Loath as I am to admit it, music alone won’t change our war-making ways.
That’s why the April 4 all-party (except the governing one) panel kicking off a conference the next day promoting the idea of a Canadian Department of Peace at Friends House on Lowther is such a tonic.
Not only do the 250 mostly veteran anti-war types in the pews at the Church of the Holy Trinity hear the Greens’ Elizabeth May, the NDP’s Olivia Chow and the Libs’ Borys Wrzesnewskyj sing from the same peace page, but the non-partisan collegiality of the event underscores the idea that, if peace-building is ever mainstreamed, humanity will make an evolutionary jump.
Speaking of neanderthals, politics is a blood sport. But when you see Wrzesnewskyj applauding Chow’s moving description of what NDPer Alexa McDonough could do if she were minister of peace, Chow praising May’s support for a federal conflict resolution department, and both May and Chow clearly sympathizing with Wrzesnewskyj as he guardedly describes tensions in the Liberal party over Afghanistan, it tends to stand out.
(Wrzesnewskyj has been on the outs with his party ever since criticizing Israel after a trip to Lebanon during the Hezbollah/Israeli war in 2006.)
Politicians acting like decent, civil human beings. Who knew?
But equally profound and challenging for the other pols and the audience is the symbolism of the empty chair on the stage for Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier.
If we are to believe polls that show Canadians are equally split on the Afghan war, organizers’ blue-sky dream of a Department of Peace to balance Foreign Affairs, Defence and the PMO seems inherently fair.
Indeed, we can imagine a minister of peace (I know it sounds a tad Orwellian) working with the minister of the environment, provincial education ministers, NGOs and other civil society groups.
Instead of co-op programs to join the military, local school boards could offer kids looking for a macho challenge handsomely funded courses that would ready them for service in a brigade of civilian peace builders, one small piece of what Canadian Department of Peace Initiative co-chair Bill Bhaneja refers to as the “architecture of peace.”
According to a recent study by research and advocacy org the Rideau Institute, Canada’s military spending for 2007-08 will top $18 billion, up 9 per cent from the year before. By 2010, military spending will be up 37 per cent from spending levels before 9/11.
Photo By Michael Watier
Dr. Bill Bhaneja
“The money is there to create a new ministry,” says Bhaneja. “We are asking for 2 per cent of military spending to be diverted.” It seems rather doable, no?
But looking up at the stage, I’m seeing a passionate Liberal – “This is why I entered politics,” he tells the crowd – swimming against the tide of his own hawkish party.
And there’s the leader of the Greens, who still haven’t elected a member to the House of Commons and likely won’t in the next election. Then there’s Chow, whose party’s strategy of going after the Liberal jugular as if it were still the governing party (and ignoring the Greens in the hope that they’ll just go away) has failed to give the NDP even a slight bump in the polls.
“The only chance of Alexa becoming the minister of peace is some cooperation between these parties in a coalition government,” veteran anti-war activist Lyn Adamson tells me later.
“Peace building really does require going beyond politics as usual, which is based on a system of competition.”
Collaboration, finding common ground, defining common goals – not exactly the usual menu in Ottawa.
“Win-win processes exist, but politics is not up to speed on them,” says Adamson.
At one point in the night, Chow asks, “We all want peace, so why don’t we have it?” We can only hope politicians start asking each other this question – and soon.
Saul Arbess, National Co-Chair of the Canadian Department of Peace Initiative talks about the mandate and the roll of a minister of peace:
Bill Bhanaja, National Co-Chair of the Canadian Department of Peace Initiative talks about disarmament after the end of the Cold War:
Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj talks about the difficulties big tent national parties have in moving an agenda like this forward:
Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj talks further about the importance of speaking with MP's who have made decisions, like supporting Afghanistan, and showing them ways of changing those decisions: