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Turning back military clock could boost ailing Bloc, pollster says

A broader Harper government strategy to bring back the feelings of the "good old days" is behind the move to restore "Royal" designations to the Canadian navy and air force, according to pollster Nik Nanos.

"It's about turning back the clock," the Nanos Research president told The Globe. He believes the Harper government wants to focus on "tradition and national symbols" as a way of igniting feelings of national pride.

The Conservative government moved this week to change the name of the Maritime Command to the Royal Canadian Navy and the Air Command to the Royal Canadian Air Force.

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But there is controversy over the use of the word "royal," with some critics suggesting it's an unwelcome throwback to colonial times. As such, it carries some political risk.

"For many Canadians this is not likely a significant issue, unless the cost change becomes a factor. This could, however, play to the nationalists in Quebec.," Mr. Nanos said.

"Back on their heels from a rout in the recent federal election, this may be a straw for them to grasp in an attempt to make themselves look more relevant to nationalist-minded voters in Quebec."

But if a name change had to come, the Harper government picked the perfect moment, the pollster added. "In the wake of a generally well-received royal visit from William and Kate ... if there is a time to embark on such an initiative which minimizes political blow-back, this is likely it."

Tories seize on NDP divisions

NDP MP Paul Dewar describes the Official Opposition's reaction to restoring the "royal" designation to the Canadian navy and air force as "a bit of a shrug."

The Conservatives, however, are using the issue to breathlessly accuse the NDP of being divided – and of "playing politics" with Canada's military.

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"While our government is bringing back the original names of the three former services reinstates an important and recognizable part of military heritage, along with a key part of our nation's identity, the NDP cannot make up its mind on whether it will try to score cheap partisan points or admit a historic element of Canada's Armed Forces has been restored," according to a poorly-worded memo sent out to Harper supporters and MPs.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay argues the move is a matter of restoring military pride and was supported by armed forces personnel, especially veterans.

But it provoked differing responses from Mr. Dewar's NDP colleagues. Defence critic Jack Harris attacked the decision while veterans critic Peter Stoffer welcomed it. This prompted the Conservatives to argue the seeming split "is another worrying example of how the NDP is not fit to govern Canada."

Brad Lavigne, principal secretary to the Opposition Leader, responded by saying the "name change is unnecessary and not a priority." And he accused the Tories of longing to "live in another time."

"Conservatives want to ignore Canada's evolution as a country," he told The Globe. "While there is pride in our past, there also must be a recognition that Canada has transformed from a dominion to a proud independent country that has established its own identity."

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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