater party diversity to truly reflect the views of Canadians.
The National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy is a good example of this problem that we have in Canada right now. Of 308 members of parliament in the House of Commons, every single one of them and every single political party, they all supported the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy. They all supported 25 billion of Canadian hard-earned tax dollars being spent to build a new fleet of warships for the Navy.
But there are people like myself, and I know that there are many other people, that don't want our tax dollars going to be building new warships. We want our money to be building affordable housing, mass transit, eliminating poverty and homelessness and investing in education and in healthcare.
If Canadians were given that choice, I think that Canadians would want that money to be spent in other ways. But nobody in the House of Commons said that. No one said that. And no one in the House of Assembly in Nova Scotia. Every single MLA voted, unanimously, to support the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy and for the Irving Shipyard that is based in Halifax to win the big combat vessel package.
Any last questions for Megan Leslie and the NDP?
I would like to know why Megan Leslie supports the building of ships for the Navy. I would like to know what her and her party think those warships are going to be used for. And if she thinks that that's really going to be a good investment, in terms of sustainable development, and how it reconciles with her concerns about climate change and poverty in this country.
I'd also like to find out why her party leader, Thomas Mulcair, still hasn't answered my letter, that I hand-delivered to his office in January. It's been almost four months that I've been waiting for a reply from Thomas Mulcair about why his party pushed so hard for a National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, instead of pushing for a National Green Economy Strategy or a National Affordable Housing Strategy, or a National Early Learning and Childcare Strategy.
I want to know why Megan Leslie thinks that the military is a priority. Over the environment. Over children. And over the poor.