April 14th, 2011
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With hockey somewhat refreshingly pushing politics into the shadows for a while, it’s worth discussing a noteworthy hockey event from last week. Some readers will be aware that RDS, the French-language sports network, has a bull pen format sports show on after most Montreal Canadiens’ games. It’s called l’Antichambre, and features a number of high-decibel commentators like Michel Bergeron and Mario Tremblay.

After last Tuesday’s overtime victory over the Blackhawks, l’Antichambre was broadcast from CFB Bagotville, and was essentially a showcase of francophone members of Canada’s Armed Forces. Central to the show was a recounting of the trip to Afghanistan by a number of RDS “personalities”. These included host Chantal Machabée, Tremblay and NHL tough-guy André Roy.

The program showed clips of the group flying into the war zone in a Chinook helicopter, playing pick-up ball hockey with the soldiers and socializing with them at the Kandahar base. To a man/woman, the group were all deeply moved by the experience, several of them remarking that it was “life altering”. They also referred frequently to the pride they felt seeing what the gars de chez nous were accomplishing.

What can one say to this? It’s no secret that the Afghanistan mission has not exactly been ringingly endorsed in Quebec. In my view that makes it doubly satisfying to see pure laine personalities like Mario Tremblay overcome by waves of positive emotion as he clearly was during and after his trip.

Last Tuesday’s broadcast also featured interviews with members of the Air Force’s 439 squadron in Bagotville. It was a veritable love-in.

Oddly enough, this special show was not appreciated by all. One wizened, cranky columnist with the Montreal Gazette suggested that seeing the RDS crew in combat gear was “Cherry-esque” – i.e. something to be viscerally rejected. Okay… Makes you think of Pierre Trudeau’s remark about those people who don’t like seeing soldiers with guns.

This reaction does make a political point of sorts.  One accomplishment of the Harper government has been, not only a revitalization of Canada’s military, but a return to Canada’s historical role with a military that can – literally – do some heavy lifting.  Readers will recall that years of neglect under previous governments had left our Armed Forces with a lot of good intentions, but a limited ability to affect events on the ground.  Not surprisingly, this fit the Liberal view of foreign engagement, heavy on talk and good intentions.

Now we have a military that, if you believe the RDS story, a broad cross-section of Canadians can be proud of.  Let’s see, Mario Tremblay to Don Cherry?  That would be a broad cross-section.  We can move troops, for humanitarian or military purposes, across and between continents; and better exert our sovereignty.  If a few disgruntled old scribes feel left out, I guess that would be too bad.

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By John Weissenberger