When Canadians go to the polls to vote on October 21, 2019, they will not only be exercising their democratic rights as citizens, but they will also be expecting that the candidates they choose will act in the best interest of those who elect them. We need to ask ourselves – what are our priorities in the upcoming federal election, and who will best represent our values in Parliament?
Many Canadians are still not aware of the 70 per cent increase (over 10 years) in Canadian military spending that was approved by all federal political parties in June 2017. (See Canadian Defence Policy Report: Strong, Secure and Engaged). The Canadian government says it plans to allocate $553 billion to military spending over the next 20 years, and this is just the beginning. Meanwhile, media reports remind us daily about widespread cuts in funding for social programs including housing, education and childcare, etc.
If you think these figures are alarming and seem exorbitant, you are not alone. Everyone I have spoken to over the past few months has expressed a heightened level of concern about Canada’s defence budget, especially in light of the fact that the increases were approved without public consultation. By calling for a reduction in military spending from 70 per cent to 30 per cent over 10 years, significant amounts of money could be reallocated to programs for human needs and for the protection of the environment.
If Canada is to become the “just society” that our leaders once promised, we must consider how allocating public funds to high defence spending impacts human needs such as affordable housing, childcare, and clean drinking water for Indigenous communities. After all, democracy is not just about casting a vote, it is also about the way we make decisions and how we govern ourselves as a society. Gandhi once commented, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members”, and he challenged Christians to live according to the principles of our faith.
Canada’s rental housing crisis is a good example of the failure of the federal government to set priorities. 25 years ago, the federal government cancelled its National Housing Policy. Since then, trillions of dollars have gone to fund home ownership, but there has been very little funding for rental housing and for housing for Indigenous communities. This failure is having severe impacts on Canadians living on low incomes. As an example, in the city of Edmonton, more than 22,000 people are paying more than 50 per cent of their monthly income on rent.
In 2017, the federal government conceded that housing is a fundamental need and a human right. The increased federal funding that has recently been promised for housing is not nearly enough to make up for 25 years of neglect. Reducing the increases in military spending can be a way to redirect $100 billion over the next 20 years. This figure is a good comparison of the additional funding that is required to address the housing crisis being experienced by hundreds of thousands of Canadians from coast to coast.
In the upcoming election, Canadians need to act and show that we care for one another, and we can do this by asking all candidates to support increased funding for rental housing for the most vulnerable in our society. In addition, let us also hold our faith institutions accountable, including our churches, mosques, and synagogues, by asking them to take a stand and connect with other community groups. This action can be a good opportunity to engage voters and ask them what their priorities are for the upcoming election — military spending or human needs.
We must work together now more than ever before to ensure that our rights and freedoms, and strong Canadian values are protected, and as such, we are calling on civil society actors, students, trade unions and communities across the country to work together with legislators to reverse the trends towards militarization. Martin Luther King said, “If we assume that humankind has a right to survive, then we must find an alternative to war and destruction. In our day of space rockets and guided missiles, the choice is either nonviolence or nonexistence.”
We need to ask all candidates in the upcoming federal election to support the reallocation of a substantial percentage of the 70 per cent increase in Canadian defence spending, as these funds are urgently needed to reverse climate change, fight poverty and address human needs such as affordable housing.