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Comment: How to justify useless military spending — don’t discuss it

A commentary by a retired barrister and solicitor who is a professor of law emeritus at Washington and Lee University.

A commentary by a retired barrister and solicitor who is a professor of law emeritus at Washington and Lee University.

The recent handwringing by Lawrie McFarlane and many others over the deficit in the proposed federal budget was painfully predictable.

The omission of military spending from a recent Times Colonist article purporting to catalogue “highlights of the 2021 budget” was similarly to be expected.

That is because government leaders of all political stripes and the media have decided that it is best not to participate in a debate that they could lose. And one has to admit that simply refusing to come out and join the rhetorical fight is a very effective strategy so far.

Canadians are exchanging conflicting views about budgets and deficits. That is healthy.

But the exchange is devoid of any reference to military spending that some of us would claim has an objective value that is minuscule at best and no comparative value at all. Currently, however, there is no need for the arms merchants, the media or politicians to even acknowledge such claims.

Why should they? They own the status quo.

I confess to being weary of punching air, so I will offer only one of many examples of what the debate could look like.

As a comparative matter, Canada plans to spend at least $96.3 billion on new warships and fighter planes. (That figure does not include the $75 million or so Canada continues to pay annually just to stay in the bidding cartel for the planes.)

On the other hand, equalization payments for education, health care and social services are to total $71.9 billion. If there was an actual debate, is that the way Canadians would choose to allocate this funding?

To protect as much of its $96.3 billion as possible, the arms merchants and politicians would have to address several questions.

They would, for example, have to tell us just what they mean by the “evolving threat” these weapons are supposed to be addressing. Who are these planes supposed to attack? What is the benefit to us compared with doubling those equalization payments?

They would have to justify the DND being the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the federal structure.

Those on my side of the debate would have to articulate what we mean by a “just transition” to non-lethal and environmentally sustainable jobs.

Part of that would have to be the plain statement that job creation anywhere, including Quebec and B.C., is no justification for the producing items whose only function is to kill people.

I do not know how the debate would come out. I am fairly optimistic that my fellow Canadians would demand that a good chunk of the $96.3 billion be redirected to our many domestic needs.

The current situation, however, is akin to a brief announcement that the Stanley Cup will be awarded this year to the Vancouver Canucks.

No regular season. No playoffs. No explanation. Just the ceremony.

While this award would no doubt make some folks quite happy, even they would know it was not deserved.