What the hell happened to us?

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 and campaign manager in elections at all levels, and even ran as a provincial candidate once.

I have experienced the joy of victory and the pain of defeat, made lifelong friendships in the political trenches and have always been proud to be part of the democratic process. 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 have gone 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 threaten 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 fight back tears at hockey games when they play the national anthem. Ditto for when our flag is hoisted over another outstanding Canadian Olympian and when old vets proudly wearing their medals are wheeled into the front row on Remembrance Day.

Cripes, we even have a life-sized, carved Canada goose in our front hall.

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 making promises to get re-elected, 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 revere 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 greatest 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 security at a time when the Americans’ own reputation and democratic institutions are in jeopardy and the Chinese and Russians ratchet up their claim on world power.

The U.S. blundered 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. Canada was aware of the withdrawal schedule but followed suit in being too late to act.

It’s only fair to ask who was managing our Afghan file while media and political focus was on allegations of sexual misconduct in our military, morale among the rank and file was in free fall and our top brass were falling like bowling pins.

Similarly, did election planning impact Canada’s response to what was happening in Afghanistan?

We 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.)

While our political leaders fiddle and blather and focus on election polling numbers, the hopes of Afghans fade in the dust and heat along with our hard-earned reputation as trustworthy and honest guardians of decency and basic human rights.

The women and men who for years have helped our military, diplomatic corps and humanitarian aid workers in Afghanistan cry out for help and according to all reports what they have been given are mostly promises and emailed complex documents to fill out.

Helping us as translators and in other roles over the past 20 years is a death sentence for thousands and their families. They’re being hunted like animals by animals.

While countries like Britain, French and the U.S. send buses and helicopters to transport people to waiting planes at the Kabul airport, Canada closed its embassy and evacuated the staff. Canadian officials inside the airport confines are unreachable.

Messages coming from the desperate are beyond belief in their horror, depravity and desperation.

Canadian media are relying on colleagues from other countries for on the ground reports of what is really happening, causing critics to suggest that surely the CBC, our taxpayer funded broadcaster, has a responsibility to provide a Canadian presence and perspective.

Excellent reporting is coming from Canadians 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, isn’t pulling any punches as he watches the debacle 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 repeated other reports that instead of trying to round up and transport people to safety, Canadian officials emailed complex documents that families were expected to bring with them to the airport. Access to the airport was near impossible and dangerous. They waited in line for hours without getting help, or hungry, exhausted and discouraged, they returned to hide in their homes.

He 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 at age 14, little boys who will be inducted into the cult of terror, women forbidden to leave their homes--- 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.

Among issues that deserve a full hearing in this election campaign, this one cries out big time.

In election ads, the Prime Minister assures us he has our backs.

We sure as hell didn’t have the backs of the Afghans.

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