Thursday, July 19, 2007

Should City Government Vehicles Display 'Support the Troops' Ribbons?

That controversy is currently brewing in Calgary. What do you think?

Proponents of slapping Support the Troops decals on city vehicles say they're backed by a groundswell of support.

But Mayor David Bronconnier fears the decals will open divisions over the Afghan war.

Ald. Ric McIver is hoping council on Monday will pass his motion to have donated stickers adorn city vehicles, adding he's being deluged with suport [sic].

"I'm getting phone calls steadily and people are stopping me and saying, 'Do it,' " said McIver.

He said the freedom Canadians take for granted come courtesy of the nation's military "and it's high time we show appreciation for that."

But Bronconnier said using a taxpayer-funded canvas for the yellow troop-supporting stickers would antagonize those who feel the message sanctions a war they oppose.

"I don't believe this council should be involved in politicizing a decision that wasn't theirs," said the mayor.

"The debate deteriorates to whether Canada should have a role to play in Afghanistan."

He said almost half the phone calls he's received are from anti-war residents opposed to the proposal.
The city will hold send-off and welcome-home events for Calgary-based troops deployed in Afghanistan, added Bronconnier.

But Sean Burnand, whose business is willing to give 5,000 of the stickers for the city's fleet, said his efforts drummed up at least $20,000 in corporate donations for military families in four hours.

"I'm extremely disappointed -- (the mayor) doesn't want to use city vehicles for advertising, but the last time I saw a city bus it was covered in advertising," said Burnand of Can West Labels.

Of course there's an obvious difference between displaying revenue-generating advertizing on buses and slapping on troop support ribbons, so that point is moot.

I think the point Bronconnier makes about the decision to go to war not having been made or endorsed by the city council is a valid one. (Full disclosure: I am antiwar.) Consider the fact that several towns and cities in the US, including Portland, Oregon have issued resolutions against supporting the Iraq war. Since Calgary's city council has never issued a resolution in support of Canada's role in the Afghanistan war on behalf of Calgarians, why should it now agree to show ribbons of support on city vehicles?

On the other hand, "support the troops" to some means not supporting the war, but bringing the troops home as quickly as possible - although, to state the obvious, that's not really what that generic statement means to most of the public. I'm sure most would relate the phrase to supporting the war. And we've all seen the public arguments where the word "traitor" has been flung around or someone's patriotism has been criticized if they refuse to endorse the blanket statement "support the troops".

So, I side with Bronconnier here. City vehicles are not the appropriate venue for political statements. According to the latest Strategic Council poll, "Only seven per cent of Canadians strongly support the Afghanistan mission."

The survey, conducted between July 12-16 for CTV and The Globe and Mail, suggests the level of intensity for Canadians strongly opposed to the mission is far greater than those who are in firm support: (percentage point change from a July 12-15, 2006 poll in brackets):

* Total Support: 36 per cent (-3)
* Strongly Support: 7 per cent (-1)
* Support: 29 per cent (-2)
* Oppose: 31 per cent (same)
* Strongly oppose: 27 per cent (+2)
* Total Oppose: 59 per cent (+3)

Calgary's city council would be wise to defeat this motion. If you live in Calgary, please contact your alderperson to let them know what you think about this issue.

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