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Military brass are trained in the art of realism, not political salesmanship. An email exchange in the aftermath of last October’s shooting in Ottawa reveals the thought process of a senior military man reacting to events.
The Ottawa Citizen got its hands on a flurry of emails penned by Gen. Tom Lawson, the Chief of the Defence Staff; Lt.-Gen. Guy Thibault, the vice-chief; Maj.-Gen. Michael Hood, the director of staff; Lt.-Gen. Jon Vance, the commander of operations in Iraq; Richard Fadden, formerly the defence department’s deputy minister; and Edison Stewart, the assistant deputy minister for public affairs.
As night fell after the shooting, Stewart suggested that Vance ought to participate in an RCMP press conference on Oct. 23. Watch for the characterization of the shooting as an opportunity.
Vance said he saw no need to participate in the RCMP’s press conference the next day. But Stewart suggested: “as deployments are proceeding, (would) be an opportunity to affirm the resolve that is reflected in (Lawson’s) internal (message).” He said he had asked the Privy Council Office if there was interest in having Vance at the news conference.
Vance replied that Lawson had “indicated we should seek a strategic opportunity and this may be it.”
The exchange recalls a matter-of-fact Stephen Harper telling his country that the 2008 recession presented “good buying opportunities” as stock prices bottomed out. Harper may have forgotten, just for a minute, how poorly that remark would come across for anyone who’d felt the crush of economic hard times in late 2008. Strictly speaking, however, the PM was right. Gradually, stock markets rebounded in a big way.
To call a shooting that threatened the lives of elected officials and everyone else on Parliament Hill a “strategic opportunity” for anything will raise the hackles of anybody nearly caught in the line of fire—no matter the objective wisdom of the suggestion. NDP MP Randall Garrison noticed the Citizen‘s scoop and, this afternoon, raised it in the House. Garrison wondered if the government agreed that Vance’s phrasing was “regrettable.” James Bezan, the parliamentary secretary to the defence minister, stood in his place and seemed briefly stuck for a response. Bezan hemmed and hawed, and eventually fell back on his best generic defence of the ongoing fight against Islamic State in Iraq.
If Bezan initially considered an attempt at defending Vance’s remarks, he certainly didn’t end up testing it in the Commons. Translating the Machiavellian spirit of a general during wartime overseas requires a feat of public relations perhaps impossible to conjure under the bright lights of question period.
Stephen Harper often talks about how we all live on a scary planet. He’s not wrong.
Take a look at today’s example. Alexander Zakharchenko, a leader among the rebels who want to form their own republic in eastern Ukraine, hopes to raise an army of 100,000. That declaration comes days after the rebels didn’t bother to show up for peace talks, and firefights killed dozens of civilians over the weekend. In Egypt, a court confirmed death sentences for 183 members of the Muslim Brotherhood who stood accused of slaying police officers in 2013. (Last December, Human Rights Watch’s Sarah Leah Whitson was appalled at the judiciary’s conduct. “Judges are convicting defendants en masse without regard for fair trial standards,” she said.) Suicide bombers spread misery, and death, in Nigeria. Pipe bombings in Bangkok have Thailand’s prime minister justifying martial law imposed on the city last May. We can only guess at what Islamic State’s militants are inflicting on innocent people away from any headlines.
The prime minister’s warnings last Friday about jihadist attacks, a scary world, and a need to better protect Canadians are the backdrop of the government’s latest anti-terror legislation. The bill, C-51, gives federal agencies wider latitude to share personal information and restrict certain expression in the name of protection. The bill has teeth, and smart people are revealing the prospective law’s bite. Harper says the government can strengthen security without reducing freedom. The opposition may disagree. The House of Commons is the place to have it out. That big room reserved for the democratic process is, everyone must remember, Canada’s counterpoint to the scary world that surrounds it.