Canada’s Courageous … cough, cough … Warriors

Six and half years into Harper’s Conservative government Canada has become so militaristic that the head of the armed forces can demand a new war and few bat an eye.

Two weeks ago the Chief of the Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk told the Canadian Press “We have some men and women who have had two, three and four tours and what they’re telling me is ‘Sir, we’ve got that bumper sticker. Can we go somewhere else now?'” The General added that “you also have the young sailors, soldiers, airmen and women who have just finished basic training and they want to go somewhere and in their minds it was going to be Afghanistan. So if not Afghanistan, where’s it going to be? They all want to serve.”

It is not surprising that the head of the military would want to go to war (that’s his job after all). What’s troubling is that Natynczyk felt comfortable saying so in public and that neither the opposition parties nor any mainstream commentators criticized his call to arms.

The Chief of the Defence Staff’s warmongering is the logical outgrowth of the Conservatives bid to make Canadian society more militaristic. During the Conservatives first six years in office the military budget increased from $15 billion to $23 billion and the number of troops rose about quarter to 95, 000. The Special forces, which Ottawa can deploy abroad in total secrecy, more than doubled.

An increase in the size and strength of the military makes war more likely. In a recent article leading foreign policy journalist Lee Berthiaume reported that the Harper government’s 2007 decision to acquire four massive C-17 Globemaster military transport planes spurred the plan to establish bases around the world. “The decision to acquire four C-17s (CC177) for strategic airlift indicates the government’s intention to utilize the CF [Canadian Forces] more extensively off continent,” read a May 2010 briefing note signed by Natynczyk, initiating the international base plan. Dubbed Operational Support Hub, the goal is to set up permanent bases in up to seven countries.

In recent months Canada has signed an agreement to house soldiers and equipment in Kuwait, Jamaica, and Germany and is negotiating to set up bases in Singapore, South Korea, Tanzania, Senegal, and Kenya. According to a military briefing note obtained by Postmedia, the bases are designed to improve the Canadian Forces’ “ability to project combat power/security assistance and Canadian influence rapidly and flexibly anywhere in the world.” Publically, defense minister Peter MacKay called the base initiative part of expanding “our capability for expeditionary participation in international missions…. We are big players in NATO.”

By setting up overseas bases and increasing the military’s size, the Conservatives are preparing for future wars. They’ve also built the cultural and ideological foundation for constant war. In one of innumerable examples, the updated 2011 citizenship handbook Discover Canada: the Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship praised this country’s military history with more than a dozen photos depicting war or armed forces personnel. Similarly, over the past few years soldiers have regularly appeared at major sporting events rappelling down from the rafters or in sombre moments of silence for the fallen. Incredibly, reports Embassy, the Canadian Forces admit to having spent $353.6 million and directed 661 staff members to promoting their work in 2010-11.

The Conservatives militarism is unrelenting. After waging war in Libya they organized an $850 000 nationally televised celebration for Canada’s “military heroes”, which included flyovers from a dozen military aircraft. Harper told the 300 military personnel brought in from four bases: “We are celebrating a great military success. Soldier for soldier, sailor for sailor, airman for airman, the Canadian Armed Forces are the best in the world.”

As part of his push to define Canada as a ‘warrior nation’, at the June 2011 Conservative convention Harper mentioned “courageous warrior” as a founding Canadian principle. Asked to explain this position by Maclean’s editor Kenneth White the Prime Minister cited Canada’s role in fighting fascism and the Cold War. “The real defining moments for the country and for the world are those big conflicts where everything is at stake and where you take a side and show you can contribute to the right side.” Asked whether we are in a great conflict or heading towards one Harper responded “I think we always are.”

Taking his cue from the Prime Minister, the head of the military wants to get to work. The question is, will anyone say no?

Yves Engler is the author of 12 books. His latest book is Stand on Guard for Whom?: A People's History of the Canadian Military . Read other articles by Yves.