Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Our Government's Shame

This column was first published in November 14, 2012 issue of The Oxford Journal by Sara Mattinson.

The swirl of stories printed and broadcast over this past weekend had me thinking about my father who died more than three years ago. Not him specifically, for he wasn’t a veteran, but rather what I learned from him and later, as Alzheimer’s took his stories, about him from my mother. 
These three facts of his life form the foundation of my father’s legacy: He was a funeral director, an associate member of the Legion in our hometown of Cobourg, Ontario, and a twice-defeated candidate for the federal Progressive Conservative party. 
Growing up, I saw my father’s values in his actions and his words: He was the “progressive” part of conservative, he didn’t gossip (I couldn’t even get him to tell me the name of the first girl he kissed), and he treated people with respect and compassion. He had a deeply-rooted sense of fairness. He also supported veterans and seniors wholeheartedly, making their concerns a priority when he ran in two elections. 
No matter what my father was doing, treating people with dignity was his guiding principle. My mother has told me that Dad never buried a person who had been institutionalized in the local provincial hospital in the cheapest casket, as stipulated by the government, because it was no better than a cloth-covered box; at his own expense, he upgraded to the next line. If the person had no family, he asked my mother to attend the brief service. 
This compassion stemmed from my father’s belief that how we treat the dead reveals how we treat the living, a concept in line with his guiding principle of dignity for all. I might take it one step further and suggest some people are more deserving than others. 
Let me be clear: I’m a passivist; I am not comfortable with confrontation of any kind, let alone war. I also don’t have what it takes to be a soldier so I respect the work these men and women do and have done and I am grateful that they are willing to put their lives at risk to protect a wimp like me. As well, I’m not actively involved in politics; I see too many sides to a story to toe a party line. But I seem to have inherited my father’s concern for seniors and veterans because the news coming out Ottawa is touching a chord with me.
Let me reshape my father’s idea: How we treat the living and the dead reveals what we are like as a civilized first-world country. Sometimes the ultimate sacrifice requires a little sacrifice from the rest of us. Instead of clawing back soldiers’ and veterans’ disability payments, we should be giving them that money tax-free; they’ve earned it. Instead of playing games for votes, replace the Sea Kings with their modern equivalent. Instead of rejecting 2/3 of the applicants to a federal fund for poor veterans, we should be paying for the funeral of everyone who has served in the military, even those who didn’t get shot at. 
And no cheap cloth-covered box, either. 
(While I realize that people make their own choices and misfortune happens, it also seems to be fundamentally wrong that a phrase like “poor veteran” should exist at all. And, of course, we haven’t eradicated child poverty, either.)
If I might step out of character and into the political ring for a moment, I’d like to say something to the leaders of this country, those of you who are Members of Parliament, a place my father always longed to be because he (naively) believed he could make a difference: How we treat those who are dead – killed in past and present military action or done in by age and infirmity – speaks directly to how we are treating those whose battles continue: our veterans, those wounded in military action, seniors – and, speaking as myself but also on behalf of my father for whom I am becoming a voice, what I’d like to say is Shame on you. 

This came in by email this morning, forwarded along so I don't know who originally created it, and it seems to go with this column:

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