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Canada rebranded

John Bell

November 23, 2011

Canadian troops have been in Afghanistan for more than a decade, and I have never heard an honest and convincing reason why.

To bring democracy to Afghans? To bring security at home? To bring liberation to women?

None of those excuses hold water.

Now, at last, Stephen Harper has provided a believable reason for the loss of 157 Canadian soldiers and a cost of $1,500 per household (according to the government’s spectacularly underestimated total). We are occupying Afghanistan so Defence Minister Peter McKay can go to the Lobster Festival.

Gravy plane

MacKay was vacationing in Labrador, salmon fishing on the Gander River, and wanted to round out the good times with some lobster. Plus he had a little government business to do in London, Ontario. So he summoned a search-and-rescue helicopter to pick him up in the wilds, dubbed it a “training exercise,” had a government executive Challenger jet (price tag $10,000 per hour) pick him up at Gander Airport, flew to London, announced the Tories are investing money in building armoured personnel carriers, hopped back in the Challenger and made it to Nova Scotia in time to tie on the bib.

MacKay likes to fly in style. He racked up 471 hours in the Challenger between January 2009 and June of this year.

Harper defends MacKay, insisting the flights are for “important government business.” In particular, Harper cited MacKay’s regular attendance at ceremonies “repatriating” Canadian soldiers in Trenton, Ontario. He suggested that anyone that criticized his minister was less than patriotic.

NDP MP Jack Harris points out that just nine of 35 flights taken by MacKay were for such ceremonies. On one such occasion the Challenger flew to Tofino to pick up a vacationing MacKay, flew him to Trenton for the brief ceremony, flew him back to BC and then returned to Ottawa: price tag $205,111.20.

On another occasion the Challenger picked up MacKay after an Ottawa Senators game hyped as “Canadian Forces Appreciation Night,” flew him to his home riding where he announced spending for a local infrastructure project, then whisked him off to Toronto: price tag $49,509.60.

MacKay is a flying fool, and takes a lot of vacations in remote and beautiful corners of Canada. The son of power and privilege as well as a Tory power broker, he no doubt feels entitled to such treatment.

As annoying as all that is, there is something else lurking behind all the boarding passes and dollar signs that bothers me. There is a purpose to MacKay’s jet setting ways: he is a central figure in the relentless Tory public relations campaign to rebrand Canada as a military power for the new millennium.


Chief of Defence Staff General Walter Natynczyk also racks up hundreds of hours in the Challenger. Natynczyk also uses the executive jet to go to fundraisers, and to football and hockey games.

Stephen Harper and his ilk want to remake us in their own image. They are willing to spend as many of our tax dollars as it takes to do the job.

Hockey games must become military pageants, with Don Cherry no doubt sporting his camo tuxedo for the occasion. The return of every body bag becomes an opportunity for military pomp and posturing. Who would dare criticize? Only a traitor. My militaristic country: love it or leave it.

Move to the right

Harper is right in a sense: MacKay is doing important Tory business. Their mission is to drag Canadians to the right. This is not just about militarism, although war making and war spending are central to the project.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird so hates walking into the Lester Pearson Building where his offices reside, he had the name removed from his gold-embossed business cards, along with the standard “Canada” logo.

While I’m not a fan of Pearson or his autocratic successor, Pierre Trudeau, both men tower over the Tory mediocrity John Diefenbaker, the epitome of the grey, sexist, racist 1950s. Yet Dief’s name is being (in the words of a Canadian Press report) “slapped on awards, ships and public buildings as the Harper Conservatives work to paint a little Tory blue into the country’s political memory.”

Abortion rights

When Tory MPs Brad Trost and Maurice Vellacott attack abortion rights and funding for Planned Parenthood, they are portrayed as “mavericks”. Yet both Harper’s right-hand man, Immigration Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Jason Kenny, and his Chief of Staff Nigel Wright, are dyed-in-the-wool anti-abortion crusaders. Trost and Vellacott surely have the blessing of their leaders as they attempt to reinvigorate the anti-choice minority and lead the charge against women’s rights.

The rest of us

In September Jason Kenney took time out from his crusade against multi-culturalism to tell an Edmonton audience: “We have changed our perception of what it means to be Canadian.”

Well, they haven’t yet. Most of us still oppose the war, support public health care, and embrace human rights. If they haven’t succeeded, it isn’t for lack of trying. Get ready to watch Harper et al spend the next four years, and an immense fortune, to drag us back to the Diefenbaker Stone Age.

Now we’ll learn how cattle feel when they are rebranded. These Tories give me a searing pain in the ass.

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