A Liberal MP has sent flyers to his constituents touting the government's record on the veterans file, claiming it has already restored lifetime pensions for wounded veterans — when in fact it has done no such thing.
CBC News first reported last month that the Liberal government is actually taking veterans, who are pushing for the restoration of this benefit, back to court after a legal truce of sorts reached by the former Conservative government expired in May.
Justice department lawyers are now purportedly advancing the same legal arguments used during the Harper era, namely that Canada does not have a social contract or covenant with veterans, and that a "scheme providing benefits cannot be said to amount to a deprivation merely because claimant views the benefits as insufficient."
But a flyer sent to constituents in Robert-Falcon Ouelette's Winnipeg Centre riding presents a list of of "Some of what we've done (so far)," and includes "Reformed veteran's benefits and the delivery of services to veterans, including bringing back lifelong pensions for injured vets," among other achievements.
"It makes me feel like I've been lied to." —Bill Paolini, father of veteran
The flyers — which are colloquially called "10 percenters" or "householders" — caught the attention of one of Ouelette's constituents, Bill Paolini, the father of an Afghan war veteran who has been following the Equitas lawsuit and the prolonged struggle by the plaintiffs in that case to secure pensions for injured veterans.
"Personally, I think he's trying to pull the wool over people's eyes," Paolini said of the MP's flyer. "I think he should retract the flyer and issue a correction and apologize. It's very deceptive to think that that went out to the whole riding."
Paolini said he donated money to the Ouellete campaign, and voted for the Liberal party in the last election in part because of its promise to help veterans like his son, who fought primarily in the Panjwai district of Afghanistan.
His son would not be entitled to a wounded veteran pension even if it is restored, he said, but he has a vested interest in seeing other soldiers who face crippling mental and physical ailments get their fare share from the government they served.
Robert-Falcon Oullette's office said the reference to "lifelong pensions" was an error. (Photo: Facebook)
"It makes me feel like I've been lied to. I really thought the Trudeau government was going to do something. That's one of the big reasons why I voted for the party, was because of their stand on veterans and making things right for them. I feel like the I've been let down and I've been led down the garden path," he said.
Paolini reached out to Ouellette's office after receiving the flyer in the mail, asking for an explanation but received an answer with information about different programs.
He also sent an e-mail to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office with a heartfelt plea: "Do the honourable and right thing and restore the veteran's pensions. Don't make them fight the battles they have already fought. Don't let them suffer any longer," he wrote.
When contacted by CBC News, Ouellette's office said that the reference to "lifelong pensions" was an error.
The Liberals committed to new pools of money for other campaign promises for veterans. (Photo: CP)
"As someone who has served in the armed forces, this is an issue that is of particular importance to me," Ouellette said in a statement. "The government of Canada is taking historic steps to ensure Canadian veterans and their families receive the care, compassion and respect they deserve, especially veterans with disabilities," he wrote, pointing to the budget 2016's substantial new funding commitments.
Trudeau campaigned on restoring lifelong pensions
The promise to restore lifelong pensions for injured veterans was in Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr's mandate letter from the prime minister, but was notably absent from the government's first budget introduced in March.
The government did commit new pools of money for other campaign promises, including increasing the disability award and boosting the earnings loss benefit for injured veterans and expanding access to the permanent impairment allowance — but pensions remain the biggest sticking point.
"I cannot discuss the specifics of an ongoing court case." —Kent Hehr, Veterans Affairs Minister
Trudeau promised to restore that benefit — which was replaced by lump-sum payments with the introduction of the New Veterans' Charter in 2006 — on the campaign trail during the last federal election.
Liberals also promised veterans in their platform that they wouldn't have to "fight the government" for the support and compensation they have earned.
The plaintiffs in the Equitas lawsuit have argued in court that the lump-sum payment wounded veterans receive under the new charter is inadequate compensation, as they receive less money over the course of a lifetime.
Hehr's office — and the minister himself in question period — has repeatedly laid blame on the previous Conservative government for forcing veterans to go to court to "ensure their own well-being."
Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr said he cannot discuss the specifics of an ongoing court case. (Photo: Reuters)
But Hehr has not explained why he has allowed the peace agreement of sorts, struck by the former veterans affairs minister Erin O'Toole, to lapse.
"I cannot discuss the specifics of an ongoing court case," Hehr said in a recent statement.
The Alberta cabinet minister has said he was "given a strong mandate to restore critical access to services for veterans," by the prime minister, and that includes "providing a pension option for injured veterans, and I can assure Canadians that I remain committed to this, and to fulfilling all items in my mandate letter."