Justin Trudeau’s cabinet is using the war in Ukraine to justify “aggressive” military spending increases in the forthcoming budget. NATO is demanding Canada spend two per cent of GDP on guns and tanks, up from a present 1.4 per cent. This enormous waste of resources is explicitly aimed at extending imperialist military force abroad—and it must be opposed.

Image: Ministry of Defense of Ukraine

‘Aggressive options’

Since late February, as the war in Ukraine intensified, NATO officials have been pressing its member countries to “redouble” their military commitments, chiefly with “significant increases in defence spending.”

Since 2006, NATO has insisted its members allocate two per cent of GDP to military spending. Ahead of NATO’s upcoming conference in Madrid, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told CBC, “We have an agreement and I expect all allies, also Canada, to follow up on that.”

Canada’s 2021-22 budget allocated $24.3 billion, about 1.4 per cent of GDP, to the Department of National Defence—up from $23.3 billion in 2020-21. To meet the two per cent target, Canada would have to increase spending by $10 billion, to $34.96 billion.

But as Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux told CTV News, that’s only the beginning: “To meet two per cent of a growing base you have to spend more and we’re far from that two per cent target as it is, so anywhere between $20 to 25 billion more per year, every year.” [our emphasis]

Asked if the government plans to hike spending, Prime Minister Trudeau committed to “look at what more we can do.”

Defence Minister Anita Anand told CBC News she is willing to increase spending further: “I personally am bringing forward aggressive options which would see [Canada], potentially, exceeding the two per cent level.”

The National Post, The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Sun and the Toronto Star have all joined the chorus, each claiming Canada’s military is “underfunded.” According to the Star, this has left Canadians “lamenting the absence of new fighters and warships.” When people are struggling to pay rent and buy fuel, we really wonder what “Canadians” the corporate media is talking to. Clearly it is nobody you or I are likely to meet.

The myth of Canada’s ‘underfunded’ military

Ahead of this year’s budget, one insider told CBC News that, despite significant increases in military spending, all other programs can expect a “prudent” budget—an end to COVID-19 “benefits and aid programs” and new strings attached to health spending.

Canada’s military spending, however, already far exceeds that of many other federal programs. 

According to last year’s Budget Estimates, the federal government spent more on the military—at $24.3 billion—than on:

  • The Public Health Agency of Canada ($8.7 billion)
  • The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation housing ($3.2 billion) 
  • All social programs funded by the Canada Social Transfer ($15 billion)
  • Long-term care ($3 billion) 
  • Indigenous services ($13.4 billion)

Spending two per cent of GDP on the military would further exceed the federal government’s $34 billion contribution to the health transfer, which helps fund the entire Canadian health care system. 

It can hardly be said, however, that health care, housing, and income support programs are overfunded. Across Canada, 1.3 million children live in poverty, 253,000 people are homeless, reserves lack clean drinking water, and Canada’s health system has the lowest number of acute care beds in the industrialized world. Yet these pressing demands are being ignored in favour of militarism.

What ‘defence spending’ actually means

Asked by Global News what the government’s near-term plans to raise spending looked like, Anand promised to remain “on track” to meet the timeline outlined in the Trudeau government’s 2017 defence review Strong, Secure, Engaged.

In the document, the Trudeau government promised to meet NATO’s two per cent target on an ongoing basis until 2037, spending $63 billion annually. The review also looked to purchase 15 warships and 88 new fighter jets. 

The reality is that the government’s proposal for a more “robust” military explicitly aimed to allow Canada’s military to intervene more forcefully, elsewhere: “To ACT decisively with effective military capability is the ultimate goal [our emphasis] of Canada’s new approach to defence…The Canadian Armed Forces will be prepared to renew Canada’s strong commitment to NORAD and NATO, acting in multiple theatres simultaneously”.

The document specifies that the new purchases would enable Canada to maintain “two sustained deployments of 500-1,500 personnel in two different theatres of operation, including one as a lead nation.” Attached to that priority list is a map of the world, with Canadian forces extending outwards into Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Asia.

This is not about keeping anyone safe. This is about extending the Canadian government’s “use of force” abroad. This is imperialism, pure and simple.

It is no coincidence, furthermore, that Latin America, Africa, and the Caribbean—the top sites for Canada’s prospective, expanded military interventions—are also the recievers of corporate Canada’s largest international investments.

In Ukraine, the Canadian government has spent at least a decade helping back organizations like Pora and right-wing politicians like Viktor Yushchenko, while also pushing for Ukraine to join NATO. Since 2015, Canada has further ramped up its efforts as part of “Operation Unifier”—providing military training to Ukrainian soldiers and right-wing battalions and conducting warship operations in the Black Sea. At the same time, successive federal governments have promised to open Ukraine up to Canadian businesses by, among other things, weakening tariffs and privatizing state-owned railways and oil and gas assets. Indeed, in 2008, when Canada endorsed NATO membership for Ukraine, then-prime minister Stephen Harper himself noted that this support was contingent on Ukraine further “opening up its economy.”

Just as the police exist to defend the interests of capital at home, the Canadian military exists to defend the interests of capital abroad. “Stability” and “peace” mean stable profits and peaceful exploitation for Canada’s capitalists, unrivalled by capitalists from other imperialist blocs, or by workers’ movements in those countries. When these capitalists’ profits are threatened, the Canadian military must always be at the ready. The existence of imperialism necessarily requires ever-expanding military power and, inevitably, war.

If Canada’s military missions are any indication, the human consequences of Canada’s expanded military powers will be grave. Canada’s recent interventions, as part of NATO, in Serbia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere all targeted civilian and military infrastructure alike—including schools and hospitals—killing tens of thousands and forcibly displacing many more.

No to Trudeau’s military ambitions

Federal officials have made it clear that every dollar that goes to the military is a dollar that isn’t going to the programs that working people actually depend on. 

Despite the media’s massive bias in favour of new military spending, there are already signs that many are not convinced.

A March 23 Nanos Poll found a majority of Canadians, 53 per cent, do not support increasing income taxes to pay for new military spending. Indeed, despite the “aggressive” posture assumed by Canada’s Defence Minister, only 19 per cent said they “strongly support” tax increases to pay for an expanded military.

A significant share, 39 per cent, further oppose spending more on defence in general, and said they would rather see the money spent on other things.

Thirty-nine per cent is not a majority.  But it is greater than the 20 per cent of eligible voters who backed the Trudeau Liberals in the 2021 federal election.  

Intuitively, many people understand that redirecting funds from overwhelmed schools and hospitals to guns, bombs, tanks, and warplanes is not in their interest. This part of the population, who oppose Canadian militarism, can and must be organized into mass movements to fight Canadian imperialism. The bosses use their state to fight workers at home, and they use their state to fight workers abroad. They do all this to maximize profits for the rich, at the expense of the poor. We say no.