By Michael Nickerson
Publisher’s Note: I am overjoyed to report the return of popular columnist Michael Nickerson (a.k.a. Rantman) to our monthly line-up. Nickerson was laid low by a crippling virus known as Guillain-Barré Syndrome last October and he spent the following four months in intensive care at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. A true warrior, Nickerson has fully beaten the virus and is now battling back towards a full recovery. We wish him Godspeed!
Sometimes it’s hard to get angry. We’ve all been there, staring down a double barrel of such overwhelming conviviality and reasonableness we forget we were about to throw a punch. Very embarrassing that; one minute limbs are about to fly and the next we’re calmly discussing the merits of canapés. There was a point in there somewhere. A damn good point lost before you could really put the boot to that … why yes, the smoked salmon is most divine.
You would be hard pressed to find a federal Liberal MP you can feel truly, hair-pullingly upset with in this first half year of all things not Stephen Harper. From Justin Trudeau’s hair on down, all is good, all is beautiful, all is heart-warmingly friendly. Like a happy troop of scouts helping the metaphorical elderly across the proverbial dangerous crosswalk, Team Justin™ has your hand. To think otherwise would be akin to Smurf abuse.
So it’s more than a bit uncomfortable to see our current defence minister shovel it in the face of Canadians without wanting to give someone a good kick in the nuts. But just not MP and retired Lieutenant-Colonel Harjit Sajjan, the most infuriatingly reasonable man there could be. To hear his pitch for public consultation on the much-touted defence review, you’d be excused for thinking you had a seat at the round table and King Arthur’s ear.
To wit, Team Justin™ wants to know what you, the average Canadian, thinks about the Canadian military: what it should be, where it should go, how much to spend, and where to spend it. Yes, Joey Canuck, here’s your chance, so tell it like it is!
But let’s be clear, Joey old stick, there really isn’t all that much to comment on. When pressed as to what exactly is up for discussion, our silver-tongued defence minister, calm and sensible, explained that nothing of consequence is up for discussion. Fighter jet procurement and whether to buy the F-35? Nope. Navy frigate procurement, the cost overruns and whether to go ahead with planned purchases? Nope again. Foreign policy and how the military might be involved? Complicated, but Stéphane Dion is on the case. So, why exactly do you want anyone’s opinion? Let us all be lulled by those dulcet tones of political rhetoric and go back to sleep.
And asleep Canadians seem to be. Since the great red wave swept across Canada last October, there have been too many telltale decisions or lack thereof that speak to a government backtracking before it’s even leaned forward. To hear Team Justin™ talk less than a year ago, our six CF-18s would have immediately plotted a course for home, humanitarianism would be our watch word, we would be embracing the United Nations, and the military would be guided and funded with principled, cogent policy and planning. Smurfs free for the asking, though only one per Canadian while supplies last.
Right then. The jets did come home, some five confusing and ill-explained months later. Our “training” commitment to Iraqi forces was tripled in all its special-forces, laser-targeting splendour with about as much discussion and explanation as one might expect from an obstinate mime with laryngitis. While there was talk of wanting to return to the United Nations Security Council, support human rights, and rejoin UN peace initiatives, Dion and his supporting team signed off on military equipment exports he was warned could be used in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, a human rights catastrophe and general human cluster fart if ever there was one.
Canadians were filled with a lot of pent-up anger last year. It found its voice while electing a federal political party that did not have Harper in its name. Rightfully so in many respects. And there is always a honeymoon with just about any government after they’re elected … poor form to admit you made a mistake too quickly, after all. And even poorer form to ruffle such perfect hair, the talk of TV and diplomatic circles alike.
And that’s the problem: no one likes kicking a Smurf, or a thoughtful minister dutifully spouting the party line, or a government making all the noises many want to hear while making decisions they’d be appalled at. When it comes to our military personnel, and the support, spending, and foreign policy they will live and die by, good manners should not apply. Time to start kicking.