Canadians split over future role of military
By DOUG SAUNDERS
Monday, November 11, 2002
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Canadians overwhelmingly want to see more money spent on the armed forces and are emotionally attached to the country's military history, but this Remembrance Day finds them deeply divided over the military's role, a new poll finds.
Like Defence Minister John McCallum, most Canadians want to see military spending increased -- 75 per cent agreed with him that the budget of the Canadian military needs to be increased, a number that rises to 82 per cent if Quebec is excluded.
But they were reluctant to finance the military by cutting back on other popular, big-ticket government programs. Only 5 per cent thought funding should come from health care, 13 per cent said the environment and 14 per cent suggested agriculture.
Half of Canadians believe the military's role should be expanded. But the other half were divided as to whether a reduced military should become a peacekeeping force or an elite special-operations unit.
The poll was conducted by Ipsos-Reid and sponsored by The Globe and Mail and the Dominion Institute, an organization promoting national history. It surveyed 1,002 adult Canadians over two days last week, with results considered accurate to within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
The poll reveals a disjunction between the abstract, emotional desire among Canadians to honour, acknowledge and fund the military, on one hand, and on the other a lack of knowledge of military history and a broad reluctance to support the military through volunteer service.
It showed that half (52 per cent) of Canadians plan to attend a Remembrance Day ceremony today, an increase from previous years. Fully 84 per cent said Canadians should do more to honour those who have fought in wars. And a strong majority of Canadians (65 per cent) said they think Nov. 11, Remembrance Day, "has a greater meaning for them personally" than does Sept. 11.
That was the date of last year's terrorist attacks in the United States.
This, according to Rudyard Griffiths of the Dominion Institute, indicates a return to an acknowledgment of Canada's war sacrifices, after a generation during which this role was neglected or underplayed.
"Increasingly it's becoming a civic occasion on parallel with Canada Day," he said. "Certainly, there's anecdotal evidence that the crowds are growing larger around the cenotaph."
But in terms of specifics, Canadians did not fare well -- again, putting them in good company with their Defence Minister.
Mr. McCallum was unable to properly name Vimy Ridge earlier this year as the site of Canada's most significant victory (he called it "Vichy," the name of the French Nazi regime). While citizens did better on this one -- 64 per cent named it on a multiple-choice question -- only 31 per cent named Dieppe as the site of the famous massacre of Canadians in 1942.
But Canadians showed an emotional attachment to their military that does not seem to be reflected in a specific vision of the military's role or a basic knowledge of military history.
It found no Canadian consensus on the role of the military. Despite the support for funding, only half (53 per cent) said they would opt for "a better-funded and equipped all-purpose armed force capable of undertaking traditional defence and combat roles at home and abroad."
Most of the rest (32 per cent of those surveyed) said they favour a force that has been "downsized and reconfigured as a small but well-equipped peacekeeping and disaster-assistance force ready to be deployed anywhere in the world on short notice." Only 13 per cent said they favour a smaller military "refocused around specialized combat roles such as military engineering, snipers or special forces . . . and supplied with the best equipment available for those roles."
Military service seemed unpopular: Only 33 per cent said they could foresee an international conflict -- presumably including an invasion of Canada -- that would compel them to volunteer for military service.
When the numbers are looked at on a province-by-province basis, as usual Quebeckers showed far less commitment to the military. In a reversal of the Canadian pattern, 53 per cent of Quebeckers said they thought Sept. 11 had more meaning for them than Nov. 11. And only 53 per cent of Quebeckers supported increased military spending.
But this is a far more mild schism than previous surveys have shown. Quebec's attitude toward the Canadian military has been ambivalent at least since the conscription crises of the First and Second World Wars, but this week's poll indicates a mellowing of attitude. Especially surprising were the results when Quebeckers were asked whether they could foresee a situation in which they would volunteer for military service. Their numbers -- 28 per cent -- were not much lower than those of the rest of Canada.
"It's interesting that Quebec wasn't way out of the average," Mr. Griffiths said. "On this question, Quebeckers were willing to volunteer in a big way, which we haven't seen before."
65% say Remembrance Day means more to them than Sept. 11
52% say they will attend a formal Remembrance Day service this year.
84% say Canada should do more to honour those who fought and died in war.
64% can identify Vimy Ridge as Canada's greatest First World War battle.
31% can identify Dieppe, where almost 1,000 Canadians died in a 1942 raid.
75% believe that the budget of the Canadian military needs to be increased.