Hudson on the Hill

From the Tower
HUDSON ON THE HILL  |  Nov 15, 2009

In an effort to inform Canadians about a variety of important issues related to national security and defence, FrontLine publications have ­interviewed prominent individuals, described a variety of organizations, critiqued a number of processes and discussed a wide range of plans, operations and equipment. We have not yet paid attention to one important group of Canadians who, by law, play an important role in the national security and defence field – our parliamentarians. To fill this serious gap in our coverage, FrontLine’s Hudson will report regularly as he watches The Hill spinning ‘round. Hudson aims to provide non-partisan, unbiased and informative views of Parliament’s contribution to the security and defence sector. House of Commons and Senate proceedings and respective committees will be reviewed, as will the efforts of individual parliamentarians or what various parliamentary committees may, or may not, be accomplishing. Of particular interest will be how effective ­Members of Parliament, Senators, or committees are in representing the best interests of ­Canadians in holding government to account.

Hudson’s initial report is not flattering. Read on:

The most disappointing aspect of parliamentary performance over the past two years is the fact that, while young Canadian soldiers and civilians were engaged in a nasty and persistent counter-insurgency war in Afghanistan, parliamentarians folded, wobbled at the knees, chickened out and lost their sense of mission. ‘We will not cut and run’ became ‘we’ll do what we can before we leave.’ The objective of preventing Afghanistan from reverting to being a haven for terrorists has become an exercise in retreating to the bench. In public, parliamentarians proclaim undying admiration for the men and women of our armed forces, but they do nothing – nothing – to lead or inspire off-camera, when and where it really counts. When the going got tough, they quit.

The field has been abandoned to those who oppose the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. In the vote-conscious atmosphere of this minority parliament, it seems no parliamentarian wants to speak out for more effort, more offence, more determination or more aggressiveness as the ­preferred way to complete the original ­mission. Canadian troops and diplomats are left to slug it out in Afghanistan, while parliamentarians hope they won’t be inconvenienced by further reports of death or injury.

The House of Commons Special ­Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan was formed in September 2008, as a result of a motion adopted by the House of Commons in March of that year. The motion indicated that “the House should authorize travel by the special committee to Afghanistan and the surrounding region so that the special committee can make frequent recommendations on the conduct and progress of our efforts in Afghanistan.” The Special Committee has not yet been to Afghanistan. That’s right. The Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan has not been to Afghanistan, nor has it made any recommendations on the conduct or progress of the mission. Instead, it fritters its time away listening to opposition party ­members huff and puff with claims that government officials are guilty of violating international law because they may have allowed the transfer of some Afghan detainees (who were apprehended in the course of combat operations) to Afghan authorities who may have subsequently abused or tortured them. It is paradoxical that this issue, based as it is on little or no hard evidence, continues to linger – fed by the profile of witnesses called to testify, and a media incapable of profound reflection. Even the CBC’s At Issue Panel had one of its worst showings during the ‘Night of the Generals’ on November 18, 2009.

How does any of this reflect the ­Special Committee’s mandate? How does any of this help to enhance the mission?

The Special Committee has burrowed so far into its own navel, it will be February of next year before they surface again to perhaps begin thinking about doing something worthwhile. How about studying what the mission will look like after 2011? Oh, did I mention that the Special Committee, established in 2008, still has not ­visited Afghanistan to see the mission first-hand?

Having created an atmosphere in which they don’t want to talk about Afghanistan in public, parliamentarians should stop and think about what it must feel like to be a soldier on patrol in Zhari district outside Kandahar, or even more gripping, to be the parent or spouse of that soldier, knowing that Canadian parliamentarians have little or no time for the really important aspects of the mission.

The lack of active, vocal and inspirational parliamentary leadership and support is shameful. There is a distinct lack of guts on Parliament Hill
these days.

Hudson, on The Hill
© FrontLine Defence 2009