Harper, the war, and wedge politics
Yesterday the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released an impressive new ebook that compiles more than 40 chapters on Stephen Harper’s track record in the Prime Minister’s office. The Harper Record was edited by Teresa Healy, a researcher at the Canadian Labour Congress (and talented musician, I might add).
On the Afghanistan issue, John Warnock contributed a chapter entitled “Peace and Democracy for Afghanistan,” while my own chapter looked at the war and the military from a political viewpoint. It is titled, “Harper, the War, and Wedge Politics.”
Here is an excerpt from my chapter:
Harper visited Afghanistan within weeks of taking office, and appointed retired General Gordon O’Connor, a former defence industry lobbyist, as his first Minister of National Defence. These early moves signalled that national defence and the military would be one of his unofficial priorities.
While he ignored or cancelled programs initiated by the Liberals, such as the child care program and the Kelowna Accord with First nations, Harper pledged to fulfill Paul Martin’s 2005 Budget promise to increase defence spending massively, by $12.8 billion over five years. In his own first federal Budget, Harper went further and committed an addition $5.3 billion on top of what was already the largest increase in military spending in a generation.
Today, Canada’s military spending is rising above $19 billion a year, sixth highest in NATO and 15th highest in the world, dollar for dollar. When adjusted for inflation, Canada’s military spending is at its highest since the Second World War, even exceeding the Cold War peak in the early 1950s.
Conservative Party enthusiasts loved it. The moves to wrap the government in camouflage-green garb strengthened Harper’s political base. Red-Shirt Friday rallies to “support the troops” were backed by the military, and government officials used them to rally support behind the Conservatives. Remembrance Day ceremonies and other memorials to mark past military milestones, such as the 90th Anniversary of Vimy Ridge, were politicized to glorify the military and the Conservative Party’s support of it.
Even more, the Conservatives used these opportunities to try to write a new Canadian historical narrative, one that recasts Canada as a war-fighting nation, not as a peacekeeper. Canada is a nation that came into being in the bloody (and pointless) military battles of the First World War, in Harper’s historical memory.
The Conservatives view Canadians’ support for peacekeeping, the United Nations, soft power initiatives, and disarmament treaties such as the Landmines Treaty as Liberal symbols. It is important for them to create a new national narrative, with new symbols to replace the Liberal ones.
In the future, under a Conservative government, Canada’s international standing would be based upon pursuing “national interests,” and our influence would rely upon delivering hard military power.
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