This is a Listen Up! guest post by Sally Barnes
I’ve been fascinated and excited by elections since I was a teenager many decades ago.
I’ve covered elections as a journalist, served as gopher, strategist and campaign manager in elections at all levels, and even ran as a provincial candidate once.
I have tremendous respect for good people in public life and the difficult job they do.
This election is different because within 48 hours I went from apathy to red hot anger.
Like most Canadians, I didn’t see the need for an election now—especially during a pandemic that continues to claim priceless lives and resources and threatens our future.
Over the years, politicians of all stripes have tested my patience and loyalty on issues ranging from separatism to free trade and women’s rights. But never before have they tested my patriotism.
I make no apologies for being a patriot.
I’ve always been proud of Canada and its reputation as a beacon of equity, civility, human rights, and hope in the world.
Alas, today, as politicians crisscross the country trying to out-promise each other and avoid gaffes that could provide fatal to their election chances, I stand ashamed of my country.
The question Canadians should be asking is, what the hell has happened to us?
As a young person, I was so proud of Prime Minister Lester Pearson and his world stature that won him the Nobel Peace Prize.
Prime Minister Brian Mulroney achieved international recognition for his leadership role in the fight against apartheid in South Africa, the release of Nelson Mandela, and the establishment of a democratic regime.
Because of our peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts over the years, people around the world are grateful to Canada for their freedom, security, and prosperity paid for with Canadian lives, courage, and generosity.
Alas, our stock in the world today can be measured by how we can’t even rescue two Canadians held in Chinese prisons on trumped up charges or win support for a seat on the UN Security Council.
Our best friend in the world—the United States of America—appears tone deaf when we go cap in hand asking for support and special consideration.
The debacle in Afghanistan at this moment has delivered another blow to our global reputation.
Today, we depend more and more on the U.S. for our national defense and foreign policy at a time when the Americans’ own reputation and democratic institutions are in jeopardy and the Chinese and Russians feed their lust for world dominance.
The U.S. blundered mightily in the way it pulled troops out of Afghanistan, underestimating how quickly the Taliban would take over and failing to ensure the safety of those needing to get out.
President Joe Biden looks inept and weak and it will take him a long time—if ever—to recover from this sordid mess he has helped create with us tagging along.
Since last April, Canada has known the August 31 deadline for the U.S. troop withdrawal. But we procrastinated and followed the U.S. lead in not allowing enough time to rescue Canadians and the thousands of Afghans who worked closely with our allies in the costly campaign to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a terrorist haven.
Now, Canada’s last plane to rescue those trying to escape death or torture and abuse has left Kandahar, abandoning the terrified women, men and children on the tarmac or hiding in their homes or safe places.
It is a national embarrassment and a humanitarian disaster.
As Canadians, we have a right and a duty to ask who in the federal government was managing the Afghan file when the decision was made on how and when to rescue our citizens and people who have helped us over the past many years.
Was it perhaps at a time when media and political frenzy was concentrated on allegations of sexual misconduct in our military? Government leaders scrambled to put out that fire, morale among the rank and file was in free fall, and our top military brass were falling and being replaced like bowling pins.
Early response to the pandemic was haphazard and slow (remember the Chinese vaccine deal that fell through) and was a major distraction from other issues.
Similarly, did election planning siphon off government time and effort that could have forecast and avoided the debacle in Afghanistan?
We can only weep at the sight of thousands of women, children, and men begging for Canadian help to escape certain abuse, torture and probable death at the hands of the evil Taliban (suitably referred to as “a gang of medieval psychopaths” by one columnist).
The women and men who for years have helped our military, diplomatic corps and humanitarian aid workers in Afghanistan cried out for help and according to all reports what they were given were promises, emails and bureaucratic documents to fill out.
While countries like Britain, French, Germany, and the U.S. sent buses and helicopters to transport their people to waiting planes, Canada closed its embassy and evacuated the staff.
Families with members ranging from infants to frail elderly stood for hours in lineups in blistering heat and waded in a canal filled with raw sewage, calling to Canadian military personnel and begging them to look at the useless documents they clutched in their hands.
Messages coming from the desperate are beyond belief in their horror, fear and desperation.
In earlier times the horror would be concealed. Today, cell phones provide the world with a window into this cauldron of misery.
Excellent reporting is coming from Canadians here at home like Kevin Newman, a retired and highly respected journalist for both Global and CTV networks, who covered Afghanistan for years. He remains in close contact with Afghans and his writing for The Line, an online news provider, has been bone chilling.
Newman maintains “Canada has been slow to act, risk-averse and selfish,” by relying too much on its neighbours for help while turning its own back on thousands who have been loyal to us.
Retired military officials and diplomats are also providing much-needed comment and insight.
Retired Canadian General Rick Hillier, former chief of the Canadian Defense Staff and commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, didn’t pull any punches as he watched the disaster unfold in Kabul.
“We should be ashamed as a nation…we have not shone greatly during this whole episode,” Hillier told the CBC’s Katie Simpson in blaming “bureaucratic bungling” for our shameful performance.
Hillier confirmed other reports that instead of trying to round up and transport people to safety, Canadian officials emailed complex documents that families were told to bring with them to the airport. Access to the airport was near impossible and dangerous and is now the target of suicide bombers.
Hiller described Canada’s efforts as “cluttered by bureaucracy, paperwork, inefficiency and clumsiness” and said the documentation was so complicated that he himself would have trouble understanding and completing it.
Meanwhile, the nightmare continues for abandoned families—little girls who will be “married” to Taliban warriors, little boys who will be welcomed and groomed into the cult of terror—and a generation of innocent people whose trust and belief in Canada has been shattered.
They helped the Canadians who were helping them build a better life and combat international terrorism. They had every reason to think we would protect them for their service.
It is a scar upon all of us that things didn’t work out that way—not only for the 40,000 Canadians who served in Afghanistan and the 158 families who lost a son or daughter, but for all of us whose taxes paid for the fight and share the shame of how it ended.
We couldn’t have saved everyone but we could have saved far more than we did.
Among issues that deserve a full hearing in this election campaign, this one cries out big time.
Who is responsible? Who, if anyone, will be held accountable?
In election ads, the prime minister assures us he has our backs.
We sure as hell didn’t have the backs of our Afghan friends when it came payback time for their sacrifice and trust in us.
Sally Barnes has enjoyed a distinguished career as a writer, journalist and author. Her work has been recognized in a number of ways, including receiving a Southam Fellowship in Journalism at Massey College at the University of Toronto. A self-confessed political junkie, she has worked in the back-rooms for several Ontario premiers. In addition to a number of other community contributions, Sally Barnes served a term as president of the Ontario Council on the Status of Women. She is a former business colleague of Doppler’s publisher, Hugh Mackenzie, and lives in Kingston, Ontario. You can find her online at sallybarnesauthor.com
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