Should taxes fund Canada’s military?

A Fictional Debate

April 11, 2012 | Feature | Volume 16 Issue 8
By Mary Groh | Conscience Canada
  • Resolution: Be it resolved that Canada would be more secure if funding were  re-allocated from the military to development at home and abroad.
  • Speaker for the resolution: Professor Constance Candida
  • Speaker against the resolution: Retired General Warren Shuter

Candida: All Canadians want to live in peace, and without fear of having our homes and families destroyed by hostile forces. That goes without saying. So our government naturally feels justified in allocating huge amounts of tax money, in the name of security, to the Department of National Defence and other programs. For 2011-12, Canada is planning to spend more than $34 billion on its national security establishment.

I say that this is not only extravagant and wasteful, but counter-productive. Even if we left the public safety program—like the Correctional Service of Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canada Border Services Agency and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service—out of the reckoning, we are still left with $21 billion plus for national defence.

But Canadians could be more secure without this huge military structure than we are with it, were those $21 billion spent on making our people and country stronger and proactive against real threats, and were we engaged in activities abroad that would create friends, rather than enemies.

Shuter: The government of any democratic nation is committed to the well-being of its citizens and that includes doing its utmost to defend its home territory and its foreign interests. It is unthinkable that we would be able to do that without a strong military.

Look around you, Professor, at the world the rest of us live in, and see that military preparedness is an accepted fact of life. Our armed forces must not only be strong, but must be seen to be strong. If we were to fall behind the capabilities of our allies, we would lose the respect of our friends and go down in the world’s opinion as a people who rely on others to look after us in the event of war.

Predators and terrorists are out there looking for weak spots, which will allow them in with their dirty tricks. And we have our vast coastlines to protect. A strong military is an absolute necessity and it doesn’t come cheap. In fact, Canada’s has been under-funded for years. If we had had more helicopters in Afghanistan, we would not have lost so many brave men to improvised explosive devices on the roads there.

Candida: We need not have lost any soldiers in Afghanistan, in my opinion, General. Was Afghanistan a threat to our security?

And as for a country needing a military to be successful, just take a look back at Japan. In the first half of the 20th century, Japan subscribed to your ideology of military strength, and look where that got it, and the rest of us, too.

And after World War II, when it abandoned its military ambitions, foreswore an army and put its energy into productive uses, Japan became a super industrial power and a great modern democracy. And it is completely surrounded by coastline, and next door to a not very friendly giant.

If our government would call a halt to war preparedness and make a true assessment of Canada’s risks, it could come up with a list of immediate close-to-home weaknesses, which the Defence Department’s billions could begin to address.

More brave Canadians have been lost and injured in the past 10 years due to poorly maintained buildings and roads, bridges and ferries, leaking oil pipelines and polluted water supplies, homelessness, poor housing, under-funded health care—and the list goes on—than ever would have been saved from improvised explosive devices by helicopters in Afghanistan.

And if the government really cared about Canada being respected by the rest of the world, it would clean up the living conditions of the First Nations in northern settlements, and the exploitive practices of our many mining and fossil-fuel companies on our own and foreign soils.

Any fair-minded government would not need to have its arm twisted to get its support for international agreements like the Kyoto Protocol and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Not only the global community is losing its admiration for Canada, but some of our own are losing their ready patriotism which you people so much depend upon.

Shuter: And we have it, too. It is plainly to be seen at every Remembrance Day ceremony at every cenotaph across the country, and in the first of July events in Ottawa and nationwide. People’s hearts swell with pride and many eyes fill with tears when they see the vets marching by and the air force flying over in formation. The Snow Birds are admired worldwide.

And the newcomers to our country can hardly wait to become citizens of Canada. Those delegated from the Defence Department to swearing-in ceremonies see the pride and joy in the faces of people from all parts of the world. They are not dwelling on our country’s shortcomings, as you love to do, Professor. They are thinking of the great future they and their children will have, and the guarantee of that future is the military establishment.

True patriotism is being ready to make sacrifices for one’s country. Are you ranking roads and bridges ahead of peace and freedom? A strong military keeps war from our homes and airspace so that we can continue to enjoy the way of life our heroes in the past have fought and died to preserve.

We have a lot to fear from bad actors who hate the West and our values. We have to get rid of these threats. That’s what the Department of National Defence is for. But you don’t want to support it!

Candida: The statement that we face threats from under-developed countries is certainly debatable. They have their own problems of bad government, corruption, civil unrest and poverty to focus on.

How long are we Canadians going to allow ourselves to be held hostage by the Al Qaeda attacks on New York City? As for the terrorists those countries you speak of  may harbour, the military might get the ringleaders, or not, but you can be sure that bringing overpowering military might down on a country, with all the terror and destruction that ensues, will create and grow the hostility of the population, and produce more bad actors and threats.

If Canada would spend even a small portion of its “security” tax money on going into these trouble spots and getting involved in making peace and security for them, instead of making war on them, the picture would change. I’m talking about funding grassroots development, and sending civilians to partner with them in building up their country economically and improving their justice and governance systems, their education and healthcare systems. If this scenario were to be played out, General, your club would soon fill up with new retirees and even younger officers out of a job.

While due domestic diligence is in order, along with smart vigilance, our government should lay off its consuming obsession with Islamic terrorists and face squarely the certain threat that is ad-
vancing inexorably upon us. I am speaking of climate change.

The extreme weather-related disasters that the world has suffered recently were predicted by science, and Canada has had a foretaste also of extreme flooding, drought, wind storms and forest fires. But like an ostrich, we keep our heads buried in our tar sands.

The polar ice melting so fast should convince us to take global warming seriously. When our prairie breadbasket turns into a dust bin, will our new F-35 fighter jets be good for fighting hunger? When the climate-change refugees from the world’s tropical coast lands head for our shores, are we going to use our nuclear subs to turn them back or blow them up?

How can we respect a government that makes security such a large part of our tax burden, but encourages the very industries that spoil our land, our water and our air? Instead of being asked to help fund renewable energy enterprises, we Canadians are being asked to throw our money away into the mega-military-fossil-fuel-industrial corporations. They produce products that are useless to our security, while delivering insecurity, destruction and death to the “enemies” that this profiteering juggernaut fabricates to keep itself in business. I totally reject paying for this folly with my taxes!

Shuter: Your red face does not become you, Professor. Also, you are short-sighted. If Canada would shut down the industries you happen to object to, think of the thousands of Canadian jobs that would be lost. Not only do the tar sands and the oil pipeline projects provide huge amounts of wealth for our country, but they also produce the fuel we and our American friends rely on.

Lockheed Martin and other corporations that make state-of-the art military hardware also contribute greatly to our gross domestic product. Without them, Canada, in the foreseeable future, would be a poorer country, less powerful, more vulnerable.

It is a simple fact, and I don’t know anybody who does not agree with me, that Canada must have the latest military vehicles on land, sea and in the air. And, furthermore, we must have the fuel it takes to operate them.

When you and your fellow citizens pay your taxes, you are keeping our brave men and women in uniform equipped in a way that will show to the world we are ready to play our part in the defence of democracy and human rights around the globe. Taxpayers can be proud Canadians.

Readers who side with the professor are encouraged to find out how to re-direct their military taxes at A peace tax return there will assist you to make a declaration of conscience to the government or, as a self-employed person, withhold the 7.9 percent of your federal income taxes that would go to the military, and put that amount into a peace tax trust fund.

For discussion

1. What is your emotional response to Canada’s national anthem or to a Remembrance Day celebration? Do Mennonites have the same sense of patriotism as other Canadians? Do we see ourselves as separate and different from Canadian society (II Corinthians 6:14-18)?

2. Professor Candida argues that climate change is a bigger threat to Canada than Islamic terrorists. Do you agree? Do you think the military industry exaggerates the dangers of foreign aggression to increase its sales? Would Canada be better off without the military industry?

3. How do you respond to Professor Candida’s suggestion that making friends with countries abroad makes more sense than taking a defensive militaristic stance? Is this true of personal relationships as well? Is love truly stronger than hate?

4. Is it appropriate for Mennonites to tell the government how to allocate money raised from taxes? How do you interpret Romans 13:1-6 or I Peter 2:13-17? Should all Mennonites be encouraged to redirect a percentage of their taxes to the peace tax trust fund? 

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