Elect Peace

By David South

The Canadian Peace Report, Summer 1993

More than 80,000 people swarmed Parliament Hill on May 15 at an Action Canada Network and Canadian Labour Congress rally against free trade and other federal policies. In a paper issued just before, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives criticizes Canadian military spending as “carried over from a cold war that no longer exists. At the same time, our assistance to poor nations is actually falling.” 

When a federal election is called, peace groups across Canada plan to be heard. They see the defence department’s $11.3-billion yearly budget – amidst cuts to social programs and calls for even more restraint – as ripe for a hot election battle over government priorities. 

A recent Gallup poll conducted for the Canadian Peace Alliance found broad support across all political allegiances for cutbacks to military spending. The CPA also wants daily life demilitarized, with duties like search and rescue turned over to civilian agencies. 

Local groups are mostly awaiting a date for the election, expected about late October, but national groups are already planning. Some groups will fight the Conservative Party’s backing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which they fear will lead to further military integration of Canada and the United States. 

The Peace Alliance is working on action and information kits targetting military spending versus social needs, and is developing an election logo. It’s also building up to a national action day. 

The idea is to stimulate local and regional activity, coordinator Gideon Forman says. “Kits will help member groups organize actions during the election campaign. They will have information on, among other things, the plan to buy deluxe helicopters, military spending in general and the cost of social needs. 

“We will give local groups suggestions for local events and assist with media work.”

Project Ploughshares has produced a short booklet of questions to ask candidates, “but not a repeat of the Election Priorities Project” of the 1988 election, says researcher Bill Robinson. The booklet suggests calling for cuts in military spending, cancelling the EH-101, limiting Canada’s participation in military operations, and abolishing nuclear weapons. 

Also nationally, the Action Canada Network (to which the Peace Alliance belongs) met with groups from across the country in Winnipeg in mid-June to finalize election plans, which may include a radio ad campaign. National chair Tony Clarke would like local activists to dog the party leaders across the country, as progressive groups did to Ontario’s Liberals during the province’s 1990 election. 

“We will definitely make the link between a range of issues and the (Canada-U.S.) Free Trade Agreement and NAFTA, which we have to get rid of,” says Clarke. “We will be working very hard on jobs and arguing for a job strategy.”

Responding to the Gulf War two years ago (Action Canada Dossier #30), Clarke warned that Canada is “tied in closer than we have ever been before to the permanent war economy” of the U.S.. With a quarter of its output related to the military, the U.S. used militaristic diplomacy to justify maintaining defence budgets, he says. The trade agreements’ guarantees of U.S. access to Canadian energy resources confirm that “we are locking ourselves into what can only be described as Fortress North America.”

Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians, a network ally, denounced the helicopter purchase during the Peace Alliance’s March 8 lobby of Parliament. Soon after, then defence minister Kim Campbell appeared to waver on the number of helicopters to be bought, but succeeded in winning the Tory leadership without it becoming a major issue. However, Liberal leader Jean Chretien promises to cancel the contract.

At CUSO’s national office, Marc Allain says the development agency will work with the CPA around military spending and the ‘copter purchase. 

To Peter Davison of the Halifax Peace Action Network, the stakes are clear and the passion to fight the issues simply awaits a polling date. 

“Never has the guns-or-butter issue been more prominent in our society,” says Davison. “Conservative economic policies have been collapsing around the globe. We’re seeing desperate restraint and universal trusts being violated – health care, education, pensions.

“It’s bizarre that we can still conceptualize $6 billion for helicopters to fight submarines – an absurd twist away from meeting human needs.”

Terry Gardner says Science for Peace’s mandate bars entering the election fray, but says the group is planning a high-level panel in the fall on NAFTA and militarization of Canadian culture. 

“We’re going to be asking candidates in our area for conversion and reduction in military spending,” says J.J. Verigin of the Doukhobour peace and disarmament committe in British Columbia. He says his MP has been supportive of chopping the choppers. 

Verigin found fact sheets helpful and says the CPA does a good job of getting out beyond the urban areas. But he would like the Alliance “to propose something that engages the electorate’s intellect as the gut.”

“We have a general intent to intervene in the election, but we’re not quite clear exactly how,” says North Bay Peace Alliance organizer Brennain Lloyd. “We’re considering a regional information package, something like the Election Priorities Project, that our groups could use.”

Being armed with the facts helps reach the public and pins down candidates, Lloyd says. She applauds the CPA’s idea of producing action kits that her group could integrate into its own. 

Toronto’s ACT for Disarmament won’t be working specifically on the election, but may participate in actions, says organizer Maggie Helwig. “Groups have certain things they focus on, and certain ways of operating. Other people do better at elections.”

In Montreal, Judith Berlyn of Westmount Initiative for Peace says, “We will be doing locally what has been developed by the Canadian Peace Alliance as a whole – go to all-candidates meetings, get the mike and ask the questions. We will be raising issues. Last time our candidate had never heard of low-level flying.”

Berlyn feels many people, including activists, often think they don’t know enough to speak publicly. But with information kits, “we know more than the candidates do.”

While approving the CPA’s focus on military spending, Berlyn says it would be a mistake to over-emphasize the helicopters. “Everybody has [already] picked up on that; it’s a good concrete example of insane military spending.”

She also finds the public receptive to informative and succinct pamphlets advocating alternatives to a militarized economy. A Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade pamphlet is a good model, she says. 

“It has four concrete proposals of what the government can do to convert military industries – money that now goes to subsidizing the manufacturing of weapons can be turned into conversion subsidies.”