Canada’s finance minister maintains the signature promise Liberals made to injured veterans in the last election is still on the table, despite two straight federal budgets that saw that pledge go unfulfilled.
Liberals were the only party to promise in the 2015 election to re-establish lifelong pensions as an option for injured ex-soldiers. However, the spending plan Finance Minister Bill Morneau unveiled this week announced only that the government was working towards that goal.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau speaks to The Huffington Post Canada on March 24, 2017. (Photo: Brian Trinh/HuffPost Canada)
Morneau sat down for a digital town hall with The Huffington Post Canada Friday and was asked by a reader why lifelong pensions for vets did not crack his budget, once again.
“This is a very important issue,” Morneau replied. “We know that taking care of veterans is really important. This is also complex. We want to get it right.”
The finance minister highlighted how Liberal government re-opened Veterans Affairs offices in its first year, and has taken steps in this budget to help ex-soldiers grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder.
But he suggested the issue of lifelong pensions simply requires more thought.
“We haven’t got the policy quite right yet and we’re not going to do it until we know that we’ve made the decision that is going to make the most sense for veterans going forward,” Morneau said.
“It’s something we’re committing to. We’ve not taken it off the list of things to do. It’s just going to be done right and it will be coming out, I hope, in the course of the next year.”
"We haven’t got the policy quite right yet and we’re not going to do it until we know that we’ve made the decision that is going to make the most sense for veterans going forward."
Morneau’s budget says much the same, noting the federal government has “made considerable progress in its work to develop the pension for life option and will announce further details this year.”
However, the spending plan suggests that disability awards — a lump-sum payment maxing out at $360,000 for the most serious injuries — might just be made available in monthly installments for life.
Such a change is unlikely to satisfy veterans expecting Liberals to return to the pension-for-life system that existed before 2006 and is seen by many ex-soldiers as more generous in the long term.
The New Veterans Charter instead ushered in lump-sum disability award payments, targeted income-replacement programs, and career training for ex-soldiers.
Story continues after slideshow:
Highlights from the 2017 federal budget tabled Wednesday, March 22 by Finance Minister Bill Morneau: (Source: The Canadian Press)
Employment insurance premiums are going up five cents to $1.68 per every $100 of insurable earnings, up from $1.63 — the maximum allowable increase under the Employment Insurance Act. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
The deficit is at $23 billion, down from $25.1 billion in the last fiscal update, and is projected to reach $28.5 billion for 2017-18 — including a $3 billion contingency fund — before declining to $18.8 billion in 2021-22. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
The 71-year-old Canada Savings Bond program, first established in 1946, is no longer cost effective and is being phased out. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
Higher taxes on alcohol and tobacco products: the excise duty rate on cigarettes goes up to $21.56 per carton of smokes from $21.03, while the rates on alcohol are going up two per cent. Both will be adjusted every April 1 starting next year, based on the consumer price index. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
The public transit tax credit, which allows the cost of transit passes to be deducted, is being eliminated effective July 1. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
The budget dedicates $11.2 billion to cities and provinces for affordable housing over 10 years as part of the second wave of the government's infrastructure program, $5 billion of which is to encourage housing providers to pool their resources with private partners to pay for new projects. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
An "innovation and skills plan'' to foster high-tech growth in six sectors: advanced manufacturing, agri-food, clean technology, digital industries, health/bio-sciences and clean resources Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
$523.9 million over five years to prevent tax evasion and improve tax compliance, including more auditors, a crackdown on high-risk avoidance cases and better investigative efforts. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
$7 billion in spending over 10 years for Canadian families, including 40,000 new subsidized daycare spaces across Canada by 2019, extended parental leave and allowing expectant mothers to claim maternity benefits 12 weeks before their due date. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
$2.7 billion over six years for labour market transfer agreements with the provinces and territories to modernize training and job supports, to help those looking for work to upgrade skills, gain experience, start a business or get employment counselling. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
$59.8 million over four years, beginning in 2018-19, to make student loans and grants more readily available for part-time students, and $107.4 million over the same period for assist students with dependent children. $287.2 million over three years, starting in 2018-19, for a pilot project to facilitate adult-student access to student loans and grants. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
A national database of all housing properties in Canada, known as the Housing Statistics Framework, to track details on purchases, sales, demographics and financing, as well as foreign ownership. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
$400 million over three years through the Business Development Bank of Canada for a "venture capital catalyst initiative'' to make more venture capital available to Canadian entrepreneurs. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
A comprehensive spending review of "at least three federal departments,'' to be named later, to eliminate waste and inefficiencies, as well as a three-year review of federal assets and an audit of existing innovation and clean-tech programs. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
$225 million over four years, starting in 2018-19, for a new organization to support skills development and measurement. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
$395.5 million over three years for the youth employment strategy. Read more here. (Source: The Canadian Press)
Liberals moved to enhance those benefits in last year’s budget by earmarking $5.6 billion over six years for injured or ill veterans.
Yet it seems Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr is delivering a different message than Morneau on the matter.
In an interview with The Canadian Press Friday, Hehr promoted how Liberals have again enhanced services available for veterans in the budget. As an example, Hehr pointed to the pledge to pay $80,000 for vets with at least 12 years of service who want to go back to school.
But The Canadian Press has heard a recording of one of Hehr’s staff members telling veterans in a briefing this week that the old system would not be returning. Hehr reportedly hedged when asked if the old system is dead, but said “all options are on the table” and Liberals are “not going to preclude any discussions on this.”
New Democrats were critical of Liberals this week for not delivering on their top promise to vets.
“The Liberals are offering unclear commitments and no timeline,” the NDP said in a post-budget release. “Those who have served to protect Canadians and our values deserve much better.”
Watch the full town hall with Morneau:
With files from The Canadian Press