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Monday, June 19, 2006

It's personal now

I received an email from my mom yesterday. A very simple message, really. For weeks, I’ve known it was coming. Still, it sent chills through my body when I read it:


Joe (not his real name) is my cousin. We were born three weeks apart. I still have pictures of our moms holding us as newborns. Despite being a few weeks younger than Joe, I was always bigger than he was, even as a baby. Joe and I grew up together. We went trick or treating quite a few times as kids. He was Dracula. I was Frankenstein. It was always fun. Sleepovers, family BBQs, Christmas parties. Great memories.

We grew apart over the past few years, through no fault or desire of our own. Like many university students, I’ve become immersed in campus life. Politics has also become increasingly important to me. In the past three years, I don’t think I’ve gone six months without being involved in some kind of election, be it federal, provincial, municipal, campus or leadership. For his part, Joe’s focus shifted from hockey (his favourite sport) to the army. He became more and more involved with the military, spending his weekends training in Petawawa. We’d still run into each other once in a while, but not as much as we used to. I guess we’ll see even less of each other now…

As you read this, my cousin Joe is in Kandahar. He’s there by choice, and I respect his decision to go. He obviously feels the need to help with the reconstruction of a country long beleaguered by strife and terror. I don’t think he expects to be there in a long-term combat role. I hope his expectations are fulfilled, although admittedly, I’m less confident today than I was a few months ago.

My personal experience puts this whole Afghanistan debate into perspective. I reject Michael Ignatieff’s suggestion during the Winnipeg forum that opposing Harper’s sham motion on Afghanistan somehow indicated a lack of support for our troops. I support my cousin 100%. He’s in Kandahar, serving his country and defending another. He’s there on a mission, doing what his government asked him to do. I admire that, and I admire him. What I oppose is Stephen Harper asking Parliamentarians to extend this mission without giving them the resources or information necessary to make such an important decision. The Tories called the motion for no other reason than to put the Liberal Party in a bind. Clearly, they succeeded. But what Harper did was morally wrong. He’s playing politics with the lives of our troops, including my cousin Joe. For that reason, I will strive ever more fervently to defeat him in the next election.

I also reject Jason Cherniak’s Kim-Campbellesque suggestion that a leadership race is not the time to discuss policy. Apparently, Cherniak is "pissed off" by Rae and Ignatieff debating this issue. He goes on to attack both candidates, and is particularly stinging towards mine. He describes Bob Rae’s position as representing “the NDP policy of only sending troops overseas as social workers.” This statement is ludicrous and insulting. Jason knows that it was Lester B. Pearson – a Liberal – who was instrumental in developing the peacekeeping concept to which Bob Rae and other Liberals adhere. And it’s more than simple social work: Peacekeeping involves building infrastructure, monitoring elections, implementing peace processes, maintaining law and order and pursuing other efforts to create a sustainable peace in troubled areas. Today, we have certain candidates who advocate a more aggressive, combat-oriented vision for Canada’s military. That’s perfectly fine. Let’s debate the issue. In Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff, we have two leading candidates with two very different views on foreign policy. I, for one, look forward to hearing them discuss the matter.

But at the end of the day, this is no longer some vague academic or political discussion for me. It’s not about theories or textbooks or polls or politics anymore. Whatever the outcome of the leadership race, this is personal. This is about my family. I say to my cousin Joe: All the best. You may be several inches shorter than me, but now, more than ever, I look up to you. Your parents, your sister, your brother, your entire extended family, your friends…We all miss you very much. I pray every night for your safe return.