When the Irving-owned Halifax Shipyard was awarded a $25 billion shipbuilding contract in October 2011, many Nova Scotians were jubilant. According to Premier Dexter, the deal – the largest military procurement in modern Canadian history – would result in thousands of jobs for the province, and mean that Nova Scotians driven west for work would now be able to come home.
But most Nova Scotians are unaware of the true nature of the shipbuilding deal, says peace activist Tamara Lorincz. She points out that it is warships that will be built, and it will be the one per cent who profits most.
In December, Lorincz, a mother of two, began “Wednesdays Against Warships,” a weekly protest in front of the Irving Shipyard. For the first couple of weeks, Lorincz stood alone, but her campaign is slowly gaining momentum.
“Many Nova Scotians feel, even in the social justice community, like this is a hard issue to tackle because there's widespread support [for the shipbuilding contract] and there's the possibility that Nova Scotia can get a lot of money,” says Lorincz. “I felt like I really needed to do something that was very public and very direct … I really want Nova Scotians to see me on the street with my sign, to critically think about their support of this contract.”
Canada does not need warships, says Lorincz, not least because we have no naval enemies. “Who are we going to be using the warships against?” [The federal government] won't answer that question,” she says.
“We're facing climate catastrophe. We're facing a poverty crisis in this country,” she says. “Those are the most pressing needs facing Canadians.”
Lorincz proposes using the $25 billion to build a national green jobs strategy. “We could be hiring Canadians in every single province and territory, retrofitting buildings, educating for environment and sustainability, installing renewable energy technology, building sustainable transportation.”
“We have chronic homelessness in this country. We've got First Nations people that are living on reserves with a housing stock that's been characterized by the UN Special Rapporteur of Indigenous Peoples as worse than third world housing. We could also be investing in a national affordable housing strategy. We could be hiring those people in the shipyard that are in construction and electrical ... We could also have a national early learning and childcare system.”
“We could do it all with 25 billion,” she says.
Lorincz laments the government putting the money into warships she says we don’t need.
“We've been told that ‘We need the warships to exert our sovereignty in the Arctic,' but there are many other ways that are much more fiscally responsible and more peaceful and more reasonable than using warships to exert our sovereignty.” Lorincz gives the example of a territorial dispute between Russia and Canada, which is currently being settled through the United Nations Convention of the Law of Sea Process. “Any issue that we have around Arctic sovereignty can be more prudently resolved by a UN process.”
Finally, although the shipbuilding contract will bring jobs to Nova Scotia, the benefits won’t be nearly what are being promised, says Lorincz.
“Canadians are enriching the one per cent with the shipbuilding contract,” she says. The Irving family, “is one of the richest families in the country.” In addition to winning the $25 billion shipbuilding contract, “The provincial government just gave a $260 million forgivable loan to Irving Limited … It's a private family business so Canadians have no access to their financial records, so we have no idea how this money will be spent.”
“This was a handout,” says Lorincz. “Canadians should be outraged. The provincial government, at a time when they're cutting back on education, gave a handout to the richest family in the country.
Only $5 billion of the $25 billion contract is predicted to stay in Nova Scotia, according to Ugurhan Berkok, a professor of politics and economics at the Royal Military College of Canada. In an article printed in Metro in 2011, Berkok explains that the Halifax Shipyard is not equipped to build the combat systems, electronics and propulsion units and predicts that Lockeed Martin will do that work.
“Lockeed Martin is the world’s wealthiest arms manufacturer,” says Lorincz. According to CNN, Lockeed Martin had revenues of over $46 billion in 2011.
Money should be going to fight climate change and poverty, says Lorincz, not to a weapons manufacturer. Yet, she says, “Not one MP stood up and said this money should be spend differently … The Conservative party, the Liberal party, the NDP and the Green party, have all come out in support of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy.”
With all parties supporting the Strategy, and many Nova Scotians banking on the jobs being promised, Lorincz has decided to take a weekly stand, and is inviting others to join her.
“I feel like personally this is such an important issue, that I really needed to do something. If I can't get the broader support that I need right now, then I'm just going to show personal leadership on this. I'm just going to go and hopefully I'll get more and more people to wake up to this issue, to support me and to stop the building of the warships.”
Wednesdays Against Warships happens every week from noon until one outside the Iriving Shipyard (3099 Barrington St). Check out demilitarize.ca for more information.
To listen to an interview with Tamara Lorincz, click here.