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While the Trudeau government demands economic “discipline” from workers, new estimates predict that the government’s incoming warship fleet will cost the public a shocking $306 billion.

‘One of the largest acquisitions in Canadian shipbuilding history’

According to new Parliamentary Budget Office estimates, the Trudeau government’s 15 new warships, first proposed in 2017, will cost over $306 billion. According to parliamentary budget officer Yves Giroux, that total includes $84.5 billion for construction and at least $219.8 billion to operate the ships.

The purchase was first promoted in the Liberal government’s 2017 Strong, Secure, Engaged report as “one of the largest acquisitions in Canadian shipbuilding history.” 

The new warships are designed specifically to replace the military’s Cold War-era Halifax-class and Iroquois-class destroyers and according to CBC News, are designed to follow British Type 26 or “Global Combat Ship” specifications.

A review of contract bids by Lockheed Martin, Irving Shipbuilding, and others leaves little room for doubt—these ships are made for combat.  Alongside a toned-array sonar system, the warships’ design allows them to be outfitted with Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles, an AEGIS Combat System, “devastating Sea Ceptor missiles,” quad-packed ESSM-guided missiles, and a long list of naval artillery guns.

Fiscal restraint’  for workers

While these war profiteers enjoy seemingly unending compensation, Canada’s workers are facing austerity from the same government.

In contrast to the $306 billion prepared for these warships, the 2022 budget allocated just $45 billion to the Canada Health Transfer and $15.9 billion to the Canada Social Transfer. 

Elsewhere, the Trudeau government allocated just $3.5 billion for the whole of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and a mere $247 million to ensure all Indigenous reserves have clean water.

On top of this, the same federal government is demanding that workers and the poor accept new cuts. Last spring, CBC News reported that the federal cabinet was reviewing options to place “social programs” under a spending review, similar to that seen ahead of the 1995 Liberal austerity budget.

More recently in a leaked cabinet memo, Chrystia Freeland, deputy prime minister and finance minister, demanded that new spending on social programs come from cuts to other line items or “internal reallocations”. 

On top of a 2022 budget surplus, Freeland told the Empire Club the government will plough ahead with its policy of “fiscal restraint” while insisting wage increases and income support programs are off the table. “We cannot compensate every single Canadian for all of the costs of inflation,” Freeland said.

More ships for new war

The warship purchase is a key pillar of the Trudeau government’s plans to massively increase military spending to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) target of two per cent of GDP, requiring tens of billions of dollars more every year. By all accounts, moreover, the purchase will enable Canada to launch new, offensive military operations.

In the 2017 proposal, the Trudeau government posits that these 15 warships will mark the “recapitalization” of Canada’s military’s land and sea forces “abroad.”

The fleet’s predecessors, the Iroquois-class and Halifax-class destroyers, themselves had a long history of belligerence.

In Korea, the original HMCS Iroquois was tasked with maintaining the Siege of Wonsan, the longest military blockade in human history, from 1951 until July 27, 1953—well after the official end of the Korean War.

During the Cold War, Canada’s warships were dispatched throughout the Caribbean extensively.

In 1961, Canada’s navy deployed its ships to assist U.S.-led surveillance operations against Cuba. The next year, Canadian navy personnel went further and prepared to join a U.S.-led blockade to, in the government’s words, “quarantine” the Cuban Revolution.

In 1963, the Diefenbaker government deployed a warship to Port-au-Prince during a coup attempt against right-wing dictator François Duvalier.

In 1965, when the United States invaded the Dominican Republic to crush the country’s left-wing rebels, Canada was eager to help. The Liberal government of the day sent its own warship to Santo Domingo to, in Defence Minister Paul Hellyer’s words, “stand by in case it is required.

In 1966, the Pearson government also deployed Canadian warships to Barbados during its independence celebration to, according to historian Tracy Nichols, provide “tactical support should the Castro regime in Cuba seek to destabilize the new country.”

In the 1990s, the Iroquois-class destroyers were deployed to impose crippling sanctions on Iraq in 1992 and Yugoslavia in 1993-94.

In 2001, the Iroquois-class destroyers “took the lead” to assist NATO’s invasion of Afghanistan. And, scandalously, in 2003, The Globe and Mail described Canada’s Iroquois-class destroyers as “the flagship of Task Force 151”—Canada’s secret and quietly-aborted Persian Gulf mission to support the invasion of Iraq.

Already, the prime minister has extended the deployment of similar frigates into the Mediterranean and Black seas as part of Operation Reassurance, reinforcing NATO’s presence in Central and Eastern Europe.

This new proposal, for a more “robust” Canadian military, explicitly promises to allow Canada’s military to intervene even more forcefully in multiple regions at once. As the document reads: “To ACT decisively with effective military capability is the ultimate goal 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”.

In particular, the Canadian military is proposed to bolster its force so it can maintain “two sustained deployments of 500-1,500 personnel in two different theatres of operation, including one as a lead nation.”

Capitalism makes war inevitable 

Attached to that 2017 priority list is a map of the world, with Canadian forces extending outwards into Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Asia.  These regions are, importantly, the top sites for outflowing Canadian foreign direct investment.

It is hardly coincidental that, while Canada plots aggressively to project its military power abroad, Global Affairs Canada observes: “Outward FDI, or CDIA, has come to play an increasingly important role in the Canadian economy.”

As the Global Affairs report itself observes, Canadian firms are, especially in a time of crisis, eager to find new markets, “lower-cost inputs” like lower wages and cheaper raw materials, and other sources of easy profits. Those profits, however, must be secured and that security requires the constant threat of military force. This is imperialism, pure and simple. 

Fight the cuts, fight imperialism

As the history of Canada’s military interventions in Iraq, Serbia, Kosovo, Haiti, Afghanistan, and Libya demonstrate, these imperialist wars always come with grave human consequences. To protect the capitalists and their profits, working class lives will be sacrificed again and again.

This is what Trudeau’s new warship purchase means.

The fight against cuts is necessarily linked to the fight against imperialist war.  The same capitalists who plunder the globe and benefit from war abroad are undercutting wages, benefits, and social conditions at home with the eager aid of the Liberal government. Both must be fought to ensure decent wages, working conditions, and living conditions for all.