On June 4, 1940 Dorise Nielsen rose in the House of Commons and spoke to a debate on unemployment relief. Nielsen, who was the first member of the Communist Party of Canada (and only the third woman) to be elected to the federal Parliament, noted that the issue of relief for working people was being discussed alongside the issue of prosecuting war in Europe.
“Whenever it was suggested that money should be provided to assist those who were unemployed or to alleviate farm distress in the west, this government has replied: ‘Where is the money to come from? There is no money.’ Well, I would point out that when a war crisis appears, $700,000,000 can be immediately found.”
$700 million in 1940 is equivalent to around $13 billion today, so you get a sense of the enormity of the problem which Nielsen had identified.
Forward eight decades to the present and not even two days into 2023, political and economic “experts” were spilling ink in the corporate media, warning that Canada will have to ramp up military spending in 2023. Interestingly, this punditry appeared within days of the federal government’s very quiet (dare we say secret?) decision to spend $7 billion on 16 F-35 fighter jets by the end of 2022. It seems that we shall likely hear more such announcements…
The costs of increased arms spending will, of course, be borne by working people in many ways – reduced public infrastructure (meaning fewer jobs, lower wages, higher fees), tax hikes (meaning lower take-home pay), less public funding and increased privatization of health, education, etc. (meaning fewer and poorer public services and bigger bills from for-profit providers). Fortunately, the experts were considerate enough to provide a warning to working people that this “absolutely necessary” arms spending will lead to an economic recession.
Thanks for the heads up, fellas – we’ll grab our belt tighteners!
Of course, there will be some who profit while working people sink into the quicksand of militarism. Military industries will pocket billions in public money, energy corporations will continue to line their bank accounts with petrobucks, health and education profiteers will have a field day – and monopoly capital will tell us it’s all necessary for global peace.
And the problem isn’t just in Ottawa. Just one week into 2023, Toronto mayor John Tory announced that his priority for the city’s budget is to increase police funding by over $48 million. The same budget would require public libraries to find $3.7 million in cuts.
From the federal level to the municipal, the priorities of the capitalist state are numbingly consistent.
Back in 1940, Dorise Nielsen told Parliament that “whatever happens in Europe, whatever happens with regard to our deliberations in this chamber, throughout the length and breadth of Canada every single day, three times a day, thousands of people are faced with this one great question, ‘When do we eat, and how?’”
Currently, faced with galloping prices on basic necessities and wage increases that are below the rate of inflation, millions of working people in Canada are asking the same question.
Instead of accepting that we need to impoverish more people to pay for new arms spending, working people could start 2023 by telling Ottawa we’re tired of funding capitalist militarism and imperialist war. We could demand that public money be invested in schools, hospitals, childcare, jobs, climate justice and pensions. We could tell the capitalist state, “We’re eating today!”
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