Stephen Harper is not stupid. Nor is Canada's civil service completely incompetent. In some quarters, those statements border on sacrilege, but they are nonetheless true. Harper got himself elected -- repeatedly -- both as MP and as party leader; that speaks to a certain level of intelligence. The nation manages to operate from day-to-day without turning into chaos, which implies that some people, somewhere, are managing to plan things sensibly.
The National Day of Honour was announced with barely 7 weeks for Canadians to prepare. The families of those who died in Afghanistan were invited to attend on their own dime; then government backtracked and said they'd pay for the families' trips [more on that later].
The officers who led the mission have not been invited: neither General Rick Hillier, who commanded the NATO forces in Afghanistan before taking change of Canada's military; nor Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie, who also commanded the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan; nor General Walt Natynczyk, Chief of Defence Staff for 4 years of the War; nor Colonel Pat Stogran, who led the first battle group and later became Canada's First Veterans Ombudsman. The official website promoting the Day of Honour invites Canadians to attend events at their local Legions -- except the Legion wasn't consulted, and has been scrambling both to pull details out of government and to pull events together. Even the planned Moment of Silence has been a mess -- it was only revealed last Monday what time this is to occur.
There's something screwy with protocol as well: normally, it is the Governor General, as Head of State of Canada, who declares Royal Proclamations - yet Stephen Harper made the announcement. As Commander in Chief of the Canadian Forces as well as Head of State, one expects the Governor General to receive the last flag from Kandahar; PM Harper will be doing that as well. Protocol dictates that Rideau Hall be the proper location for the tribute breakfast and private reception for the Families of the Fallen... Yet these are instead being held at the Senate, instead. In fact, GG Johnston has been pretty quiet throughout this process, even the return of the final troops from Afghanistan. His Excellency's website notes that he welcomed home the soldiers, but his speech isn't posted. And there is but a single picture from the event. [Featuring PM Harper more prominently than His Excellency.]
But if you believe any of this is the result of poor planning, then you need to read that first paragraph again.
Some of the lesser known facts about the Day of Honour:
- The breakfast in honour of the Families of the Fallen is private... unless you have the cash. Instead of being properly respected, the grieving families will be on display to corporate donors for $1000/plate (or $3500 for 4). This was organized by the True Patriot Love foundation, at government's request, to defray the families' travel costs. The Harper Government's 'covering' of the travel expenses is to outsource them, then make up any short fall.
- The veterans relay from Trenton to Ottawa is being orchestrated by Soldier On -- which happens to be a division of the Canadian Forces. While it may serve veterans, it is not, strictly speaking, a veterans organization, like the Royal Canadian Legion or Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association. It is not even a veterans' organization like Veterans Affairs. It's a division of the Department of National Defence.
- Government has been telling people to attend events at their local Legions since the Day of Honour was announced, yet none of the Legions were asked to host events or asked if they were -- leaving the Legion scrambling to throw something together at the last minute.
- Speaking of which, the details of the moment of silence were not announced until last week either - a fact which had the Legion turning to the press for answers. [It's simultaneous at 1:30est, by the way.] With a week to go, schools and school boards are still seeking direction on how to mark the day and receiving little response.
- In the background of all of this commemoration of the Afghanistan mission [in fact, on the very day the troops arrived home], the Harper Government is in court insisting that Canada does not owe veterans any special benefits. It says we are not obligated to our veterans, especially not those wounded in Afghanistan who now fall under the New Veterans Charter. The Harper Government has equated veterans' benefits to welfare: not something earned by veterans through their service and sacrifice, but a form of charitable assistance deliver at government whim. Crown lawyers are doggedly holding that line, despite the outcry of Canadians. This is how the Harper Government is honouring our troops.
But, as I'm sure the PM would say, it is in poor taste to mention politics when this is meant to be a commemoration.
Which means we should over look the language of official schedule, I guess. Particularly the bits of CPC partisanship regarding military purchases. And the passive-aggressive pre-emptive strikes listed under Outreach which list how Stephen Harper and Julian Fantino have been asking everyone to join in and, gee, if they can't get things together, it's certainly not the fault of the government.
Yes, we should ignore that. Because, after all, this is not a day for politics.
May 9th is a day of honour.
Two RCAF fly-pasts and a military parade, which will salute the PM. A moment of silence, with the inevitable TV close-up of the PM. Afghanistan veterans saluting the PM. Disabled veterans presenting a flag to the PM.
So who is really being honoured?
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