Monthly Archives: February 2004

A gripping murder mystery about Canada’s military

Two years ago historian Jack Granatstein produced the sort of book that should cap a scholarly career. Canada’s Army was a stunning overview of its subject, comprehensive without being dense. Exactly what you’d want from an engaged scholar. His new Who Killed the Canadian Military? is the identical opposite: a stunning monograph, short without being sketchy. Exactly what you’d want from a scholar who’s engaged. Including the cover, a recruiting poster pointing directly at the reader.

The book elegantly starts nearly every chapter with “Who killed the Canadian military?” And the answer comes back relentlessly: “Lester B. Pearson – inadvertently …” “John Diefenbaker …” “Paul Hellyer …” “Pierre Trudeau …” “Brian Mulroney …” And then “Who finished off the Canadian Forces? Jean Chr├ętien did.” But don’t think you’re off the hook.

The book is full of blunt truths on subjects from UN incompetence to quotas to the enduring differences of opinion between francophones and anglophones on defence. But its bluntest is: “the real killers of the Canadian Forces were you and I, the Canadian people. The military scarcely interested us … We assumed that we were safe, our territory inviolable, and we believed ultimately that the Americans would protect us. So you and I elected our politicians, and we told them … we wanted health care, culture, better pensions, and a thousand other programs … These are all good things … But Canada is a rich country, and we could have had both a strong military and the social services we want.” There is no escape. “Who killed the Canadian military? We all did.” Continue reading

We’re sidelined by soft power

What ever happened to soft power? Its advocates seem to be flourishing professionally. But what have they to say about the affairs of the day, such as nuclear proliferation or Haiti?

On nuclear proliferation, we all know now that the Americans, and almost everyone else, badly overestimated Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. But we also know now they badly underestimated the international trade in nuclear materials to rogue states (and most Western governments still would if the American invasion of Iraq had not frightened Libya’s Col. Gadhafi). You can’t just chant “BUSH LIED!” History, as is its wont, has moved on. What shall we do?

We need better intelligence or, if we decide that’s not really possible, some plan for dealing with inherently inadequate intelligence. Yet Canada basically doesn’t do foreign intelligence. We also need some sort of firm plan for dealing with nuclear proliferation. Even in Europe, the realization that biting America’s ankles doesn’t qualify is painfully sinking in and policy is changing. Continue reading

Now showing in a subsidized theatre near you

In ancient Japan they had a highly ritualized form of theatre called Noh, in which actors in masks enacted standard story lines using stylized dialogue. In the first act an aspiring politician would come on stage in a smiley mask and promise to balance the budget, a chorus of voters would shout “Hooray” in unison, and then … Hey, wait a minute. This isn’t a textbook on ancient Japan. This is the daily newspaper.

See here, in the second act the politician appears in a mask whose mouth gapes in amazement and horror, and intones “The situation is far worse than we thought.” The chorus of voters goes “Oh goodness me, we had no idea.” There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then they hug and the stage goes dark. The format is not totally rigid. While it is habitual for the politician to blame his budget woes on his dishonest incompetent predecessors, propriety permits a preposterous variation, known as “Ottawa City Council,” in which the horrible situation is revealed to be the work of the very same politicians now shocked to discover it. But such opportunities for artistic licence are few.

When the lights come up on act three the politician inevitably returns in a mask expressing grim determination and a new robe whose sleeves are rolled up, pushing a wheelbarrow containing an immense report. “Good heavens, people,” he recites. “We have consulted the experts and they say we can keep our pledge to you to balance the budget, which we made with no idea at all that it might be hard, but regrettably we will have to close all the facilities that make our community kind and vibrant, let rubbish accumulate without end on our pathways, cease to ship useless plastics to foreign lands, and quite possibly sever both your legs just above the knee.” Continue reading

The Liberals still don’t get it

If it’s business as usual with the ad sponsorship scandal, it won’t be business as usual. It will be very bad news. For all of us.

A news story in yesterday’s Citizen said the fate of Paul Martin’s government “hinges on one simple question: Will voters believe the prime minister when he says he knew nothing of the Quebec sponsorship scandal?” But it doesn’t. Plausible deniability tinged with righteous indignation will just add fuel to the fire.

What’s inflaming sentiments isn’t the specifics of the scandal, it’s the feeling that we’re being played for suckers. So traditional, clever Liberal damage-control techniques will be a bigger disaster if they work than if they fail. To call a snap election and cobble together a slender majority would inject a dangerous dose of bitterness into our politics. Continue reading

It’s fine that government protects us from greed

On mornings like this you wake up and say thank goodness government is on the job. Here in Canada it’s a positive pleasure to pay, on average, just 47 per cent of our income in taxes to be protected from the shoddy products, hypocrisy and greed of capitalists. Hey, wait a minute. What’s this Gagliano doing in my breakfast cereal?

Not delivering municipal services, that’s for sure. Nor, apparently, is the City of Ottawa, which is going to freeze taxes that will nevertheless rise on a mere 80 per cent of households so it can slash services. Oh boy. You don’t get that from those rotten private companies. Nor will you, thanks to the ever-vigilant state.

For instance, I’m delighted to learn that the minister of Health wrote to her Quebec counterpart last summer asking what the heck the deal was with letting people pay money to private firms in fees to get treatment when they’re supposed to pay money to government in taxes not to get treatment. Everybody knows that. Including the health authorities in Britain, who have been scandalized to learn that the National Health Service was paying more to private hospitals to treat medical problems than it was paying to public hospitals not to treat the very same problems. Well, there won’t be any more of that sort of thing. Continue reading