Friday, November 16, 2007

Money for war not the poor: 18 billion for Afghan war, 2 billion for housing.

This is from the Straightgoods. This is another example of the opportunity costs of the Afghan mission. Strangely enough costs are virtually never mentioned in most reports about the war. The mainstream media apparently does not think it important to tell the public about that. It is important to take photos of politicians visiting the troops.

Money for war, not for the poor

Canada spends about $18 billion on the war but only about $2 billion on housing.

Dateline: Tuesday, November 13, 2007

by Cathy Crowe and Beric German

Canada is at a crossroads. Headlines and pundits outline the debates of the day. Will Canada remain fighting in Afghanistan? When will what some people refer to as 'the war on the poor' in Canada end? Canada is in a military war and Canadians are torn right down the middle about it. Soldiers are dying, and some return home wounded both physically and emotionally. Meanwhile, a recent front page of the Toronto Star had the headline, 'WAIT TIME FOR HOUSING IN PEEL, 21 YEARS'.

One side of the argument around the Afghan war says that we must support our troops by supporting their fighting mission. The other side argues that supporting our troops means bringing them home to safety.

Canada spends about $18 billion on the war but only about $2 billion on housing.

General Rick Hillier, our Chief of Defence, says our enemies, the Taliban and their allies, are, "detestable murders and scumbags". Cathy Gannon, an Associated Press reporter, who has worked in Afghanistan for more than fifteen years, describes Canada's allies (the Karzai government and the Northern Alliance) with the same venom. She says they are, "the biggest collection of mass murderers you'll ever get in one place. " It is hard to understand why we are involved in a conflict where our friends and our enemies are described in the same terms.

Our government, like the Soviet invaders before us, says that we are in Afghanistan to promote good governance, democracy and the rights of women. Often media show us pictures of girls attending school. Critics say that it is only the elite who can go to school at all and that average Afghani peoples' living conditions are deteriorating because of the war and foreign troops presence.

An Environics recent poll supports the Harper government's side and says that average Afghanis want Canada to stay its course with a military presence. The other side rebuts by pointing out that D3 Systems (which conducted the polls) also produces polls indicating that life in Iraq is continually improving under the US occupation.

The debates are sharp because the stakes are very high. Previous invaders, the Soviet Union and Britain, lost thousands of lives before they had to withdraw from Afghanistan. The Soviet economy was left in tatters.

This later epoch of occupation, which includes our troops, has now lasted longer than the Second World War. Already, thousands of Afghanis, Americans, British and Canadians have died.

The costs are moral, physical and financial. What are our priorities? The Rideau Institute, an Ottawa think tank, says that our military budget is ballooning. We now spend 8.5 percent of our federal budget on the military, about 18.2 billion dollars. On the domestic side we spend about one percent of the federal budget on existing housing, or about 2 billion dollars per year.

In 1998 the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC) was successful in getting cities and mayors across the country to declare homelessness a national disaster. Ten years later this disaster has worsened, with virtually no new housing relief. The 2007 Street Health Report chronicles a deteriorating state of homeless peoples' health. Not only were half of the respondents suffering from serious depression, but one in ten said they had attempted suicide in the 2006-2007 period. This is a sad tale in a rich country that has other priorities.

Opinion polls show that many Canadians have made a decision about the war in Afghanistan. The TDRC has also decided. We want the federal government to make an about-face. This should start with a "housing not war" strategy. We want them to add one percent more of the budget, 2 billion dollars, to their present housing budget. We want our soldiers brought home. Many of them are young. We want them to grow old and share our wealth in a caring and peace loving country.

Beric German and Cathy Crowe are co-founders of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee. They have worked on homeless issues for decades

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