By: Suzanne Elston
Watching our Canadian Olympic heroes return home after their outstanding performances in Torino, it was hard not to feel a surge of nationalistic pride. Those sweet faced, peace loving Canadians proved that nice guys (and girls) donÕt have to finish last. About the only criticism that seemed to surface about Team CanadaÕs medal-winning efforts was that our womenÕs hockey team didnÕt have to trounce their opponents with such vigor. As the poster children for world peace, it seemed a little out of character to take such joy in flattening the opposition.
At least thatÕs what weÕd like to believe. But while most Canadians were busy reveling in our victories on the playing fields, our politicians were busy gearing up for a very different kind of international confrontation on the killing fields. The result of which was made evident last weekend by another, very different heroes' homecoming. Rather than the waving of Canadian flags, we witnessed the solemn draping of flags over the coffins of two Canadians soldiers killed in Afghanistan. The shocking pictures of the axe attack on Captain Greene further rattled our gentle peace loving souls.
These are images unfamiliar to Canadians. Since the Korean conflict, our role on the international stage has been one of peacekeeper. In recent years we have even jeopardized our friendship with the US to maintain this position. When George W. Bush called upon Canada to join the Ņwar on terrorÓ, Jean Chrˇtien's response was typically Canadian – a very firm but polite, ŅNo.Ó
Which is why is it a shock to most Canadians to discover that we are at war. And while it would be easy to blame Prime Minister Harper for our sudden shift in status, the transition began more than a year ago when our peacekeepers in Kabul became peacemakers in Kandahar. Since then, our commitment, both in numbers and in level of danger, has increased dramatically to the point where earlier this week Canadian troops took the helm of the international forces in Kandahar.
"When we went to war everybody knew it," said one World War II veteran in response to the latest news headlines. "I don't think the vast majority of Canadians even realize that we've had a major shift in government policy." That's probably because nobody bothered to ask.
Since the deed has already been done, Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor has rejected the idea of a parliamentary vote on our increasing involvement in Afghanistan. However, in recent days he has appeared to be willing to enter into a debate in the House of Commons.
It was reported last week that the military has asked the government for the right to cancel any leave or separation requests, including termination of employment contracts with any and all military personnel, in order to fulfill its commitment to Afghanistan, although as of this writing the Department of National Defence has not been able to confirm or deny this report.
What we do know for sure is that our commitment to Afghanistan is the deployment of 2,300 troops until 2007, with some talk about a long-term, ten year commitment to the area. There is also a decision to increase the total number of military personnel from 68,000 to 75,000.
So what's all this got to do with the environment? Plenty! Not being at war would definitely be on my short list of what constitutes a healthy environment.
Wake up, Canada! It's time that we all gave our heads a collective shake and started demanding answers to some very serious questions. For starters, we need a broad public debate on foreign policy. If we're going to be at war, at the very least, somebody should tell us. Better yet, since we still live in a democracy (or least I thought we did), shouldn't the government be asking the Canadian public if this is the direction we want to head?
Secondly, rather than investing billions in the military to safeguard oil interests (including that supply pipe that conveniently goes right through the centre of Afghanistan), shouldn't we be looking at investing in renewable oil futures right here in Canada?
Finally, do we really want
to trade our peacekeeper's jerseys for flack jackets?
Email your local MP and demand a public debate on Canada's foreign policy. For an up-to-date listing of all MPs, visit The Government of Canada