There was an important message for Paul Martin in Jean Chretien's farewell speech at the Liberal party leadership convention last week. The prime minister received a resounding standing ovation when he reminded Liberals how important it is that Canada did not endorse the American invasion of Iraq. Then, perhaps looking directly at Martin, who was seated in the crowd, the outgoing leader said, "Beware of those on the right who put the narrow bottom line ahead of everything else." Chretien's warning to Canadians and Martin was like another famous farewell speech: U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower's last address to the nation in January 1961. General Eisenhower warned his fellow Americans to guard their democracy from the unwarranted influence of the military-industrial complex. "The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist," he said.
If Martin has been evasive on his position on many policy areas, he cannot be faulted for a lack of clarity on military matters: he favours much closer military cooperation with the United States, wants to boost Canada's already substantial level of military spending and supports joining the ill-considered American National Missile Defense system (NMD).
Martin has made building a closer personal relationship with President Bush a high priority. A few days after meeting with U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci in April, he announced his intention to lead Canada into NMD, increase military spending to build a more aggressive combat force and even break with the United Nations and go to war if necessary.
By signing on with the Americans' security priorities, Martin seems to be siding with Canada's corporate community, which is anxious to more closely integrate the Canadian and U.S. economies through greater military and security cooperation. The most prominent organization pushing this agenda is the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, led by long-time free trade advocate Tom d'Aquino.
D'Aquino has organized an "action group" of 30 CEOs to promote his plan, called North American Security And Prosperity. The group includes powerhouses from the banking, oil and gas and defence industries. On the team is former Canadian ambassador to the U.S. Derek H. Burney, currently president of CAE Inc., which gets hundreds of millions of dollars a year in military contracts, many from the Pentagon.
In April d'Aquino organized a private meeting between Canadian CEOs and Bush admin officials in Washington. According to one report, some executives emerged from the room visibly shaken by the stern rebuke they were given by Richard Perle, the U.S. defence adviser less affectionately known as the Prince of Darkness.
The truth is that Martin's mission to improve Canada-U.S. relations by currying favour with the hawks now occupying the White House could cost us dearly, not just in dollars but in terms of our future independence and positive role in the world.
Canada already spends $13.5 billion on its military, an amount that ranks us sixth-highest among NATO's 19 members.
This year's billion-dollar increase was the largest in more than a decade. But some of Martin's supporters in the Liberal caucus have said that commitment should be doubled in the coming years, a move that would inevitably take a big bite out of existing social programs.
Many military programs are already consuming billions to purchase or upgrade equipment that will make the Canadian Forces more useful in U.S.-led combat operations. For example, we're spending nearly $2 billion to upgrade our CF-18 fighter-bombers, largely to ensure that they can participate in U.S. bombing campaigns using such weapons as laser-guided bombs.
Further, Canada's financial contribution to the incalculably expensive NMD system could take billions from scarce public resources over the life of the program. One military official recently revealed that the Department of National Defence has quietly allocated nearly $500 million for the program, should the government decide to join. That's just for starters.
Canadians should hope that Paul Martin listens to the prime minister's warning. "It's never enough," Chretien told reporters last month. "I have never seen an army in the world who returned a government money - anywhere. They all need more and they all have plans for more."
Martin's first test will be on the issue of missile defence. Negotiations over joining NMD have been going on with the Pentagon for months, and an agreement could be ready in days. Will Martin wait and bring it before Parliament for debate next year, or will he sign a deal in the cabinet's backroom?
A Web site has been established at www.ceasefire.ca for people to call for a parliamentary and public debate on missile defence. Martin should think twice about rushing to be George W. Bush's best friend, and think more about Jean Chretien's eleventh-hour warning. He might be relieved he did, come election time next year.
Steven Staples is the director of the Polaris Institute's Corporate-Security State Project.