It takes a special kind of political buffoon to earn the wrath of Rick Mercer, a Prairie Dog writer (guilty as charged) and Christie ‘Krusty The Clown’ Blatchford. Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino has achieved that political trifecta. But Fearless Leader (a.k.a. Stephen Harper) looks on and approves. Mr. Fantino serves his master well.
While the latest crisis started over the closure of several Veterans Affairs offices (including one in Saskatoon), the situation escalated when, on Tuesday night, The Hon. Fantino (Conservative-Vaughn) showed up 90 minutes late for a meeting with several veterans and proceeded to blow off their concerns. By doing so, Mr. Fantino has taken one for the team. A team of one, Stephen Harper.
Mr. Fantino said that he was 90 minutes late for that meeting because a cabinet meeting ran long. That should raise a few questions. Given Harper’s total and dictatorial control over his cabinet, his caucus, and his party, how could he not know about Mr. Fantino’s meeting? He probably did. Was Mr. Fantino made late for the meeting by a deliberate act of the PMO? Would a Harper cabinet minister be late if the meeting was with oil or tarsands company executives, cabinet meeting or no? Not bloody likely.
So, I’m willing to bet, toonies to Timbits, that Mr. Fantino was late for that meeting because he wanted to be and/or was ordered to be late. And it distracts the Ottawa press corps from the true issue: will veterans get better service from the office closures than they do now? Given, for example, that veterans in Cape Breton will have to travel more than 450 kilometers to Halifax to have their concerns heard by a civil servant, or veterans from central Saskatchewan seeking to same having to travel to Regina, the answer is, of course, no.
I don’t think either Harper or the rest of the Conservative Party of Canada care that the optics aren’t good when a man with FOUR different fully-funded pensions (a former officer and Chief London (Ont.) Police Service, former Chief, Toronto Police Service, former Chief Commissioner, Ontario Provincial Police, current MP) tells Canadian military veterans that they can’t depend on the government for their services.
However, Fantino’s move is a short-term stroke of genius for Harper. Most of the outrage is being directed at Fantino and his ‘let them eat cake’ attitude. The veterans leading the protest now have changed their tactic from wanting the cuts reversed to getting Fantino axed. The media attention is no longer on the cuts. Since Harper didn’t do squat to punish Calgary-area MP Rob Anders when he fell asleep during a parliamentary committee, it’s clear that Harper doesn’t care much about the political opinions of Canadian military veterans.
See, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are now treating Canadian military veterans with the kind of use-‘em-and-lose-em’ attitudes that second rate porn production companies treat their female stars. You’re in the biz a few years? The public has seen all of you that they want to see. You’re done here. See you on Remembrance Day. For a government that has run on its so-called support of the military in its Afghanistan and Libya adventures, the consequences, be it what kind of country they leave behind after the war or what happens to our military veterans after they come home, is irrelevant. As it is in almost every other facet of its operation – the total disregard of pollution and climate change on a country where resource extraction companies can run free without environmental cleanup, trashing government science libraries without regard to examining why other governments thought the research was essential in the first place, reducing the role of the arts in this country to the purveyors of Nickleback and Justin Bieber – this govern is all about the Now, satisfying its current urges, not caring about what comes next.
Just imagine if the Macbeth in Act 4 Scene 1 had an undiagnosed case of Aspergers’.
Combine that with the fact that people who volunteer for the military are most likely politically conservative by nature. When you have an all-volunteer army, the people who sign up are more often than not interested in preserving the political and social status quo, not changing it (When Richard Nixon made the U.S. Army an all-volunteer after scrapping the draft lottery effective December 1972, it took a lot of middle class boys who and/or whose parents didn’t want them getting wounded in a useless war out of the potential recruitment of anti-war organizations, while many poor boys without economic means enlisted anyway. Once the different economic classes had no feeling of serving a common cause, as they did during the Second World and Korean wars, the economic, political and social philosophies of Reaganomics and Ayn Rand’s Objectivism took hold in American society.
It’s no wonder military people such as Eisenhower, Lester Pearson, and John F. Kennedy thought long and hard before sending the troops, and Lord Byng, who was the nominal head of the Canadian Corps during the First World War, got down on his knees and prayed intensely to God before sending out so much as a squad on patrol [this from Pierre Berton’s book about the battle of Vimy Ridge]. Today, chickenhawks and commanders of the 101st Chairborne, like Dick Cheney, who took all the deferments he could before the draft was abolished, or Stephen Harper, whose only life experience outside the political hothouse was delivering mail in his father’s company are more anxious for the ‘boom-boom’ than a Rambo stunt man. They’ve never counselled widows and children without fathers or mothers; they’ve never seen a soldier treated for battlefield wounds after getting shot, shelled or bombed. Governments today regard military veterans the same way hockey fans consider goons whose sole duty is to fight. They’re good, but they got their money. Who cares what happens to them after their career is over, or the medial and emotional costs of that career?
Stephen Harper doesn’t care about those issues, the same way he doesn’t care about the political future of Mr. Fantino after his incompetent, bombastic, duplicitous and ridiculous FUBARing of this sensitive file. Mr. Harper expects those who support him – military veterans or MPs – to be his meatshields.
The political conservatism of military veterans may be a betrayal of so-called conservative principles, but today’s modern conservative moment isn’t conservative at all. It’s about destroying the the society we have now, and making it impossible to returning it to the position it once was. The attack on Canadian military veterans is merely Stage Two of Harper’s plan to remake Canada in his faulty, domineering, and paranoid reflection. This isn’t the Canada I wanted: this isn’t the Canada those military veterans signed up to defend. But to create real political change, military veterans will have to make common cause with political parties and social movements that they have generally derided in the barracks hall and the Legion – the Liberals who unified the armed forces and changed the flag, who are led by a man whose father was considered a draft dodger in the Second World War, or the NDP that was once led by a man they called ‘Taliban Jack.’ This is why veterans, even those who oppose the closures, will continue to feel more politically and socially comfortable with the Stephen Harper’s party than with organizations opposed to the cuts. Harper knows this, even if the veterans don’t.
In the meantime, I think every Canadian musician who doesn’t support this move should be rehearsing this song to play live on their next tour. They may not be Canadians, but John Fogerty and Bruce Springsteen seem to be doing a better job of channelling my thoughts towards Canadian military vets than the Conservative Party’s gaggle of flacks, brown-nosers, and chickenhawks.