by Bruce Mason
Remembrance Day, 2014, as wars rage, Canadians may want to consider reading the chapter, “Delay, Deny, and Die,” in the newly published book, Party of One: Stephen Harper and Canada’s Radical Makeover, by Michael Harris. It concludes, “Returning veterans with mental and physical wounds inhabit a harsh and ongoing reality: how to push your kid on a swing, minus an arm or a leg or how to fill a war-weary heart with good human emotions again. The party that had courted, lionized and used the military now turned its back on them when priories changed.”
As always, our current PM is quick to champion military options. While leader of the opposition, he urged Canada to go to war with Iraq, apologizing to the US for Jean Chretien’s decision not to join the invasion based on non-existent WMD’s. He revelled in the 12-year, $18 billion, Afghanistan mission, committed forces to toppling Muammar Gaddafi, argued for a military strike against Iran for developing nuclear power and sent belligerent messages to Vladimir Putin during bloodletting in Ukraine. Now, with a majority government, he is – finally – having his way in Iraq and Syria.
Bruce Moncur is a Canadian who answered one of Harper’s calls. Wounded by “friendly fire” in Afghanistan, he blogged that it’s easier fighting the Taliban than battling for subsequent benefits. He wrote, “I am not the only soldier who feels they have not been taken care of when coming home.” He received $22,000 for the shrapnel wound that took five percent of his brain and the PTSD that was aggravated by failures within Veterans Affairs.
In his book, Harris describes Moncur as someone “who always voted Conservative, believing the Harper government were the only ones ‘who had our backs.’ But that was when declaring such support was convenient for the government. ‘It’s a betrayal, is what it is,’ Moncur said, convinced that closures [of Veterans Affairs offices] were a deliberate strategy to reduce services. ‘If you are told “No” enough times, you’ll go away.’ It was all part of the Harper government’s triple-D credo: ‘delay, deny and die.’”
The chapter, like the rest of Party of One, documents its subtitle: Stephen Harper and Canada’s Radical Makeover and gathers together candid and chilling examples and opinions, on everything from handing over Afghan detainees to be tortured, to the infamous and disastrous meeting between veterans and Minister Julian Fantino, the unpopular New Veterans Charter, former general and Senator Romeo Dallaire’s “It’s pissing me off” and Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin’s observation of Afghanistan: “People died for nothing, to prop up drug dealers and killers.”
Too many stories of homelessness, helplessness, addiction to street drugs, alcohol, OxyContin and Percocet. Far too many stories of suicide, including a final note requesting a “just family” funeral, where, instead, the military waited 14 months and staged a full ceremony. Other stories include a benefits payment lost behind a filing cabinet, a letter of condolence requesting a re-payment of $581.67 from a suicide victim and a one-cent cheque marked “Canadian Forces release pay,” sent to a soldier’s mother two-and-a-half years after her son had killed himself.
In his relentless quest to retain power, Stephen Harper “makes no distinction between ending postal delivery, closing scientific facilities and cutting veterans’ benefits,” Harris reports. At the same time as the PM greeted the last Canadian soldiers returning from Afghanistan earlier this year, federal lawyers were arguing in court against any special obligation to soldiers who fought for Canada, a 100-year-old promise made by former Prime Minister Borden.
“This is beyond a medical issue,” says retired general Rick Hillier. “I think that many of our young men and women have lost confidence in our country to support them.”
Veteran Bruce Moncur adds, “It‘s like we‘ve become an inconvenience. If veterans aren‘t safe from budget cuts, I guarantee you, no one else is. Every Canadian needs to take notice of this.”
Perhaps the most disquieting quotes in Party of One are the final words from Farley Mowat: “About the country, about our future. It is like an aura that seems to have gone wrong. I have the sound of an old cannon fired in 1812 in my ears. It is the sound of war again. War is coming back. There is an inevitable sense about it. I’m pretty pessimistic… You have to create warrior nations, they are not born. They have to be made. It is the preliminary step of a tyrant and this son of a bitch incited Canada into becoming a warrior nation.”
Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola-Island based five-string banjo player, gardener, freelance writer and author of Our Clinic. firstname.lastname@example.org