There is a war going on in Canada, a battle for our hearts and minds being waged by our leaders. Our government is in an all out process of militarizing of our national consciousness.
In 1969, Lester B. Pearson challenged developped countries to contribute 0.7 per cent of the nation’s gross domestic product to international development aid, a move that helped to create Canada’s image as a humanitarian nation.
In 2008, aid spending accounted for a mere 0.32 per cent of CanadaÃ¨s GDP, while military spending reached 1.38 per cent, or $18.2 billion. This is up over 35 per cent from 2001 levels. According to a report from the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives, this means military spending is the highest it has been since the Second World War, higher even than at any point during the Cold War.
In order to push the military mindset forward, government officials have coupled the ramp-up in military spending with a flashy new public relations campaign aimed at rebranding the Canadian military and its new role on the frontline in the War on Terror. The blue helmets of the United Nations have been traded in for loaded rifles, kill counts, and Call of Duty-esque recruitment commercials. A fact cemented by retired Canadian Forces chief of staff General Rick Hillier when he stated in 2005 that, “we are the Canadian Forces, and our job is to be able to kill people.”
The change is not only in policy though the Conservatives have taken steps to rewrite the importance of Canadian military history. Last week they rolled out a brand new immigration and citizenship guide that uses the word “war” 55 times – impressive for a 62 page document.
The ninth page of the guide reads like an army recruiting manual, stating, “serving in the regular Canadian Forces is a noble way to contribute to Canada and an excellent career choice.” Impetus is also placed on military history through a creative allocation of space. Five pages are dedicated to the strength of Canadian arms while the residential school program is described in two lines as “poorly funded,” and having inflicted “hardship on the students; some students were physically abused.”
The question remains, do Canadians really want to live in a militarized nation? A 2008 poll by the Rideau institute found that about half of Canadians favour a reduction in military expenditures. Add the recently released Innovative Research Group poll that found only 45 per cent of Canadians support the current mission in Afghanistan, a 14 per cent drop from June 2006.
Stephen Harper made no qualms about his dream for the Canadian military when he spoke at the inaugural True Patriot Love Gala Dinner in Toronto stating with pride, “public appreciation for our military may be higher today than at any time since the Second World War,” thanks in no small part to the actions of his government. He quoted a recent poll that found 800,000 more Canadians planned to attend a Remembrance Day service this year than the previous year, failing to take into account how the 36 canadian casualties since last November may have impacted that decision.
Our government is playing a billion dollar game of plastic army men with the lives of Canadian and Afghani citizens, and trying to drape us in a new military flag. Instead of glorifying the deaths of young men and women in a forlorn dessert, Harper should have spent Nov. 11 reflecting on the promise made by world leaders at the close of World War II. “never again.”