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Canada's Military-Media Complex

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Issue: 34 Section: Media Analysis Afghanistan Topics: Globe and Mail, media

March 9, 2006

Canada's Military-Media Complex

What's the difference between government, defense contractors and media?

by Anthony Fenton

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Corporal Tracy Scott inspects a vehicle entering Kabul's Camp Julian. Institutional connections between government, the defense industry and the media often pass unexamined, argues Fenton. photo: Paul MacGregor, Combat Camera
The lines separating Canada's government, military, media, and private defense contractors are, if not imaginary, then ill-defined.

The case of the new Minister of Defense Gordon O'Connor is illustrative. A veteran of the Canadian Forces, he was a tank squadron commander and is now a retired Brigadier-General who spent eight years as a lobbyist for some of Canada's largest military contractors. In his words, he was "helping defense companies navigate complicated government procurement rules." He ended his career as a lobbyist only to run for public office. He won a seat and became a Member of Parliament in June 2004. He then became the Conservative Party's Critic for National Defense and was a member of the Standing Committee on National Defense and Veterans Affairs.

When he was new to the House of Commons in November 2004, O'Connor's lobbyist past was scrutinized by journalists. At the time he flatly denied that his work as a military lobbyist could pose a potential conflict of interest in his role as defense critic. "I don't decide who wins and loses contracts," said O'Connor at the time. Now that's he's Minister of Defense, he will decide who wins and loses contracts.

O'Connor has made it clear that the Conservatives will only be following through on policy objectives that were established under the Liberals. "I'm pretty confident that our platform and the previous Liberal [policy] will blend quite well," O'Connor recently told the press.

The transformation of Canada's military was well underway before the Conservatives took power, but there are indications that the Conservative Government will outdo the Liberals. Military spending under the Liberals was already at its highest level since World War II, with additional spending of $12.8 billion promised by in 2004. The Conservatives will add at least another $5.3 billion to this. They will also be expanding the Canadian forces by 13,000 soldiers, 8,000 more than the Liberals had planned, all geared at allowing Canada to play "a more aggressive role in fighting terrorism."

The military's new direction involves greater emphasis on interoperability with US and other militaries committed to "the long war." Chief of Defense Staff, Rick Hillier, makes frequent appearances in the press, appealing for more money for the military. On February 25th, the second headline on Mike Blanchfield's National Post article was Hillier's assertion: "we need money."

A few days after Hillier's exhortations, the Globe and Mail and CTV published the result of a poll, showing 62 per cent of Canadians opposed to sending troops to Afghanistan.

The Globe and Mail's February 25th cover story announced a potential Prime Ministerial visit to Afghanistan. The Globe cites the anticipated trip–the first by a Canadian Prime Minister since Canada has occupied Afghanistan–as "a means of asserting support for a revitalized Canadian military." Top military brass, including Hillier, are quoted as being excited by the prospect of a "heartening," and "encouraging" visit that would certainly "be a major boost to the soldiers' morale." the Globe describes the purpose of the Canadian troop presence in Afghanistan, "to support the Afghans and help rebuild their infrastructure."

The article shifts focus to remarks made by Hillier in his keynote address at the Conference of Defense Associations (CDA) annual general meeting the previous day. The CDA describes itself as the "oldest and most influential advocacy group in Canada's defense community." According to the Globe, Hillier "made a passionate pitch for greater Canadian public support for the Afghan mission, saying the objectives are worth the costs and risks."

The CDA's sister organization, the Canadian Defense Associations Institute (CDAI), hosted a seminar on February 23rd, entitled "NATO in Transition: The impact on Canada" that also made headlines. Many high-ranking military officials, politicians, and diplomats were in attendance, including Minister O'Connor.

The CDAI's board of directors includes Jack Granatstein, and Hugh Segal, a Senator and former Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who is today a close advisor to PM Harper's "transition team." Granatstein, a well known and prolific revisionist historian, is an advocate for Canada's increased global military presence.

The headline of Granatstein's Globe op/ed, written in response to the negative poll, in which 62% of Canadians opposed sending tropps to Afghanistan, conveys the singular message of recent Afghanistan coverage: "Wake up! This is our war too; We must accept reality: Our Afghan mission is very much in our national interests and in the interests of democracy." Noting that "Canadian anti-Americanism is at a record peak in 2006," Granatstein appeals to Canadians "to recognize what is at stake and to support their government and their soldiers in advancing their country's--and the world's--interests." Granatstein's column appeared in the February 28th edition of the Globe right below Margaret Wente's. Wente sits with Granatstein on the Advisory Council of another prominent lobby group, the Canadian defense and Foreign Affairs Institute (CDFAI). CDFAI's donors include General Dynamics, the sixth largest defense contractor in the world, and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives.

Among other connections, the chairman of the Globe's parent company BCE's board, Richard J. Currie, is also a director on the board of CAE, one of Canada's largest defense contractors. In the BCE boardroom, Currie sits with other directors representing the defense and energy lobbies, like billionaire James Pattison, a close friend of George Bush Sr. and a board member of the Ronald Reagan Foundation.

The most striking thing about corporate media war coverage in Canada is the omission of the majority view.

Immediately after publishing a poll showing that 62 per cent of Canadians opposed the Canadian occupation in Afghanistan, the Globe (among others) did not seek out any of the majority of Canadians to justify their views. With near exclusivity, both the Globe and the Post seek only the viewpoints of military officials, politicians, embedded reporters, and pro-military think tanks. Reading the country's "national" newspapers, one is scarcely aware of the numerous anti-war organizations, all of which have spokespeople across Canada.

While media support for war and marginalization of anti-war views is long-standing, so are the devastating effects of war and occupation that rely on public support. An online poll conducted by the Globe after the initial poll, indicates that the nationalist appeals geared at winning Canadian public opinion are having their impact. A week after the original poll, the Globe reported that out of 32,499 online respondents, 53 per cent support Canadian troops leading NATO combat missions in southern Afghanistan.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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