Canadian Defence Minister honours vets in Brantford

“This is a city that cares. This is a city that understands sacrifice. This is a city with a great military history.”

Those words, spoken by Canadian Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay, show the impression the city had on him after arriving here on November 10th.

The former (and last) leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada attended numerous events through the morning and afternoon in Brantford.

MacKay began his visit by making a national announcement in front of the Brant County War Memorial in downtown Brantford: two new Coast Guard vessels are to be named in honour of a pair of WWI veterans – Pte. James Peter Robinson and Cpl. Joseph Kaeble. Both received the Victoria Cross for heroism displayed in combat.

The two 43-metre long vessels are being built in Halifax, will have a top speed of 25 knots and a range of 2,000 nautical miles. They will both be able to stay at sea for up to two weeks until they must return to harbour.

In the afternoon, MacKay and Brant MP Phil McColeman hosted a luncheon for the local Conservative riding association. Mackay’s general message was simply, “I’m here to support Phil McColeman.”

But as with any political gathering, business is never far away. The war in Afghanistan is a constant point of discussion for the Minister, who stated that, “The work that we are doing in Afghanistan is truly unprecedented in modern times.” Among the personal stories and discussion of the day’s events, McKay took a moment to defend the controversial $9-billion purchase of fighter jets for the Canadian military.

“We have to ensure that the men and women in uniform, who we ask to do very difficult and dangerous tasks at times, have the maximum protection, the maximum ability to ensure mission success, so that they can come home to their families.

Yes, that means significant investment, but those in my view, and I know it’s shared by Phil, are dollars well spent.”

McKay continued on to defend the country’s military purchasing strategy against naysayers and critics.

“There’s been a lot of talk and a lot of consternation about whether we should be purchasing certain military equipment, and yes, these are difficult economic times but this isn’t a choice between health care and roads, infrastructure and other important investments. This is part of the priorities of government, so I for one feel very strongly [about it]. We have to give the right tools and right support and not play politics with these contracts.”

At the War Memorial for a Remembrance Day ceremony, MacKay spoke with veterans and watched a video produced by the St. Johns College. The ceremony honoured the two Brant soldiers killed in Afghanistan: Trooper Larry John Zuidema Rudd and Capt. Richard Leary, as well as the surviving veterans of Canada’s previous wars.

The Canadian Heritage Military Museum also received a visit from Peter MacKay, who toured it in the morning. The museum houses one of the largest displays of Canadian military history in Ontario, with collections dating from the war of 1812 to the present conflict in Afghanistan.

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