I have been following this latest issue in regards to “social contracts” in Canada and what has been promised to veterans. Let me start by presenting a common definition of “social contract”. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary and many others, a social contract is defined as “an actual or hypothetical agreement among the members of an organized society or between a community and its ruler that defines and limits the rights and duties of each“. I have grown up with “social contracts” and have seen them over ruled, ignored or just plain forgotten.
However when one as important as the one expressed by Prime Minister Robert Borden and has survived the test of time for almost 100 years is threatened it requires some attention. To put this in perspective I have supplied the quote attributed to Borden, a Conservative Prime Minister, only days before the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The battle that cost over 10,000 Canadian lives.
And I quote “You can go into this action feeling assured of this, and as head of the government I give you this assurance: That you need not fear that the government and the country will fail to show just appreciation of your service to your country and Empire in what you are about to do and what you have already done…The government and the country will consider it their first duty to see that a proper appreciation of your efforts and of your courage is brought to the notice of people at home…that no man, whether he goes back or whether he remains in Flanders, will have just cause to reproach the government for having broken faith with the men who won and the men who died.”
That statement, also referred to as the “social contract” the Harper government is now denying, has stood up for our veterans through two world wars, the Korean affair, thirty years of peace keeping action including almost fifty years in Cyprus, the Bosnian conflict, and most recently the Afghan war. This social contract has been the backbone of the safety net supposedly in place to help our veterans, be they old or young, work through the horrors of war and make the transition back into a life of “normalcy”.
Social contracts are not new to governments around the world and many of these contracts get dropped or broken along the way after the benefit of political photo ops disappears. In the mid 50’s the Canadian government entered a social contract with all polio survivor’s stating those who had contracted the disease would never have to worry about disability related costs. In part because on March 26, 1953 American medical researcher Dr. Jonas Salk announced on a national radio show that he had successfully tested a new vaccine to protect against polio. On July 3, 1953 I was diagnosed with polio along with thousands of other Canadian. The vaccine was not used in Canada until 1955. There was no socialized medicine at that point in Canada. That social contract disappeared somewhere in the early 70’s.
In the 60’s the government promised help to all of the families of the Thalidomide babies. This became known as the Canadian Tragedy because the government of the day had been aware for almost five years of the danger of this drug. It’s distribution in Canada was not halted until 1962 even though cases of birth defects were astronomical and well documented. A “social contract” was established then by telling the families assistance would be provided. Any families wanting support had to fight for it. If they were successful in their fight they were prevented from discussing their settlement which was accompanied with a government imposed gag orders.
In the 80’s the tainted blood tragedy affected thousands of Canadians with HIV and Hepatitis. Again the government entered into a “social contract” to assist those most affected. The Krever Inquiry later showed that the victims of this scandal were dying faster than they were being settled with. There still remains estates to this day waiting for settlements promised by the government.
These “social contracts” went by the roadside because the political optics were no longer there. There was no longer a political opportunity for photo ops. However the Harper government have made a whole marketing campaign out of draping themselves in the flag and swearing unending support for our troops which, by extension, includes veterans. Suicide rates among our vets appears to be on the rise. A recent study in the States shows that more veterans have died as a result of suicide than they did in recent wars. I’m sure the same can be said of Canadian vets but this government has become so good at massaging information that actual stats are hard to find.
When a member of our armed forces can survive the military front and come back alive it is to be celebrated. However when they return and die by their own hand often due to lack of proper supports then it should be a “war crime”. This is one “social contract” that demands Canadians pay attention to.
Just one man’s opinion!