Yesterday I read a story over at the Globe in which Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier referred to the 1990s as a "decade of darkness" for the Canadian Forces. Spending cuts, rotting equipment, personnel cuts, and a general negligence of the Forces left many institutions of the military "on life support," Hillier added. With the recent funding increases and promised purchases of new equipment, he noted that the CF are starting to emerge from that "decade of darkness" and turn the corner.
One Liberal was not so impressed with Hillier's speech. Denis Coderre decried the term "decade of darkness" (even though Hillier has used it before) and noted that Paul Martin had a plan to bring the Forces back to health. Yes he did, a highly backloaded five-year plan that would have done little in the first three years, putting the Forces in an even more dire situation. He added that Hillier was a mere "Tory prop" and stated, "To get involved in politics, there is one way. You should run."
Now, coming from a man who was used as a Hezbollah prop last summer, these are some mighty audacious words. At least Hillier is, in Coderre's bizarre formulation, "being used" by the Government of Canada in order to make the case for a stronger Canada and Canadian Forces. Coderre is a prop that's been used to make the case for a stronger Hezbollah. Frankly, my loyalty lies with the Chief of Defence Staff far more profoundly than it does with someone who marches with people who scream "Death to Israel!" and seek to destroy the only mature democratic state in the Middle East.
The second part of Coderre's statement is even more bizarre. To charge that there is only "one way" to make speeches or statements that have political overtones is just plain wacky. Running for an election is not the only venue in a free country for Canadians to disseminate political speech. Hillier himself is no politician; he's simply a Canadian--a damn good one at that--who is speaking the truth about something he cares about passionately. Why "should" Rick Hillier run for election? He's a military leader who was addressing a conference of military-affiliated organizations, something he is perfectly entitled to do in this country. If he wants to wax about the moon and the stars, he can do that. If he wants to stay on topic and discuss the perilous situation of the Canadian Forces for the past 15 years, he can do that too.
Hillier has always been blunt in his strategic assessments and they are always made with an eye to drawing attention to the most important institution charged with defending Canadian sovereignty and projecting Canada into the world. When he makes a statement that the Government utilizes, it is because that statement is in the public interest. He is not a prop or a showpiece, he has a voice and a strong opinion that deserves to be heard on this subject. Now, after he marched under a Hezbollah flag, Coderre did denounce the rocket attacks of both "Israel and Hezbollah," making sure to put Israel first in order to somewhat placate the pro-Hezbollah crowd he was addressing.
There is a key distinction between the two. Hillier is noted for his words and his leadership. Props don't speak, their effect comes from their visual effect. And, folks, the visual effect of Denis Coderre marching alongside a bunch of Hezbollah flag-waving terrorist supporters speaks volumes.