It’s clear that the Harper government likes the military — when it’s about shiny new hardware, or brass bands, parades, and fit young men and women in crisp uniforms — and the cameras are rolling.
But veterans? Not so much. When the cameras stop rolling, and the men and women are no longer quite so fit or so young, they are, apparently, merely an inconvenient budget line-item. Slashing support across the board, reading all the fine print in the most parsimonious way and clawing back every nickel they can, and even arguing in court that, legally, we owe them nothing — that commitments by former governments cannot bind them — they leave our veterans alone and in the lurch.
Let us not be confused by strict legalities, upon which the government is correct — a previous government cannot, in legal fact, bind later ones. But, while perhaps legally sound, the argument is morally bankrupt: When we ask our men and women to take arms and stand a post, to hold the line on our behalf, we engage a far deeper commitment, a lasting covenant that, in honour and good faith, we will be there for them.
The Harper government seems not to understand this, or, if they do, they are more concerned with short term gamesmanship around balanced budgets than with debts of honour. But this is not the place to balance budgets.
This upcoming May 9, we are told, will be a day in which Canada will specially commemorate the end of our Afghan mission, where we will show our appreciation and respect for the men and women who served for us there, and, particularly, those who died for us there.
Will that be as far as it goes? Will it be just brass bands, and a grand spectacle for brownie points? Or will this be an opportunity to offer true amends for previous missteps and errors, to truly show appreciation and respect by transmuting pomp and ceremony into real, on-going support for our veterans?
When the lights go down and the cameras are put away, will we at least see restoration of Veterans Affairs budgets and services previously slashed for austerity? Will we see meaningful improvements in counselling and mental health support for veterans and serving personnel, to deal with PTSD, and full and healthy re-integration into society? Can we expect a new Veteran’s Charter that’s more than lip service?
I hope so. It should be noted, however, that, while the families of the 158 people who died on this mission have been invited to Ottawa to participate in the memorial, the government isn’t offering to pick up the tab. Sadly, this disrespect does not speak well to the sincerity with which this tribute is offered, underscoring instead that it’s all for show.