25 April 2006

Tim Powers: the importance of focus

On the Monday edition of Mike Duffy's panel of party strategists, the boys were discussing the Conservative policy of not lowering flags on Parliament Hill when Canadian Forces members are killed overseas.

In the middle of the chat, Duffy got word that in addition to the flag policy, the Conservatives were now also preventing media representatives from covering the return of military remains at Base Trenton as they have done in the recent past. That means that when the Airbus arrives from Afghanistan on Tuesday, news media won't be allowed to cover the arrival of the aircraft from inside the base perimeter and to have pictures of the caskets being received.

Then Tim Powers - the Newfoundlander representing the Conservatives - tossed in this nugget:
Absolutely. We know a thing or two about focus which you guys didn't but if I can get back to the issue of what Craig [Oliver] is reporting, I think there's also a matter here of sanctity and privacy which is important to the Prime Minister and I'm sure it's important to the families, and on the issue of the military.

I mean let's not forget to look at what these guys did. A lot of the challenges the military in Canada face in the field are from lack of equipment, lack of resources, and not enough personnel. That all happened on their [the Liberals] watch. I think a lot of this...I think a lot of this is distracting from the real challenges and I think our military are very supportive of our Prime Minister and respect the decisions he made. [Emphasis added]
Pardon me?

Mr. Powers is saying that these four soldiers were killed due to inadequate equipment, shortages of personnel and a general lack of resources. Then he adds that a discussion of proper respect for military deaths is somehow distracting from the real challenges faced by the military. Then he finishes with the flourish that the military are supportive of the prime minister and his decision, presumably about the flag.

It is unconscionable that Mr. Powers would somehow link the deaths of four soldiers in Afghanistan with the Conservative election talking point that the armed forces were starved of needed resources.

There is not a shred of evidence linking this incident with inadequate equipment, scarcity of resources or a shortage of personnel.

Not a jot or a tittle, to use a phrase John Crosbie loves.

To compound his offensive remarks, Mr. Powers then raises the issue of military support for the flag policy. The Canadian Forces, as the dutiful public servants its members are, will adhere to government policy. It is simply irrelevant whether or not the men and women of the Canadian Forces like the flag policy or loathe it. To claim that they support the Prime Minister politicizes the military in a way that is offensive; it is just as offensive for Mr. Powers to have also drawn attention to the fact that the Prime Minister's first overseas trip was to Afghanistan.

Mr. Powers' motivation is partisan, by the context of the remarks, and on both these aspects - the partisan claim about equipment and funding - and the partisan claim of support for the Harper administration by the military reduces not only the four dead soldiers but also the Canadian military to partisan pawns.

Such an approach was loathsome when Jean Chretien did it in 1993 and on subsequent occasions. It is loathsome when Mr. Harper's spokesman does it now.

Mr. Powers' talked of focus.

His focus was obviously, painfully wrong.

Rather than focusing on electioneering and the partisan defence of his party leader, Mr. Powers should have be focusing on the appropriate way of showing national respect for the men and women who each day risk their lives in the service of their country.

We have seen enough of this type posturing south of the border with President George Bush using the men and women of the American armed services as convenient campaign props.

Until now, this was the sort of crassness that Canadians had been spared.

Let us hope that Mr. Powers' remarks are not a sign of yet more tastelessness to come.