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Letter; ‘Nickel and diming’ when it comes to fighter jets

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Financial strain is hitting our communities. Even the charges for small amounts of minor services, or‘ nickel and diming’ adds up as we try to make ends meet during these Covid times. Do we pay attention to those added costs when it comes to taxpayers’ money on large ticket items? We should. It is time to give our full attention to the second most expensive military procurement in Canadian history as the bids are in for the $19 billion purchase of 88 new fighter jets. Rumour has it that the actual price could be about $44.7 billion. Here is some information that should be nagging (or should I say nickel-ing) at the back of our budget conscious minds. 

Where are the small added costs of buying bombers? Let’s take a look. Since 1997 the Canadian government has already spent over $500 million as part of the international consortium to develop the fifth generation stealth fighters, the F35. The $19 billion purchase price does not include life cycle costs. A fighter jet is not a snow blower, let me tell you. I was surprised to learn that according to the Auditor General’s 2012 study, the estimated cost for the full life cycles of 88 jets would be $123.2 billion. Measuring the damage done extracting (in man camps), refining, transporting and shaping the materials into weapons of destruction has not found its way into official reports. Housing the fleet in new digs has a $9.2 million price tag and that contract for the jets’ facility has already been awarded. 

It is ‘not sweating the small stuff” to expose the so-called life cycle costs of a missile carrying machine designed to take life away. In the report on Gender- Based Violence and the Arms Trade Treaty, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) explains trading in arms “is an investment, not only in the tools of war, but also in the creation of a negative masculine cultural identity inherently linked to the use of violence as a means of conflict resolution.” Spending and trading in arms, possessing them and using them “ have specific gender and power dimensions that need to be further examined and addressed.” We are getting more than we bargained for if we participate in the arms trade. The narrative of service to the country can’t cover up recent high profile news stories of sexism and hate crimes in the ranks of the Canadian military, including the Air Force. How do we figure that into the ‘small change’? 

Will these jets wing their way to a green future? We know that Canadian National Defense emits more greenhouse gas than any other national department by a factor of five. And yet, it is still difficult to know the scope of military carbon emissions. The F35 emits more carbon in one long-range flight than the typical car emits in a year. The specialized fuel (internal fuel capacity of 2,846 gallons per F-35) is refined with toxic chemicals allowing the jets to fly higher,faster and dirtier than commercial aircraft. Canada’s defense spending is projected to reach $32 billion by 2026, while the budget for environment and climate has flatlined around the $1 billion mark since 1997. You get what you pay for? 

Our best hope for economic recovery is to create green jobs as part of the essential transition to a decarbonized economy. The Canadian Labour Congress points out that spending roughly the same amount on public transit that we have earmarked for jets over a five year period would create close to half a million jobs and reduce instead of increasing GHG emissions. By contrast, Lockheed Martin has stated, “According to the Statistics Canada model, approximately 50,000 jobs will be created in Canada through the selection of the F-35.” Boeing and Saab appear to have been less specific on job numbers so far. One hour of flight of a fighter jet, $55,000 is more than a health care worker at Northwood makes in a year. 

Here in Nova Scotia, the Gripen is in the fighter jet contract ring as we approach the countdown. With a lucrative fighter jet contract dangling, Mr.Ken Rowe CEO of IMP Aerospace and homegrown billionaire, stated that “everyone and their dog gets involved ” regarding the $19 billion to be spent in the fighter jet procurement and that “the military will have a quiet say…” A quiet say is barking up the wrong tree for change. 

Kathrin Winkler

See also: Media release: Protests in Halifax and across Canada call for an end to fighter jet procurement

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