Thursday, May 24, 2007

What was Stephen Harper thinking?

It has been widely reported that one of the reasons for Mr. Harper's trip to Afghanistan was to try to change the channel on what has been a dismal four to six weeks for his government. I happen to agree with that assessment.

He even went so far as to travel to a forward base.

At first I just dismissed the trip for what it was but then I thought about his excursion to the forward base some more and found myself first shaking my head in disgust and then getting rather upset.

That excursion is the most irresponsible thing Stephen Harper has done since he won the last election.

Although it always causes my gorge to rise when I say this out loud Mr. Harper is the Prime Minister of Canada. It is not his function to take such risks. By doing so, he did not just risk his own life but he risked a very serious and prolonged national crisis. If the unthinkable would have happened and he was incapacitated or killed while at the forward base, or traveling to and from it, Canada would have been left without a Prime Minister and it would have been left with a governing party that would have needed to scramble to find a permanent replacement for him. Any chance that such a party would actually be able to deal with the many important issues facing Canada would be nil. In short Canada would have been without an effective government for weeks and possibly months.

It is true that steps were taken to mitigate the risks, such as the presence of over a dozen JTF-2 commandos and the fact he flew to the forward base as opposed to going by road. However, that does not take away from the irresponsibility of his actions. He has much more bigger fish to fry than visiting a few dozen Canadian soldiers at this forward base.

Some of his supporters would contend that his actions showed courage. What silliness. Leaving aside the risk mitigation measures taken, strapping on body armour, helmet, and boss shades and then flying into the forward base for an hour is not courageous. True courage is doing what the soldiers he visited do. Living and breathing the stress of living at the forward base for days or even weeks at a time, undertaking patrols in hostile territory to suppress the Taliban.

In 2000 Jean Chretien called a election during the worst flooding experienced by Manitoba in a generation. Mr. Chretien visited the area during the election and he was roundly condemned (and rightly so) when he did a photo-op where he threw a sandbag onto one of the barricades. As if him taking a half-hour tour of the devastated area and throwing a sandbag onto that barracade could give him even an inkling the stress and pain the victims of that flooding were experiencing.

It is expected that the Prime Minister would do some politicking while on his trip to Afghanistan, especially considering recent political events. But it is the height of irresponsibility that he would risk a national crisis in order to do that politicking. It was an act of a desperate man and a gross misjudgment on his part.

For better or for worse, Stephen Harper is the leader of the Canadian government. He has the responsibility to make personal decisions that will not risk leaving Canada leaderless. He failed to live up to that responsibility during his recent trip to Afghanistan.

Then there is the logistical nighmare that he caused his security personnel and the very soldiers he went to visit but that could be a topic for a whole other post.