On Wednesday in the House of Commons, the Opposition tried to get answers from Defence Minister Peter MacKay on the cutting of danger pay for some of the Canadian troops in Afghanistan.
The Minister tried to claim that this was all an unfortunate error, caused by an "arm's length" process, and that the Government is looking into remedies.
Fair enough, perhaps, although until the matter became public the Government was not rushing to do anything about it.
But, then, MacKay had to get in his own shot at the Opposition.
After giving his answer to the NDP's Élaine Michaud about the arm's length committee process, he continued:
"While I am on my feet, I would ask the member to ... explain to the House why she continually votes against things like pay increases, education funds for families of deceased members of the Canadian Forces and funding for our Commonwealth war graves."
And then he took full rhetorical flight, and said: "We will take no lessons from members of the NDP who continually work and vote against the interests of the armed forces."
This was a bit much for the NDP's Jack Harris who speculated that MacKay must have voted against Liberal military spending measures many times when he was in opposition.
Voting against a government's budget, because one disagrees with the overall thrust of fiscal policy, does not equate with not supporting our troops, Harris said.
This didn't slow down McKay, who raised the canard about how Montreal NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice "mocked and belittled the efforts of the Vimy Ridge heroes."
This has become the newest Conservative battle cry. Remember Vimy Ridge!
What was World War One all about anyway?
The fact is that, a number years before he became an MP, Boulerice expressed the view that World War One (it happened nearly a century ago, by the way) was more about the clash of empires than the defence of any noble cause.
Regardless of their political ideology, very few historians would today dispute that view.
It is not mocking or disrespecting those who sacrificed so much at Vimy Ridge to point out that they -- like all the troops, on all sides, who suffered such grievous casualties -- were, in essence, used by the political leaders of that time in a cynical exercise of imperial power politics.
Be that as it may, Parliament may not be the place to get too deeply into interpretations of historic events, and the NDP has (perhaps wisely) chosen to let that Conservative shot across the bow pass without comment.
On the more current matter at hand, MacKay did not address the question of his own votes on Liberal military appropriations, except to say that the Liberal era was a "dark" period for the Canadian armed forces.
Normally, that's where that back-and -forth would have ended.
On this day, however, something quite unusual happened toward the end of Question Period.
It was a little like a scene in a long-ago Woody Allen movie.
In that scene, Allen (or, rather, his partly autobiographical character) is standing in line at a theatre and overhears someone mouthing off about the ideas of the Canadian media theorist Marshall Mcluhan. Allen is vexed and mutters that the guy does not know what he's talking about, when, out of nowhere, McLuhan himself pops up, and says, "That's not true at all, you don't understand my work."
A Research Office that did some quick checking, it seems
During Wednesday's Question Period, the deus ex machina was NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen.
Someone in the Opposition Party's Research Office obviously did some quick fact-checking because Cullen rose in his place to ask a question and prefaced it with:
"Canadians might be wondering what the Minister of National Defence's record was on spending before he was the Minister. We went and checked. Lo and behold, it turns out he repeatedly voted against the military ... In 2004, he voted against $792 million for military operations in capital. He voted against $17 million for St. Anne's (Veteran's) Hospital, and against $600,000 for war veterans."
After a brief exchange, Cullen continued:
"He also voted against $6.3 million for a Canadian Forces health information system, against $2 million to upgrade Goose Bay's airfield, against $22 million for disability pensions, and he voted against $49 million for public security and anti-terrorism measures..."
The NDP House Leader then went on to argue: "We can hold the government to account, vote against their bad budgets, and support our brave men and women."
Supporting brave men and women seems to be key here. No political party wants to be seen as offside on that.
As for MacKay, he again insisted that Liberal defence policies were part of a "decade of darkness," while, by contrast, the Conservatives have been making "unprecedented investments" in the military.
Ergo, a vote against military disability pensions in Liberal times was, well, almost patriotic.
Voting against mammoth Conservative omnibus budget bills, in which are embedded military spending -- well, that is failing to support our troops!
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