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Replacing Parliamentary Secretary A Gross Disservice To Veterans

02/01/2017 11:00 EST | Updated 02/01/2017 11:01 EST
Chris Wattie / Reuters
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, December 15, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Recently a blanket announcement was made about a shuffle within the Liberal cabinet as a new wave of appointments were made within the departments pertaining to the parliamentary secretary. One that I found interesting was replacing Veterans Affairs Parliamentary Secretary and retired lieutenant colonel Karen McCrimmon with Sherry Romanado.

Many in the community saw Karen McCrimmon as the only person within the department trying, a Canadian Forces pioneer that had showed up to more of my service excellence committee meetings than the actual minister.

While Veterans Affairs quietly and unceremoniously disposes of the only veteran working within the department, they will hold yet another ribbon-cutting to commemorate the opening of a VA office, this time in Thunder Bay -- flashbulbs and flickering smiles all around.

It is the dictionary definition of milking publicity. A total of nine offices are reopening, representing the easiest of the department's promises to make good on. Along with increasing the Earning Loss Benefit to provide injured veterans with 90 per cent of their pre-release salary, these are the only two things things the department has done in the year and a half it has had.

kent hehr

Canada's Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada, Jan. 25, 2016. (Photo: Chris Wattie/Reuters)

As veterans like me enter the 11th year without our life-long pensions, let me explain what you are supposed to do with that lump sum. The expectation is that you invest that money -- the maximum you can receive is $306,000. The average, though, is $26,000. In exchange for sacrificing five per cent of my brain in an attack, I initially received $22,000. It was only after nine years of fighting, bloggin, interviewing, and petitioning former MPs Joe Comartin, Peter Stoffer and Frank Valeriote (Liberal) that I could get my pension to where it rightfully should be. I did not get the bulk of my lump sum until after the great recession of 2008, meaning those who did had their pensions almost wiped out -- all despite assurances that the odds of that happening were slim to nil.

Then Prime Minister Justin Trudeau comes along and promises to fix all the problems (that his party created in the first place) -- the mandate letter, the appointment of a minister who overcame a disability, the unbridled optimism and smiles.

First it was "Give us a little while to figure things out, we just formed government." Then it was "Well, it's Christmas break. Wait until the first budget." Then it was "Well, the budget was not what you expected, so let's work together and with what we got. Oh, and we are reopening the court case fighting lump-sum pensions." Then it was summer break.

Between the inactivity on the file and the alternative facts presented not just to the veterans, the prime minister had no choice but to shuffle his cabinet.

The PMO's office, in its infinite wisdom, decided to replace the only person that was actually trying.

It was at this moment that many thought the Liberals would start taking their promises to veterans seriously. Alas, Minister Kent Hehr remained. This is a man whose social media profiles rarely mention veterans. It is very clear that veterans are not his priority. Instead, he has been dedicating days going door-knocking in his riding in anticipation of the next federal election in 2019. The people of Calgary Centre now have something in common with the people of Vaughn, Ontario -- their riding has become synonymous with the plight of the veteran.

Then the PMO's office, in its infinite wisdom, decided to replace the only person that was actually trying, a Canadian Hero, with a woman whose Wikipedia entry contains little more than her birthdate and the fact that she is a Canadian politician.

Electoral reform -- what a mess the Liberals made of that. So now you have a new parliamentary secretary and everyone is going to say "Just give her a little while to figure things out," and by then it will be summer break. Meanwhile, post-traumatic stress disorder does not give its sufferers a grace period, there is no summer break. Everyone says, "Just wait until the budget," only I know for a fact that our committee made no suggestions before the November deadline for the budget report, and even if it had (do I really need to finish this sentence)?

Here is the juxtaposition: the government has no intention of restoring life-long pensions, despite campaigning on such a vigorous platform. So, at the town hall when a tearful woman asks the prime minister when he will do right by the veterans, he rambles for five minutes without answering the question. A more perfect example on how to say something without saying anything could not be found.

Minister Hehr takes his marching orders very well, and to date the opposition and the press have not been putting any pressure on him. (That is, except the Globe's Gloria Galloway, she truly has been the lone voice and I thank her.)

If I were a member of the Liberal caucus who unceremoniously and quietly replaced a parliamentary secretary that cared about veterans with someone that helped ensure that 2015 would not be the last past-the-post election, I know I couldn't look myself in the mirror.

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