Are those campaigning for bully-free schools missing the mark?
By SCOTT TAYLOR*
Our troops and Peter MacKay’s true colours
(September 19, 2008) – On Sunday, Sept. 5, after the formality of meeting with Governor General Michaëlle Jean to request that she disband parliament, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the assembled press corps at Rideau Hall that he expected this election to become a battleground of personal attack ads. Not waiting to retain the moral high ground, the Conservative Party struck first with an Internet parody of Stéphane Dion being crapped on repeatedly by a puffin.
In a more localized campaign, Defence Minister Peter MacKay took aim at Halifax West NDP candidate Tamara Lorincz, going so far as to suggest that NDP Leader Jack Layton “should pull that woman’s nomination papers.”
What set Mr. MacKay ablaze was an incident that occurred the previous Friday outside the DEFSEC trade show at Halifax’s Cunard Center. In addition to being the current NDP candidate of record, Lorincz is also a founding member of the Halifax Peace Coalition. This organization staged a small vigil to protest the U.S. defence companies that were exhibiting at DEFSEC.
According to published accounts and confirmed by Lorincz herself, when a carload of senior brass drove by, Lorincz shouted, “This is a racket and it should be shut down. We need a peace economy, not a military economy.”
Peter MacKay was not present at this encounter, but when he read those words in the newspaper the following day, he told reporters that he “felt physically ill” and that it was “one of the most disgusting things [he’s] heard in a long time.” In fact, Mr. MacKay went so far as to claim that this comment renders Ms. Lorincz “unfit for public office.”
In the interest of full disclosure, I must state that I have known Tamara Lorincz for the past five years, and I consider her a personal friend. On a number of occasions I have accepted her invitation to participate in presentations sponsored by her Halifax Peace Coalition. While I admittedly have some fundamental ideological differences of opinion with Tamara, I have always known her to be well informed on defence issues and eager to examine all sides of any contentious topic.
Throughout all of those discussions—both public and private—I have never heard Tamara express a single disparaging remark against either the professionalism of the Canadian Forces or the individuals who volunteer to serve in defence of Canada. Such an utterance would have terminated our relationship post-haste, I assure you.
As a Canadian taxpayer, Ms. Lorincz certainly has the right to voice her opinion on how much money the government should spend on military hardware, and as a concerned citizen she has every right to question into which wars Canada should deploy troops.
That’s democracy Mr. MacKay, and something which former chief of defence staff general Rick Hillier understood all too well.
In September 2006, during a visit to Ottawa by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a large Support-the-Troops rally was held on Parliament Hill. The vast majority of the 8,000 demonstrators were conservatives who wildly cheered the speech by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. At the back of the crowd, Trevor Haché, the president of the NDP Ottawa-Vanier riding association, stood alone and quietly raised a placard that read: “Support the troops, bring them home.”
Several red-shirt-wearing zealots were angered by this message and proceeded to rip Mr. Haché’s sign in half and then bodily threw him to the ground. Police quickly intervened to rescue the NDP representative from further assault.
When I interviewed general Hillier later that same day, he was visibly upset by the attack on Mr. Haché. “That’s not right. That’s why we wear the uniform,” said Hillier. “Our soldiers defend the right for Canadians like [Mr. Haché] to express his opinion. That’s why we fight.”
Close followers of Peter MacKay’s political career will recall that, when Canadian soldiers were under fire from U.S. Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, our defence minister did not speak up to defend their reputation. On Jan. 16, 2008, Mr. Gates was quoted in the L.A. Times making disparaging remarks about the way NATO troops in southern Afghanistan were letting the Americans down. According to Mr. Gates, the troops deployed to Kandahar, including Canadians, were “not experienced in counter-insurgency.”
While the British and Dutch governments immediately voiced their objections and demanded apologies, Peter MacKay meekly accepted Mr. Gates’ criticism of our troops. As Canada was in the process of begging the Americans for used Chinook helicopters, Mr. MacKay didn’t feel Canada was in a position to rebuff the U.S. secretary of defence.
That is, of course, nonsense, and Mr. Gates of all people would have understood an angry backlash over his offending comments (in fact, he issued a subsequent clarification/retraction).
What this latest incident over Ms. Lorincz’s outburst has shown us is that Mr. MacKay is certainly capable of speaking up for the troops—even if they’re not under attack—provided his opponent is small enough. Mr. MacKay showed his true colours when Mr. Gates called him out last January.
*Source: Esprit de Corps magazine…