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Hoist with their own petard, Harper Tories face veterans' Remembrance Day protest

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Mark Strahl

No Canadian government in living memory, and probably no Canadian government in history, has worked as hard as the Harper Conservatives to politicize the military, Canadians' perceptions of the armed services and the sacrifices made by Canadian soldiers and sailors.

So it must seem ironic to many Canadians that some armed forces veterans across Canada are planning this morning to turn their backs when local Conservative politicians lay wreaths at their community cenotaphs -- and that the Tory politicians who are the targets of this protest are suddenly so astonishingly sensitive about the politicization of Remembrance Day.

The Globe and Mail yesterday quoted Mark Strahl, Conservative MP for Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon in British Columbia, stating, "I don't support the politicization of Remembrance Day."

According to the Globe, Strahl went on to complain: "On this one day, we should be united in honouring those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom, and set politics aside."

Of course, Strahl conveniently ignores the fact that from the day the Harper government took office, glorification of the armed services has been a key part of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's ongoing reelection strategy.

But for all their liking of crowns and pips, Royal prefixes and other tributes the undeniably and unavoidably military history of the British monarchy in Canada, the inspiration and motivation of this Conservative campaign has come from south of the 49th Parallel.

The goal, as in the United States, has been to conflate in the minds of voters genuine military heroism, past and present, the American entertainment industry's instinctive and ever-popular heroic military jingoism, and right-wing politics and politicians.

As the irreplaceable Lawrence Martin noticed not so long ago, the melding of sport and war to achieve a partisan political goal has been a particularly noticeable symptom of this conscious and effective strategy by the Harper Conservatives. Hockey commentator, Conservative partisan and Rob Ford booster Don Cherry is its chief spokesperson in the arena of sports.

But there are other indicators too. Remembrance Day seems somehow to be morphing into Veterans' Week, and perhaps it will take up an even larger slice of the calendar in the future. The Government of Canada's Tory blue Veterans' Week website provides a handy link to an attractively illustrated page about Veterans' Affairs Minister Julian Fantino, his own chest full of medals in many photos.

This, in turn, has long offered a convenient platform for the prime minister to use enhanced awareness of Remembrance Day related events to score additional points, as in this 2006 press release. And so it goes…

Note, however, that this kind of politicization is only allowed for members of the government. If an opposition party dares to try something similar, count on the magpies of Sun News Network to come screeching down!

Despite their desire to ride to victory on the military's coat tails, the Harper Conservatives have not followed through in their treatment of the veterans with whom they love to be photographed.

This hypocritical reality is at the root of the dispute that has angered vets enough to consider making a political statement at a ceremony that in Canada has traditionally been both non-partisan and solemn.

The inspiration for this too comes from south of the world's longest undefended border, where Republican politicians are unstinting in their praise of U.S. service men and women -- and quick to cut their benefits and redistribute the savings upward to the American 1 per cent.

So too the Harper Conservatives, who in a policy right out of the Republican play book have cut benefits to disabled military veterans while waving the flag, and whose lawyers have argued in court the government has no sacred duty to look after veterans.

"They want to balance the books of the country on back of ours heroes," summarized NDP Veterans Affairs Peter Stoffer. "In the 16 and a half years that I've been in Parliament, I've never heard a veterans affairs minister say that we have to worry about the taxpayer when it comes to looking after veterans."

So if a few Canadian military veterans do indeed turn their backs on Tory politicians this morning, let's remember it was those same Conservatives who set the stage for Remembrance Day to become a political event.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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