What was a peace-loving lefty like me doing at the Halifax armaments show last week? Why was I was marching with 1,300 weapons makers, military types and government bureaucrats past shiny displays of naval guns, aircraft engines, mortars and tanks? The answer can be summed up in one famous name: Darrell Dexter. I wanted to bear witness as our new NDP premier confronted the world's biggest warmongers. "Give 'em hell Darrell," I whispered as Dexter ascended the stage to deliver the opening reception's keynote address. The reception, at the Cunard Centre, was sponsored by three helicopter giants: General Dynamics Canada, L-3 Communications and the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation.
As the premier waited to speak, I recalled his tribute to the legendary pacifist, Muriel Duckworth who died last month. "Muriel will be forever remembered as an ambassador of peace," Dexter had declared, adding that he felt lucky to be one of the many people who experienced her constant support and encouragement. I also remembered how Muriel had attended the NDP government's swearing-in ceremony in June, obviously elated that at the age of 100, she had lived long enough to see the party she worked so hard for, finally make it to power.
Then I awoke to hear Dexter saying, "Over the last seven years, Nova Scotia's aerospace and defence industry has grown by an astounding 183 percent." He added that in 2008, aerospace manufacturing alone accounted for a larger share of the provincial economy than fishing, forestry, agriculture and tourism combined. "Here in Nova Scotia, the industry generates in excess of $600 million in revenues each year." That's why, he said, his government was committed to supporting the aerospace and defence industry with its thousands of high-paying and highly skilled jobs.
"What the fuck," I muttered as Dexter sat down to a round of cheery applause. As the only journalist present, it would fall to me to speak Muriel D's truth to Darrell D's power. Minutes later, Dex groaned when I warned him I had a hard question about Muriel Duckworth. "As you know, Muriel said war is stupid because it's a major block to social justice, partly because war victimizes women and children," I told him. I added Muriel maintained that spending on weapons systems perpetuates poverty and reinforces the power of a privileged elite. "Given those points that Muriel made very eloquently over many decades, how do you justify an NDP government being so friendly to the weapons manufacturers who display here this week?"
"I would never take anything away from the things that Muriel Duckworth did and accomplished in her life," Dexter replied. "She was an articulate and eloquent spokesperson on many issues that she cared really deeply about." He pointed out that the great NDP leader Tommy Douglas himself had rejected pacifism when he supported Canada's entry into the Second World War. "I never quibbled over the ends that Muriel Duckworth talked about or her compassion or her desire for what she saw. I just take a different perspective on some of the ways in which we go about achieving peace and protecting people. In this world there are many calamitous circumstances that are wrought by individuals and by countries that require the rest of us, the other countries, to be able to defend and protect those who are vulnerable the world over. I wish that weren't true, but it is and so far as I know, it always will be."
As Dexter and I spoke, the Halifax Peace Coalition was protesting against the arms show by screening the film Myths for Profits at a Halifax coffee house. The film demolishes the myth that Canada is a benevolent peacekeeping nation intent on protecting the innocent and the vulnerable. It documents, for example, how in the Balkans, in Haiti and Afghanistan, Canada has used military force to advance its own economic interests. I'm sending a copy of the film to our new NDP premier.