On the Hill – Lest We Forget

This item originally appeared March 27, 2009, in issue 1712.

As the Globe and Mail pointed out this week, Canadian taxpayers ?shelled out nearly $270,000? last July for the change-of-command ceremony that bid farewell to General Rick Hillier, the country’s former chief of defence.

Details of the expenses include $4,035 for a 21-gun salute, $23,101 for an aerial display by the Canadian Snowbirds, and $3,137 for a military parachutist team, as well as ?$6,597 for shipping a tank to the Ottawa Uplands Reception Centre so Gen. Hillier could ride away from the ceremony on it.?

Detractors were quick to cry foul, including New Democratic Party defence critic Dawn Black, who labelled the spending extravagant. ?The word excessive doesn’t seem to cover it, especially when we learn this during a time of restraint, when more and more Canadians are out of work,? she told reporters.

It’s a great sound bite, but doesn’t even come close to telling the whole story.

First, when it comes to being careless with our tax dollars, a quarter of a million dollars pales in comparison to the wasteful track records of far too many of our elected leaders?especially when it comes to honouring the men and women who are out there fighting real battles instead of trading insults with each other across the Commons floor (not only an embarrassing spectacle, but one that translates into a lot of wasted time and taxpayers? money).

Second, more than a third of the total bill was used to pay the travel expenses for the families and spouses of wounded and dead soldiers. As General Hillier told reporters, the ceremony not only marked a change of command and acted as a recruiting opportunity, it also served to reaffirm the military’s ?commitment to support families in their toughest days, [to support] wounded soldiers and [to] recognize valour.?

So should we begrudge a quarter of a million dollars out of a total $18.2 billion annual budget to mark such a major event?

No. Because whether you agree with Canada’s presence in Afghanistan or not, the truth is that the men and women in our armed forces have stepped up time and again to do the hard work in the ugly situations that international relations create. Regardless of the politics of the day, they sacrifice families, lives, and mental and physical health to keep the peace and defend this country.

From Vimy Ridge to Korea to the hellish fields of Passchendaele (and other battlefields to numerous to mention), Canada’s soldiers and sailors and pilots have paid the price?and are still paying it today, whether as veterans or on active duty far from home.

Is there wasteful spending in Canada’s military? Undoubtedly. Is every member of the armed forces a saint? Hardly. But when it comes to loosening the purse strings to honour their sacrifices, boost morale, and bid farewell to a respected commander, we must never, ever forget how dearly our soldiers have already paid.

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