PQ Blog: Canada Needs a Department of Peace
by Jed Lehman of PQ Regina
Tom Engelhardt , the accomplished U.S, journalist and novelist, in an OpEd for Truthout wrote the following (February 25/16):
‘It may be hard to believe now, but in 1970 the protest song “War,” sung by Edwin Starr, hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. That was at the height of the Vietnam antiwar movement and the song, written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, became something of a sensation. Even so many years later, who could forget its famed chorus? “War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.” Not me. . .
But here’s the strange thing: in a way its authors and singer could hardly have imagined, in a way we still can’t quite absorb, that chorus has proven eerily prophetic – in fact, accurate beyond measure in the most literal possible sense. War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.’
The above quote capsulizes for me why I, and so many of my good friends, work diligently for peace. While we may view war and peace through different lenses we are agreed that war, like the song quoted above declares, is good for “Absolutely nothing”. We are agreed too that another world war would be absolute madness and policies promoting brinkmanship the height of stupidity.
But, for peace to “break out” we have learned that it is not enough for us to be active, no matter how eloquent and convincing we may be. We need actions by governments across the world, by Canada, across Canada, and in every local municipal body for peace. We realize too that just as war is prepared for with the marshalling of fighters, weapons, and supplies peace must be also be prepared for with vision, plans, and organizers.
Scott Neigh (February 25/16) writing in Rabble.ca to introduce an interview with Jamie Swift and Judi Wyatt of Kingston PeaceQuest described our current peace context in Canada.
‘Though the Harper government lost in October and took its warmongering tone and style with it, there are plenty of indications that the new government’s “sunny ways” are a reversion to the practices of late 20th century Canadian liberalism’s complicity in war under the cover of pro-peace messaging. Despite, for instance, a campaign promise to immediately end Canadian bombing in Syria, it continued (with multiple credible reports of resulting civilian casualties) until well into 2016, and even then the end was announced as part of a larger package of changes that actually deepened Canadian involvement in the conflict. And the new government has curtly refused to prevent the largest arms sale in Canadian history, of armoured vehicles to the despotic regime running Saudi Arabia. Needless to say, the folks involved in PeaceQuest have no plans to scale back their activities.’
It is in this general context that a long list of Canadian peace leaders and peace groups are calling for the creation of a Canadian Department of Peace. “The proposed Department of Peace would be an entity that would provide a single coherent framework for policy focus for peace. It would bring together three major components of international peace and security: peacemaking, peacekeeping and peace building.” – Canadian Peace Initiative
And as the peace and justice writer, Dennis Gruending, explained In Policy & Pulpit (November 2012):
“The rationale is that the Department of National Defence is devoted to planning and prosecuting war but that we should also have a Department of Peace with a minister at the cabinet table. His or her department would be responsible for providing a peace lens in all federal government activities as well as promoting peace building activities in Canada and abroad.”
Serious thinkers in Canada’s three major political parties have also endorsed the idea of a Department of Peace including Lloyd Axworthy, former Minister of Foreign Affairs; Doug Roche, former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament; historian Gerald Caplan; and the Honourable Alexa McDonough. However, at this time there is not agreement among Canada’s political parties on this issue.
Twice bills to establish a Department of Peace passed First reading in the House of Commons. What would it take for one of these bills to receive final reading? A lot more members would have to understand the value of a Department of Peace and vote for it. This would be helped by a stronger Canadian Peace Initiative, the citizens group promoting a Department of Peace, and a groundswell of pressure from below on Canada’s Members of Parliament. Is this a formidable task? Perhaps. But when Lloyd Axworthy was thinking the world needed a ban on landmines I’m sure the idea of such a treaty looked formidable too.
For further reading: A proposed mandate for a department of peace and a list of sponsors; by individuals and organizations. (Download PDF)
March 1, 2016 @ 10:33 pm
“War … what is it good for?” Well, the arms trade, for one. The upcoming sale of armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia is only the latest in Canada’s participation in this global arms trade. Wouldn’t it be great to imagine that a Department of Peace would be responsible for not only keeping tabs on such international agreements, but offering positive alternatives toward the exporting of death-dealing weapons systems, especially to already war-ravaged nations? Imagine … to inspire; action … to make it happen. Thanks for this thoughtful piece, Ed.