Going to war is sometimes the right thing to do. But, it should never be be done without the full support of the nation, and it should always demand sacrifice – not just from our soldiers, but from each and every one of us. We should see the financial costs of war with every loaf of bread or bottle of beer we buy.
Canada’s longest war was fought in Afghanistan: over 12 years from 2002 to 2014. It cost our nation the lives of 158 soldiers and 1 foreign service officer, and about $22 billion. Cheap, really, as wars go. But, this was a war that was never fully supported by the House of Commons and that most Canadians arguably didn’t even notice. This must never happen again.
Parliament must support future war efforts
Despite a number of “take note” debates on the matter of deploying troops on a combat mission to Afghanistan, the first parliamentary vote wasn’t held until May 17, 2006 – to extend until 2009 a mission that had already been underway for four years. The vote carried by a vote of 149 to 145. Almost half of Parliament felt this mission wasn’t worth dying for.
Canadian soldiers died on a mission half of Parliament said wasn’t worth dying for.
On April 19, 2007 the Opposition moved a motion calling on the government to confirm the mission would end in February 2009; this motion failed 134 to 150. This signalled to our troops, again, that they may be dying for a meaningless political gesture.
Throughout Canada’s Afghanistan mission, there was never a unanimous vote of the House of Commons. While this is quite normal for routine matters of governance, it’s an unacceptable way to send men and women to die for us.
Canada should not send soldiers into war lightly.
The profession of arms serves society by managing the application of violence to achieve society’s goals. Canada’s military exists to fight wars on our behalf. But, we shouldn’t send soldiers into battle without fully understanding the cost and without committing the nation to stand behind them.
This is an unacceptable way for a nation to send its men and women to fight and die.
Canada went to war in the First World War and World War II. Canada did not go to war in Afghanistan; it merely sent its soldiers to war. Except for military families, which are few and far between in Canada, the rest of the nation didn’t even notice their absence, save for the occasional spectacle of a repatriation ceremony on the evening news each time a soldier died.
In the World Wars, Canadians at home and soldiers abroad were all at war. Even if you weren’t carrying a rifle in the trenches, you suffered. School children in Canada, along with their families, went without sugar, rubber and other critical war-time commodities. They paid new taxes and bought war bonds to fund the war effort. Almost no one was untouched by the conflict. But, it was a sacrifice deemed vital, because our nation was at war – not just our men and women in uniform.
No wonder our forces in Afghanistan suffered a higher rate of psychological casualties than in any previous conflict: our soldiers were bleeding and dying for a war their countrymen never really noticed. This cannot be allowed to happen again.
The House of Commons should fully debate the pros and cons of sending soldiers to war. Members of Parliament should be free to express their views. But, when a decision is made by the House in favour of war, the House should come together, again, and agree unanimously to a motion of support for our troops.
No wonder our troops in Afghanistan suffered a higher rate of psychological injury than in previous wars. We sent them to fight a war the rest of us we ignored.
We must all share the burden
Further, the cost of war should not be added into the routine budget of the Defence Department. Rather, when the House of Commons approves a military deployment it should also approve a special War Tax to be added to the national sales tax – to fully fund the incremental cost of the war, including the full and proper post-combat care of our veterans. An addition to the HST is an appropriate way to levy this tax, because it will then be transparent and “in your face” for every Canadian to see – and feel – the burden of war.
A one per cent War Sales Tax added to the HST in Canada would, by various estimates raise between $3 billion and $7 billion in revenues per year. Thus, a one to two per cent War Sales Tax would comfortably fund a combat commitment similar to the one in Afghanistan and set aside hundreds of millions for future veterans care. The end of the mission would produce a “peace dividend” to citizens by eliminating the War Tax with the withdrawal of troops.