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Pricy Jets a Nice Haul for Lockheed Execs

Halifax Peace Coalition celebrates King, Eisenhower in picket against F-35s at Stadacona

by Moira Peters

Lockheed Martin, arms manufacturer, has an office on Canadian Forces Stadacona Base. This represents the inappropriate relationship between the weapons industry and the Canadian government, according to peace activists in Halifax. photo by Moira Peters
Lockheed Martin, arms manufacturer, has an office on Canadian Forces Stadacona Base. This represents the inappropriate relationship between the weapons industry and the Canadian government, according to peace activists in Halifax. photo by Moira Peters
Halifax Peace Coalition participants Helen Lofgren, left, and Roger Davies, right. photo by Moira Peters
Halifax Peace Coalition participants Helen Lofgren, left, and Roger Davies, right. photo by Moira Peters

The decision by Canada's government to invest $9 billion in the "next generation" of fighter jets is a Nova Scotian issue, and should be of particular concern to Haligonians, according to anti-war protesters at the Canadian Forces Stadacona Base on January 17.

The protest was held on Martin Luther King Jr Day, a day to remember Dr. King's messages to combat poverty, racism and militarism.  January 17 was also the  50th anniversary of US President Dwight Eisenhower's farewell address, in which he warned "against the acquisition of unwarranted influence...by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

The Halifax Peace Coalition organized the early morning picket at the entrance to the Stadacona base on Gottingen Street, challenging the federal government's decision to enter into a sole-source, non-competitive $9 billion contract with US weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin.

The deal, announced in June 2010 by National Defense Minister Peter MacKay, MP for Central Nova, will be the largest military procurement in Canadian history.

Lockheed Martin is the largest weapons manufacturer in North America and one of the largest in the world. The company has an office right on the Stadacona base – an unfortunate reflection of Eisenhower's fears, according to Heidi Verheul, a teacher and an organizer with the Halifax Peace Coalition.

"If it's up to the Department of National Defense to make decisions about procuring things, [Lockheed Martin's office on the base] does not speak very well of leveling the playing field, or preventing industry from lobbying behind the scenes," she said. "Wouldn't it be nice to have a peace office on the base?"

"Lockheed Martin is putting tremendous pressure on the government to increase military spending," said Tamara Lorincz of the Halifax Peace Coalition and another protester at the picket. "They got $1.4 billion to upgrade the combat systems on frigates, and now they have $16 billion for stealth fighters." Lorincz was referring to the $9 billion for the cost of the jets, plus $7-11 billion maintenance and support costs estimated by military analysts – costs that will fall to Canadian taxpayers.

"This money will be going directly to line the pockets of US weapons manufacturers and their executives," said Lorincz.

The economic contrast – and the relationship – between a company with US$4 billion in profits in 2009 and the local population in Halifax was not lost on the group protesting Canada's increased investment in the military industry.

"In Halifax, we see marginalized populations, people with limited economic means, like the Black community, with a long history in the city, and immigrants, being targetted for recruitment by the military," said Verheul. "Martin Luther King, Jr talked about that."

Roger Davies of the Halifax Peace Coalition agreed. "There is a disproportionate number of poor people, of those with less opportunity, in the military," he said.

This phenomenon represents a change in recruitment tactics, according to Davies, who was drafted to serve in Vietnam in 1968. "During the Vietnam era, there was a military draft [in the United States]; we were forced to fight," he said. "In the US, from the point of view of the military, it has become a better idea to make it a poverty draft."

A "poverty draft" targets young people of economic disadvantage, offering money and training to people who otherwise might not be attracted to serving. For example, "In Canada, the military targets Aboriginal people for recruitment," said Davies.

The Canadian Armed Forces is trying other tactics to give recruitment a face-lift, recently opening a recruitment office in a strip mall on Mumford Road as part of a new model for offices across Canada. The move is aimed to make enlisting in the army "more of a sales experience,” according to Commodore Daniel MacKeigan.

An activist with the Quaker community, Davies works on counter-recruitment campaigns in high schools to make students aware of what he calls propaganda put out by the military. "The young people have been supportive of us and aware that the Services puts a positive spin on military service...We assist students in asking questions like, what are you getting training for? Not a lot of [that training] transfers."

Davies said it is impossible for someone fighting in a war to return home unscathed, but that the military is in denial of this. "PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] is seen by the military as a psychological problem – a disease that you get if you can't handle yourself. The truth," he said, "is that soldiering is soul-destroying."

The Canadian government and Veterans Affairs have recently come under fire for their lack of support for veterans and veterans' families. Of note, Veterans Affairs illegally shared medical information about Sean Bruyea in an effort to discredit his outspoken criticism of the new Veterans Charter, a controversial program that grants injured veterans lump sum payments instead of regular pensions for life. Veterans ombudsman Pat Stogran was shown the door by the Harper government after he blasted politicians and public officials for the neglect of Canada's veterans.

The Halifax Peace Coalition's opposition to Canada's ballooning military spending is rooted in the value of peace over war. "I have two little boys," Lorincz said. "I want to leave them a world where we invest in the next generation of people, not the next generation of fighter jets." 

The message put forth by politicians, however, is that investing in the military is good for the Canadian economy.  Under the Canada First Defense Strategy, $490 billion is slated to be spent on the Canadian military in the next 20 years.

Canada's annual deficit is $53 billion, and the total national debt is $555 billion. According to a pamphlet circulated at the picket, which outlined "10 reasons to oppose the F-35s," Canada simply cannot afford the price tag attached to 65 new jets.

The pamphlet highlighted Canada's Auditor General Sheila Fraser's warning that the F-35 program was at high risk for cost overruns, based on her audit of a similar sole-sourced purchase of helicopters; and the US Government Accounting Office reported rising costs and technical problems with its own F-35s earlier this year.

Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of Canada's "investment" in fighter jets is that the deal comes with no guaranteed economic spin-offs for Canada. Defense Minister MacKay has only entered Canada into a memorandum of understanding – not a contract – with Lockheed Martin for procurement of the jets. In other words, there are no guarantees that any Canadians will benefit – from jobs, for example – from the federal government's commitment to the weapons giant.

If Canada's deal with Lockheed Martin were to generate jobs for Canadians, "Is this the type of industry we want?" asked Lorincz. "We could build jobs, we could encourage a green economy. We don't need stealth bombs. Who will we be stealthily bombing? Canada's military budget has doubled in six years, to $20 billion," she said. "We've spent $26 million on the status of women."

"I see it in the education system," said Verheul, of the decision to spend tax dollars on war machines, "where we are asked to take budget cuts." Nova Scotia's department of education announced a 22 per cent cut to the education budget in the upcoming fiscal year.

"I see it in health care," she said. "I see it in people asking for change on Spring Garden [Road]. I hope that some of that money [put toward military] can be redirected to things that Canadians have articulated again and again."

"It's an incredible waste of money, and I don't feel safer because the government wants to buy [the F-35s], said Davies. "The military industrial complex," comprised of companies such as Lockheed Martin, "is about the powerful people involved. It's separate from democracy; it's even separate from war."

Moira Peters is an editor with The Dominion and a volunteer with the Halifax Media Co-op.

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1289 words


On base?

LM has an office on the Stadacona Base?

I'm not surprised by much these days, but for some reason that got to me.

It *should* get to you

When an arms dealer's office on an army base seems normal, that's when we should really worry.

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