The Two Solitudes
Conservatives love to talk about the “Decade of Darkness” of the 1990s in Canada’s military and how they have restored the military’s glory of years previous. Yet two events occurred on the same day last week – one in Afghanistan, the other in my own town of London, Ontario – that show some revealing signs of what might be ahead for our military.
Parkwood Hospital, which houses veterans from various conflicts, has announced that some of its London services will be affected as a number of its veteran care beds will be cut. The hospital made a brave attempt at putting a positive spin on it all by stating that, “key to our planning has been balancing the increasing care needs of veterans, whose average age is 86, with the decreasing number of requests for admission. Where there continues to be demand for admission we are able to respond to these needs in a timely manner.” The long and short of it is, as some of the hospital workers told me last week, that this represents a sad development, as a shrinking number of elderly veterans are slowly losing their importance in the eyes of Veterans Affairs Canada. A few elderly heroes tucked away in a south London hospital have just taken another step towards obscurity.
On the same day as the above press release, an email was sent to me expressing the grave concern that the internationally-renowned school run from the Afghan-Canadian Community Centre in Kandahar, Afghanistan, has been cut off at the knees on its new project. Their current grant is due to run out in October 2010, and it remains unlikely that the centre will be able to maintain it’s women’s program following the cuts. It’s a sad development, considering that the Centre has trained up and found jobs for several hundreds of Kandahari women. One worker commented that this is what occurs with the present paralysis in Ottawa concerning the mission in Afghanistan itself – irreparable harm ensues. When I inquired from a well-connected leader at the Department of Defence, I received that solemn reply that it will be merely “the tip of the iceberg” for what is about to ensue as Canada slowly pulls out of Afghanistan.
Military missions come and go over the decades, with the commensurate increasing and decreasing of funds. It’s just that this is all so sudden, with still no declaration from the Conservative government as to its plans for Afghanistan post-2011. No one doubts that the Prime Minister would personally like to keep an active military component in that difficult country, but, as always, Stephen Harper’s eyes are on retail politics and the polls are telling him that Canadians are increasingly losing interest in Canada’s commitment to that part of the world.
The effects of Canada’s pull-out on the ground will likely result in other participating nations taking similar steps. Soon enough all the talk about the kids going to school, the highly effective nature of women’s programs supported by Canada, and our commitment to training new leaders for the future will be things of the past. They will surely be replaced by empty school classrooms, murdered women’s leaders who, having sided with the NATO forces to bring about change, will be inevitably targeted by the Taliban for that endorsement. The dark days are returning, with the politicians more concerned with how it will effect the vote in Canada rather than the lives in Afghanistan. Somebody in Ottawa better start talking about this quick, before the hope of keeping any kind of development and security presence there diminishes altogether.
Two solitudes, half a world apart, but indicative of the years of attrition about to ensue. Canada has done marvellous work overseas but provided poorly for our veterans here at home. Now the two will come together as darkness descends once more on the Canadian military establishment.