Category Archives: Government

Up the Brocks

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Brigitte at Petawawa for Stalwart Guardian in 2005

For over a decade I’ve had the privilege of being associated with the Brockville Rifles, despite my own complete lack of military service, thanks initially to Brigitte and I spending a weekend “embedded” with the Brocks as journalists on an urban warfare exercise at Fort Drum and then both of us being made honorary members of their officers’ mess.

It’s a remarkable experience and one I wish more Canadians knew about. The Brocks are a “reserve” regiment. They train citizen-soldiers who, if they see active service, will do so seconded to other regiments. Even in World War II, with massive mobilization, the Brocks were “feeders” to the Stormont Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders, themselves now also a reserve unit. But that doesn’t make them second string.

In the first place, members of Canada’s dozens of reserve units are a vital supplement to the regular forces in places like Afghanistan, serving on equal terms. But in the second, they are a crucial link between citizens and the military.

It is impossible to overstate the importance, over many centuries, of that link. In the free countries of the Anglosphere, security has never been primarily the responsibility of military professionals, dedicated as they are. Indeed it has always been understood that for the military to see itself as separate from society, an elite answerable to the state not to their fellows, is a dangerous step toward tyranny. By contrast for citizens to see the military in themselves and vice versa, as with the police, is part of a healthy body politic.

The reserve-based citizen-soldier connection is also important because it helps maintain awareness and appreciation among citizens of the need for readiness in an uncertain world and an understanding that national defence is not “someone else’s problem” but that of their neighbours, their colleagues, their relatives and themselves. Including readiness to respond to domestic emergencies whether natural or man-made.

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to write about the reserves on a number of occasions including in Reader’s Digest after another embedded exercise, at Petawawa, in which Brigitte and I even got to ride in helicopters and wave honey-soaked rations at a mama bear. (OK, that was just me, and not on purpose.) And I’ve been privileged to speak to the Brocks’ annual mess dinner. But it’s difficult to convey the special world of the reserves to those not familiar with it.

So when I got a newsletter concerning the 150th anniversary celebrations for the regiment, I thought “This really is a remarkable window into the community of the Brockville Rifles.” Not just the community within the regiment, but the larger community of current and former members and their civilian friends and supporters. So I contacted them to ask whether it would be appropriate to share it and they said to go ahead. Here it is: (you can also view it here)

If you read the letter, I think most of you will get a sense that something unfamiliar but clearly wonderful and important is going on here. And I hope you’ll consider getting to know the reserves in your own town, city or area, and to understand just how important the citizen-soldier is not just to our defence but to our way of life. Up the Brocks! And happy 150th.

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If that’s your idea of fun…

OK, this is pretty grim. I just got this email from the federal NDP with the implausible subject line “One fun thing together”. Fun? NDP? Intrigued, even baffled, I read on and after some tedious preliminaries this is the excitement on offer:

I want you to meet our fellow progressive Canadians fighting for equality with you, and I have a fun way to make that happen. When you take this one-question poll, you’ll let other Canadians know what issue makes you stand up and fight – and you’ll also see what your community is saying about their top issue.

Really? That’s your idea of “fun”? That’s how you kick back, loosen up and get jiggy in high summer? Evidently so. For after what I think was meant to be stirring prose about a “community of progressive Canadians”, it wrapped up with this “gosh, how can I refuse?” thrill-o-rama offer:

let’s all do this one cool thing together – share your “big issue” with the NDP’s community of progressive Canadians and see who’s fighting with you.

Ooooh. Party time. Unfortunately political party time. I know the NDP can be a stridently serious bunch and that as a rule social justice is about as light-hearted as a root canal. But I thought when they actually tried to have fun, if they ever did, there might at least be hats and balloons, activities, forced merriment, maybe even beer. Instead there’s a poll and fighting.

It reminds me of an observation by G.K. Chesterton, a profoundly serious person who found life enormously fun in the normal sense of actually having a good time, that:

Socialist idealism does not attract me very much, even as Idealism. The glimpses it gives of our future happiness depress me very much. They do not remind me of any actual happiness, of any happy day I have ever myself spent…

Exactly. This email certainly had me thinking if this is how they whoop it up I’d rather listen to them complain. Except it seems to be the same activity. So if your idea of “fun” is sitting alone at your computers saying what annoys you most, I do not want you designing my future.

It sounds awful.

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Today you actually get paid

Woot. Today is Tax Freedom Day in Canada. That’s right. June 7. That’s the day, according to the Fraser Institute, that the average family stops working for the state and starts working for itself. And that was the good news.

The bad news is that if governments paid for everything they took, that is, if you count deficits as if they were covered by taxation now instead of later, it still wouldn’t be tax freedom day until June 18. (This methodology I believe relies on mean averages for income and taxation.)

You can find the depressing details including a provincial breakdown in their study. But here’s a question to ponder as you do so. How can it be that, with Canadians so much wealthier today than they were thirty or sixty years ago, we can possibly need so much more help from government?

Remember, as we get richer, government could keep getting bigger while tax freedom day got earlier. Why isn’t it happening? If it’s too much to ask that government actually get smaller as our private means, including for charity, get larger, couldn’t it at least take a smaller share?

Instead the total tax rate (see p. 9 of the Fraser study) is higher in every province except Alberta and BC today than in 1981. So where does it all end? And why does current political debate take so little notice of the relentless expansion of the state relative to citizens, talking instead about all the wonderful things we could get if only government finally became truly big and busy?

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Operation Feeble

The Daily Telegraph reports that Britain is under American pressure to send an extra 100 troops to Afghanistan. How did it come to this?

I’m not judging the merits of the Afghan mission at this point. I’m just noting that this is a protracted, difficult discussion between the two leading powers in the Western alliance about a company of soldiers. One hundred troops. One company.

The Telegraph says the deployment would make a difference to the American ability to deploy troops elsewhere in the country and bolster U.S. commanders’ arguments with their own president about further reducing the American presence.

A hundred soldiers? I can see how the decision to send three regiments might signal serious allied commitment to a cause. But if it still matters, sending 100 soldiers should be a minor administrative decision not a major strategic issue.

Consider that in April 1940 in a failed attempt to rescue their Norwegian ally, the British put 3,500 men into a minor action at Namsos, despite having 200,000 in France and deployments worldwide, from the Caribbean to Burma and Hong Kong, in the midst of a major war. Yet such a deployment would strain the capacity of the far richer and more populous UK of 2016 in peacetime, with few other demands on its armed forces, and entirely exceed our own. How can we have let such a situation arise in a clearly turbulent world?

Look, the Afghan mission may have been misconceived from the beginning or badly executed. I don’t think so, except in the unrealistic expectations for transforming the country through military action rather than just removing a regime dangerous to us. But it may be time to withdraw. It may be impossible to prevent a Taliban resurgence. The major terrorist threat may be elsewhere now. Or showing weakness once committed might be perilous. All these things can be debated.

What it seems to me cannot be debated is that when the two most powerful nations in the Western alliance are having protracted high-level discussions over 100 soldiers, both our military establishments and our will are dangerously weak.

 

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Where’s the compassion?

In today’s Mercatornet Newsletter, Editor Michael Cook cites a noteworthy observation by his colleague Carolyn Moynihan:

A great deal of ink has been spilt over the rather dreary topic of the state of public bathrooms in the United States. Transgenders, it is argued, clearly have a civil right to access the bathroom of their choice. This is an issue which affects, at most 0.3% of the population. For my money, Carolyn Moynihan, our deputy editor, has penned the most sensible contribution to this debate. She asks why Americans are working themselves into a frenzy over bathrooms when nearly 1 in 6 young men between 18 and 34 is either out of work or in jail.

In principle it’s possible, even logical, to be compassionate to everyone. But her observation underlines how selective, and ostentatious, some people’s concern seems to be.

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King Justin

In my latest column for the National Post I argue that Trudeau manhandling MPs was not just rudeness to colleagues. It was an assault by the executive branch on the legislature and, therefore, on Canadian citizens, who elect MPs to control the government on their behalf.

One more reason we urgently need to fix our Constitution. Please back our documentary project and help us show the way.

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The Invictus

There he goes again, you may be tempted to say. Our PM posed with the Canadian Invictus Games team and did their pushup-then-lock-one-arm-and-extend-other-hand gesture while issuing a thinly veiled challenge to Prince Harry and President Obama to do the same or something similar for the British and American teams for the upcoming games in Orlando. NBC headlined it “Watch Justin Trudeau’s Macho Challenge to Obama, Prince Harry” and indeed my first thought was “Showing off again, huh?” But on reflection I’m going to praise him instead.

First, the Invictus Games created by Prince Harry “for wounded, injured and sick Service personnel” are an excellent cause. Second, fitness is an excellent cause. Third, and crucially, the two leaders he implicitly challenges are both themselves healthy and physically active. It would be unfair and in bad taste to call out a political leader who through age or misfortune couldn’t do such a thing. But in this case I appreciate his doing the… well, it sure is a clumsy thing to describe.

So I was thinking of dubbing it “the Trudeau” so we can do it at the dojo without spending five minutes naming it. But I decided “the Invictus” was a better name. Because this time I don’t think he was calling attention to himself but to two worthy causes: rehabilitating wounded members of our Armed Forces and those of our allies, and staying fit.

Yes, it’s a challenge, to other leaders and to the rest of us. But it’s a worthy challenge because most of us should be able to do at least one “Invictus”. If Trudeau happens to look good doing it, it’s because he keeps himself in shape. And that’s a good thing.

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