The Trudeau government has announced they’re spending $70 billion on new fighter jets. This comes at a time when most working-class Canadians are struggling to even pay the bills. The NDP, which had previously opposed the purchase, has reversed their position, limiting their criticism to the insistence that the jets be made in Canada!  

‘Self defence’

The Liberals have described the deal as “the largest investment in the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) in the past 30 years.” At $85 million per jet, this purchase is expected to exceed the 2022-23 budget estimates for federal spending on healthcare and education by tens of billions of dollars. 

Defence Minister Anita Anand has stated that “The F-35 will be essential for protecting Canadians,” implying that the planes will be used for self-defence purposes. But nothing could be further from the truth. 

Canada has fostered a reputation as a “peace-keeping” nation, but in actuality, the Canadian military participated in the bombing of Libya, Syria, Iraq, and former Yugoslavia which killed scores of innocent people. For instance, Canadian army personnel have participated in a U.S.-lead team in Iraq and Syria which is estimated to have killed 7,000 civilians. 

Far from being peaceful, Canada is a wealthy imperialist power. Canadian capitalism has its own interests overseas and the Canadian state will not hesitate to use military force in order to defend these interests. 

In this particular case, Justin Trudeau has admitted that the particular model they’re purchasing was chosen for its first-strike capabilities. This would of course only matter if they intend to use them to initiate combat. Lockheed Martin F-35 Senior Test Pilot Billie Flynn said the jets will not be used to “shoot arrows” down in Canadian airspace, but rather “we will be shooting to kill the archers.” 

NDP abandons anti-war stance, supports Canadian imperialism

Once upon a time, the NDP was seen as the anti-war party. Former party leader Jack Layton was one of the most outspoken opponents of the war in Afghanistan—so much so that the Conservatives dubbed him “Taliban Jack”. In the 1980s, the NDP demanded that Canada pull out of NATO.

Even today, the party claims to support a “principled foreign policy based on human rights” and “global peace”. However, rather than opposing this $70 billion purchase of machines used to kill people abroad, NDP Deputy Critic for National Defence Randall Garrison put out a statement supporting increased military spending. He said, “We all want the men and women in the Canadian Armed Forces to have the best equipment and support possible to carry out the difficult and dangerous work that we ask them to do.” 

Garrison’s main criticism was that the Liberals weren’t getting the best deal possible. He added, “Earlier this year, the government intended to purchase 88 fighter jets for $19 billion. Clearly, today’s news suggests the government is not interested in getting the best value and is leaving Canadians on the hook to pay for their bad decisions.” So, according to Garrison, funding Canadian imperialism is fine, as long as the government gets “good value” for its purchase?

But this should not be surprising. In recent years, the NDP has made a great effort to moderate its image, which has only brought them closer and closer to the political status quo. Throughout the course of the Trudeau government, they’ve seemed much more interested in playing second banana to the Liberals than in challenging them. As a result, they’ve taken up positions that are totally at odds with the tradition of the party and the interests of the working class as a whole.

For example, the NDP has completely supported what is essentially a proxy war in Ukraine, with the Ukrainian state standing in for U.S. and NATO interests against Russia.  Concretely this took the form of providing $500 million in arms. Likewise, the NDP has taken a hawkish approach to the conflict in Israel-Palestine. Former federal leader Tom Mulcair went so far as to describe himself as “a friend of Israel under all circumstances”. While Jagmeet Singh hasn’t been as brash, party leadership has continued to clamp down on Palestinian activism within its ranks. 

This change in position has been developing for a long time. In 2011, the party supported Canada’s involvement with NATO’s military campaign in Libya. The devastation these bombings caused the country is very difficult to overstate. Conditions were so dreadful that within a couple years, Libya saw the emergence of a modern-day slave market. In an unfortunate turn, even Jack Layton supported the campaign.   

Oppose imperialism, at home and abroad

The main criticism NDP Deputy Critic for National Defence Randall Garrison has made is that the fighter jets are not made in Canada. Indeed, he put forward a bill which would impel the government to give preference to Canadian weapons manufacturers. But this is not the problem! It makes little difference who makes the fighter jets. Workers in Canada do not benefit from strengthening Canadian imperialism which only oppresses and kills workers abroad. 

The labour movement in Canada must oppose any measure that strengthens Canadian imperialism. In doing so it will strengthen not only the working class abroad but also our struggle at home. Opposing this purchase will help to weaken pro-imperialist right-wing corporate interests and increase workers’ unity and militancy in Canada. Any suggestion that military spending will “save jobs” is short-sighted and self-defeating. The labour movement must not sell our tomorrow for a few jobs for a few workers today, while weakening the movement by assenting to the murder of the working class around the world.