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More Free Advice for Prime Minister Harper: It’s Time to Communicate

“What we have here,” said an infamous ‘heavy’ in a famous movie, “is a failure to communicate.”

The Ruxted Group is increasingly concerned by the Government's seeming inability to explain the Afghanistan mission to the Canadian public. The sacrifices of our service members and diplomats and the treasure committed by Canada are in danger of being wasted as the nation fails to understand the nature of the mission or the work that is being accomplished over there.

The sacrifices are not just about eradicating a ruthless regime, they are about providing stability and fostering a way of life that the average Afghan hasn’t seen in decades.

Canada has taken a lead role in Afghanistan by:

• Supporting the Afghan Government’s efforts to demobilize war lords’ militias, and to collect and store their heavy weapons;
• Assisting with demining and the destruction of ammunition stockpiles; and
• Promoting economic development by providing savings and micro-loan services to more than 150,000 Afghan small business owners, mostly women.

One of the first steps is to provide alternatives to people who have only known life by ‘the way of the gun’. It is one thing to completely disband a militia, but the demobilized members must be able to live a life that is safe and prosperous for themselves and their families. The adage ‘give a person a fish and he will eat for a day, show that person how to fish, and they will eat for a lifetime’ applies.

The disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) process is vital in creating stability sp that the legitimately elected government of Afghanistan can extend its mandate throughout the country. Canada has played a key role in the DDR process. Canada has disbursed close to $21 million in support of the process since its inception in October 2003. The main DDR program, the CIDA-funded Afghan New Beginnings Program, enabled former Afghan fighters to select reintegration packages to enable them to return to a new civilian life. Training programs included initiatives in agriculture, tailoring, teaching, and demining.

CIDA and the Provincial Reconstruction Teams will be unable to continue their work without the security provided by Canadian and other NATO forces. If Canada loses its will, then the work these fine people are doing to rebuild Afghanistan will end and the Taliban and their allies will raze the foundations of a civil society to the ground. They will undo the improvements in education, quality of life, economic growth and human rights that have been made since Canada's entry into Afghanistan in 2002. They will plunge Afghanistan and its people back into darkness.

Some have proposed that Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor be despatched to criss-cross the country to ‘sell’ the mission.

Perhaps he should – former MND Bill Graham and CDS Rick Hillier did that at the behest of former PM Paul Martin in 2005. But, it is not the MND’s job, because it is not his policy. It is the Government of Canada’s policy, the policy of successive governments of different political stripes. It is the job of the PM and all his ministers to explain the mission, clearly, concisely and continuously, until Canadians do understand it. If, after the mission has been fully and clearly explained, Canadians are opposed, then they can pronounce themselves at the ballot box.

In explaining the mission to Canadians Mr. Harper and the Conservative government are entitled to the support of those Liberals who served in the governments led by M. Chrétien or Mr. Martin. They understood the mission then; they must be able to help explain it now.

The Ruxted Group considers it a matter of utmost urgency for the Prime Minister, Cabinet , and would-be national leaders to bring this message to all Canadians, so they may make an informed judgement on what is being done, and will understand how and why our precious blood and treasure is being spent.

The Ruxted Group believes the rationale for Canada’s leading roles in Afghanistan – in development, in diplomacy and in combat – is easy enough for Canadians to understand and that most will support it. Canada is:

• Being generous with our help to those less fortunate (and few nations are less fortunate than Afghanistan); and
• Serving our own national interests by showing real, consistent leadership in the world.

It is time to communicate, Mr. Harper. Get out front; do your job; lead our country; explain this mission to our fellow citizens.



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