An outsourced tribute

This national day of honour is brought to you by Air Canada and Via Rail.

This national day of honour is brought to you by Air Canada and Via Rail.

Special thanks as well to any other member of the Canadian corporate community that steps up to the plate.

May 9 has been set aside as a day to honour those who served over the 12-year Afghan mission and to remember those civilians and members of the military who did not return.

The government has largely outsourced the day.

It was promised by the government in honour of people who served their country, but it is largely being underwritten by corporate Canada, even as the Conservative government will doubtless take credit for the military flypast, the parade of regiments, the military bands, the 21-gun salute, the two minutes of national silence and all the attendant pomp and ceremony.

Corporate Canada and True Patriot Love, the charitable foundation raising the money to get families to the capital to be properly honoured, deserve credit. They have stepped in to allow the Harper government to do this on the cheap.

The highlight for families arriving in Ottawa will be a private breakfast with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other VIPs, with corporate donations of $10,000 or more guaranteeing your company prime signage and related advertising for the event.

This day was a promise from the Harper government in its last throne speech, and it did not pause for a word from its sponsor in making the vow.

Why would this government simply not decide that, on behalf of Canadians, they would tell these families, “You lost a loved one, you paid the ultimate price, we will pay to get you here so your loved one can be properly honoured by a grateful country?”

According to Harper’s chief spokesperson, the government was answering a corporate call.

Jason MacDonald said there was a “tremendous appetite” from corporate Canada to participate in this day.

“This allows them to touch the families of those who have paid the ultimate price, in a direct way,’’ MacDonald said.

Air Canada has provided $250,000 in flights. Via Rail will offer rail service to those closer to Ottawa. And another $100,000 has so far been donated by the country’s business community.

True Patriot Love is selling corporate sponsorship of up to $30,000 for the breakfast reception.

There is no limit on how many family members can attend and True Patriot Love says about 400 family members have already indicated they will attend the May 9 breakfast.

Following the breakfast, the families will attend a private ceremony in the Senate chambers with Harper, Gov. Gen. David Johnston, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson and Gen. Tom Lawson, the chief of defence staff.

In all, 201 of the fallen will be honoured — 158 Canadian Forces’ members, one Canadian diplomat, one Canadian civilian contractor, one Canadian journalist and 40 Americans who died under Canadian command.

Bronwen Evans, the managing director of True Patriot Love, says the breakfast will not be festooned with advertising signs but there will be signage recognizing donors.

“If we didn’t have corporations donating there would be a big hole,’’ she said.

“Corporate Canada should be out there supporting our military.’’

In fact, she says it was her organization, in a planning call with government officials, that offered to reach out to Air Canada and VIA.

The Conservative government will pick up any shortfall not covered by corporations, including outstanding travel, incidental meals and ground transportation for the families.

A day of honour should have been something a government could organize in its sleep, but it has already had to fend off early allegations the families would have to pay their own freight, that the details for the day were slow in coming, that a request for the help of the Royal Canadian Legion came late, that the event is too Ottawa-centric.

But this is a government that can seemingly do no right when it comes to dealing with our military and our veterans, whether it is balking at paying danger pay in deploying 16 more soldiers to Kabul to protect our embassy (because of danger), a Nicholson apology to a mother who received a one-cent government cheque after her son returned from Afghanistan and killed himself, and the temper tantrum by Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino in dealing with veterans protesting cuts to government offices.

One can’t help but be left with the impression that next week is all about marketing.

In background material released by Harper’s office this week, there is a link to more information on the day. It is labelled “Related Product.”

Tim Harper is a syndicated Toronto Star national affairs writer. He can be reached at tharper@thestar.ca.

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