NDP truly ‘support our troops’

This past week, the Conservative government of Stephen Harper defeated an NDP motion to help Canada’s veterans during what is sure to be a slash-and-burn budget process this spring.
As part of the Conservative government’s spending review and desire to cut its massive budget deficit, each department has been asked to trim between five and 10 percent from their annual budget.
A cut of that size will amount to about $226 million from Veterans Affairs, which pays out about 90 percent of its budget directly to veterans.
If the payments and benefits aren’t reduced, then the budget reduction will mean a loss of about 500 jobs out of the 4,100 positions in the department that delivers services to more than 750,000 living veterans across Canada.
We know you simply can’t cut the Veterans Affairs’ budget without also cutting the quality of services provided to retired personnel, so we believe the Conservatives first should consider shelving their $15 billion-$25 billion purchase of 65 F-35 jets, or at least reducing the purchase by one jet to save the $226 million needed.
The defeat of our motion has really exposed a chasm between the values held by the Conservative Party and those held by Canada’s New Democrats. It also has raised the fundamental question: what does it mean to “support the troops?”
If you are a Conservative partisan or member of Parliament, then it would appear that “supporting our troops” means you believe in sending them into battle frequently, often illegally, and buying the most expensive military hardware on the market in support of those efforts.
That’s seems to be it really. If you think it is unwise to spend $15 billion-$25 billion on just 65 new F-35s that can’t fly in the Arctic or communicate with our existing fleet of F-16s, then you simply don’t support our troops.
Likewise, if you didn’t support sending our men and women in uniform into the illegal Iraq war of 2001-11, or were in favour of bringing our personnel home from Afghanistan in 2008 when it was time for the other allies to step up, then the Conservatives again would argue that you don’t support the troops—and may even support the enemy like “Taliban Jack” once did.
New Democrats have a different idea of what it means to “support our troops.” We don’t believe in fighting every war that our allies willfully engage in on its face, which is why we opposed George W. Bush’s request to join in the preemptive, illegal, and unjustified Iraq war.
New Democrats do support NATO and sharing the work of defending our collective interests and values when an ally is attacked, such as we did with the invasion of Afghanistan in search of al-Qaida following 9/11, but also bringing our troops home when our share of the hard work is finished.
But what I really believe separates New Democrats from Conservatives on this issue is that our support for the troops doesn’t start and end on the battlefield. New Democrats recognize the contributions and sacrifices of our men and women in uniform and their families each and every day—from the day they enlist, through their days of active service, and throughout their retirement.
Canada’s New Democrats will continue to support our troops, active and retired and day in and day out, until their sacrifices finally are honoured and respected by the Conservative government.
And we will continue our fight this spring to prevent any unnecessary and unjustifiable budget cuts to the Veterans Affairs’ budget.

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