By Scott Taylor
I’m not sure exactly who is masterminding Prime Minister Harper’s public image machine these days, but whoever it is, they seem intent on convincing Canadians that he is some sort of Warrior King. The latest instalment was last week’s photo op aboard HMCS Fredericton, conducting a NATO exercise in the Baltic Sea. Harper, his wife Laureen and a small entourage, including Defence Minister Jason Kenney, spent a total of 20 hours aboard the Canadian patrol frigate.
Also included in that small group were the photographers and videographers whose task it was to capture images of our fearless leader staring down those evil Russian aggressors. A series of photos were published in the national media with Harper staring intently through a pair of binoculars while standing next to an ominous looking .50-calibre heavy machine-gun. The object of Harper’s gaze, we were told, was a pair of Russian warships barely visible on the horizon.
Kenney also had himself photographed with the binoculars and he announced to the media in attendance that because the Russian ships altered course at the same time as the Fredericton, they were, in fact, tracking the Canadian vessel. To drive home the level of intimidation on the part of the Russians, it was announced that, at one point, the Russian ships came as close as seven nautical miles from Fredericton. This, of course, sounds a lot closer than the metric equivalent of 13 kilometres, but then, why hesitate to torque up what was truly a non-story?
Of course the Russian navy would want to monitor the activities of a NATO warship in the Baltic, especially when Fredericton sailed within 20 kilometres of the city of Kaliningrad. They would be remiss if they did not. This was fully understood by the Fredericton’s captain, Cmdr. Jeff Murray, who put the Russian ships appearance in perspective: “I fully expect they’re keeping situational awareness, as all militaries do when they are operating,” Murray told reporters.
He added, “I would say they do what we do and they make sure that they know what vessels are operating in waters near their areas of interest.”
The ironic part of Harper’s photo op, complete with anti-Russian aggression rhetoric and hype about Canada’s contribution to NATO’s containment of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was the fact that in order to stage the PM’s visit, Fredericton had to interrupt its participation in the NATO squadron exercise. In other words, if we really are on the brink of Armageddon, Harper actually jeopardized the safety of the free world by taking Fredericton off station in order to get his photo taken.
This outing comes close on the heels of Harper’s whirlwind visit to Kurdistan last month. Although it was a closely held secret until it actually transpired, it required a tremendous amount of planning, and a tremendous amount of military resources to pull it off. An entire platoon of JTF-2 commandos, Canada’s elite special forces, had to be flown in, along with an entire convoy of heavily armoured sport utility vehicles. Although the media pool had to remain in Erbil, the Kurdish capital, Harper, Kenney, the JTF-2s and a film crew made their way to the front lines. Once there, Harper and Kenney took turns having their photo taken as they stared out over no man’s land at what was reportedly an ISIS fighting position several kilometres away. Once that was out of the way, it was time to pack up the tripods, bundle the heavily armed JTF-2 commandos back into the SUVs and race back to the Erbil airport. One can only imagine the amusement on the part of the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, who witnessed this little stunt.
The Peshmerga have been fighting in northern Iraq for the past 30 years. They have fought against Saddam Hussein, fought against each other, and most recently they have been battling ISIS for the past year. To suddenly see a column of souped-up SUVs discharge a mob of heavily armed elite commandos in order that two heavy-set, middle-aged Canadian politicians could have their picture taken looking out at the enemy must have seemed absurd to them. I know it seems absurd to me.