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Federal Politics

Stand Up for Our Vets, Tory Backbenchers!

Don't fear Harper's rebuke; fear your voters, who watch as you let government disrespect soldiers.

Michael Harris 8 Feb 2014iPolitics

Michael Harris is a writer, journalist and documentary filmmaker. He was awarded a Doctor of Laws for his "unceasing pursuit of justice for the less fortunate among us." His eight books include Justice Denied, Unholy Orders, Rare Ambition, Lament for an Ocean and Con Game. His work has sparked four commissions of inquiry, and three of his books have been made into movies. He is currently working on a book about the Harper majority government to be published in the autumn of 2014 by Penguin Canada.

Who can explain the Silence of the Cons?

I don't mean the cabinet snake-oil parodies on the nightly news -- the ones who would sell their mothers, not to mention Canada's veterans, down the river for a chauffeur and a fat paycheque.

I am talking about the ones who let Julian Fantino and Stephen Harper turn their names to mud back home with the people who sent them to Ottawa.

Does anyone seriously believe that Conservative MPs are getting fan-mail over the atrocious disrespect the Harper government has shown to soldiers, ex-soldiers and their families? After all, the PM once said these soldiers were the best of Canadians. Is it likely these silent MPs will be greeted with brass bands when they return to their ridings?

Why don't these ordinary Conservative MPs speak out against the injustice of the so-called "universality of service" rule that declares injured soldiers unfit for duty and therefore unfit to serve? Retired general Roméo Dallaire has.

And why don't they say something about the built-in disincentives for injured soldiers who are afraid to come forward for help -- especially those suffering from mental distress? Soldiers know that 90 per cent of those who go to military support units for treatment end up getting the boot.

The military ombudsman, Pierre Daigle, isn't keeping his mouth shut. He knows the current system is unjust because he actually has taken the time to look into the face of the problem -- the human faces of the ex-soldiers and their spouses.

Some of Canada's most needy ex-soldiers don't even have pensions. The policy-makers look at actuarial charts and figure out how much money -- blood money -- they can siphon from veterans and use to balance the budget. What will backbench Tories say when the folks back home point out a shameful statistic: The Harper government spent $28 million promoting the War of 1812 for political purposes -- but for living soldiers the same government cut $35 million from Veterans Affairs and closed much-needed veterans centres.

What makes the Silence of the Cons so remarkable is that they have absolutely nothing to lose by standing up for veterans. In fact, they have a great deal to gain -- and to give.

It's not Harper who hired you

Think about it. Say you're a backbencher who is never going anywhere on the ladder of blind ambition -- not to cabinet, not to a parliamentary secretary's job (with an extra $15,000), not even to a committee chairmanship. The only place you're going is back home to face your constituents. And they all just saw you vote down an NDP motion to keep the veteran centres open. They'll remember that -- they can count, and numbers are bullshit-proof.

When will it sink in (as it did with Brent Rathgeber) that Stephen Harper has no goodies for these backbenchers, no respect, no coattails to ride -- and compromised conservative credentials? The prime minister is a dictatorial cult figure who has adopted the same goals and the worst instincts of the people he once insisted were undermining democracy. At a social level, he is deconstructing Canada while delivering the nation's treasure to corporations.

He has become just another slick, shifty opportunist who enjoys being in charge as much as he dislikes being called out for making it up as he goes along. He is truly the Great Confabulator.

With Harper, words mean nothing -- wording is everything. All manipulators, public or private, assume you'll never read the fine print. Just remember the dirty tricks he played with wording on native funding agreements and the Atlantic Accord. He is a political narcissist with an enemy's list, a vicious infighter who will bite off your ear in a clinch, a politician who wants a pack of zombie bobble-heads -- not a caucus of thinking men and women.

All of which should amount to a very liberating thought for the vast majority of Conservative MPs. It should allow them to be the men and women they are -- the people the voters believed them to be.

Yet they act as if Harper gave them their jobs. He didn't. The folks back home did that. They put them there for the Conservative values they embodied. Those values, when I last checked, did not include reflexive lying, maniacal stealth and the complete and utter dismissal of parliamentary tradition to the point where Canada has virtually transitioned to executive governance without the bother of a debate.

'Après Steve, le déluge'

The Silence of the Cons is even harder to understand because silence usually betokens agreement. Does the Conservative caucus really agree that it's more important to protect a disgraced minister like Julian Fantino than it is to make sure Canadian veterans get what they need without having to navigate a degrading bureaucratic obstacle course? They made war on Canada's behalf and now Canada makes war on them -- is that it?

Does caucus approve of the obvious rot in the PMO, which now finds the Mounties at the door because the prime minister allowed corruption to flourish under his nose -- and then mimed moral outrage when the scheming became public?

Does caucus agree they should sit like mummies in the House of Commons, while a chosen list of parrots selected by the PMO becomes the public face of the party?

Is everyone in caucus in agreement with the cast of shaky characters that Harper has appointed, one after another, to high public office? Bruce Carson with his criminal record. Arthur Porter -- once in charge of CSIS oversight, now in jail in Panama fighting extradition to Canada on fraud charges. Dean Del Mastro, the PM's former parliamentary secretary, headed to court on charges of improper election spending. Mike Duffy, Peter Penashue, Nigel Wright, Patrick Brazeau -- the list of disgraced appointments personally made by Harper is surely a sign that you blindly follow this man at your peril.

If the Silence of the Cons comes down to a belief that they'll win again under Harper, they should think again. With the loonie dropping, interest rates on the rise and the prime minister mired in scandal, the Harper cult shows every sign of heading for the rocks. Après Steve, le déluge.

So ladies and gentlemen of the backbench, why not stand up and speak out? The advantage is yours.

As any backroom boy will tell you, it's far easier to replace a leader than a caucus.  [Tyee]

Read more: Federal Politics

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