OTTAWA – All of the partisan sniping on Parliament Hill will pause at the end of this week to make way for the planned commemoration of the mission in Afghanistan.
The House of Commons will not sit Friday, a tribute to the 158 soldiers, one diplomat, one journalist and three civilians who died during Canada’s 12-year deployment to the war-torn country.
The Harper government is billing May 9 as a national day of honour, but events and services will be squarely focused on Ottawa — something that has made the political opposition and some veterans groups uneasy.
Events include a parade involving all of the regiments that fought in Afghanistan, two fly-pasts featuring aircraft and helicopters used in the mission, a 21-gun salute and a moment of silence at 1:30 p.m. ET.
In addition to services at military bases, the government has asked the Royal Canadian Legion to host events at its 1,450 branches across the country and for schools to mark the occasion with activities and a moment of silence.
But the legion was only given two weeks notice and many school boards across the country were not notified of any plans.
Wounded soldiers who fought in Kandahar are taking part in a torch relay to Ottawa from the country’s main military air base in Trenton, Ont.
Once in the capital they are expected to hand over the last flag to fly over a Canadian headquarters in Afghanistan to the country’s chief of defence staff, who will in turn give it to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
That has caused a stir among veterans, some of whom say their oath is to the Queen, not the government of the day, and that the flag should more properly be passed to the Governor General, the commander-in-chief of the Forces.
The Liberals are accusing Harper of stealing the honour for himself and urging the government to put the spotlight on the troops, not the politicians.