To the Honourable Kent Hehr,
Thank you for the timely response. It was a great lesson on how to say something without saying anything at all. I do feel however, that you failed to acknowledge my biggest concern, that you and the prime minister appear to have had prior knowledge of the renewal of the court case Equitas at each of your respected military events.
The title of your response is states that "you want to hear from veterans even if they are mad at you."
The problem is once you have heard their concerns, that is where the issue ends. When people start asking you to do the same thing over and over again, that's when you know you're way too close to something that you don't want to be near. To be perfectly honest, I am not mad, just disappointed.
The issue I have with the impending litigation is that for the last year, the Liberal government has time after time championed veterans' causes. On May 14, 2015, Fin Donnelly proposed an Opposition Day Motion that passed unanimously, and it was a significant victory for veterans' rights. Fin asked the government to stop fighting veterans in court and start delivering the services they deserve.
"Canadians recognize that the federal government has a moral, social, legal and fiduciary obligation to the women and men who courageously serve our country," said Donnelly.
Meaning that the Liberal government voted to the MP that there is a moral obligation to the veterans, the very premise of the Equitas lawsuit re-opened by the Liberal government last month.
During the election Justin Trudeau delivered a speech on Aug. 24, 2015 in which he released his veteran platform. In it he stated, "We will reinstate lifelong pensions in line with the obligation that we have made to those injured in the line of duty." Flanked by soldiers on either side with serious hardware, he stood there and promised everything the veterans had been asking for.
If you look at what the Liberal government has said and what it has done, you see two different stories.
Not to be outdone, the newly elected prime minister gave you your mandate letter and even took the unprecedented step of releasing it publicly. It highlights the priorities you have to work within.
The second priority states, "Re-establish lifelong pensions as an option for our injured veterans, and increase the value of the disability award, while ensuring that every injured veteran has access to financial advice and support so that they can determine the form of compensation that works best for them and their families."
At the time, these three moments seemed to suggest that veterans' struggles with their pensions were about to be resolved.
Now if you look at what the Liberal government has said and what it has done, you see two different stories. One of the first things that came to pass was giving MPs and senators a raise and budget increases. An additional $25-million cost to the Canadian tax payer. MPs have the option of freezing their own salaries through federal legislation, but the government decided not to do so.
Interestingly, what was left off of Budget 2016 as well as the reestablishment of lifelong pensions was a line stating "increase the veteran survivor's pension amount from 50 per cent to 70 per cent." This means that every day 30 veterans are dying and their widows or widowers are still having their partner's pension cut in half. A $25-million increase in budgets and salaries on the one hand, and every day 30 widows have their incomes cut in half on the other.
Then there is the case of Second World War veteran Petter Blindheim, who was denied long-term care by the government. Is it not hypocritical of someone to tweet a commemoration to D-Day one day and then refuse to help a survivor on another? Your interview in defence of your department was painful to watch.
The warning signs came to be in your initial days as minister when you gave an interview refusing to commit to the reopening of the nine veteran affairs offices (still not open and predicted to take another year before they are). The public backlash was swift, and in the end a spokesman had to correct your comments.
You do not have a veteran working on your staff and you have surrounded yourself with young, partisan staffers that will toe the party line at the veteran's expense. Furthermore, your deputy minister and the associate minister still report to the treasury department, not directly to you.
Former Liberal veterans affairs critic Frank Valeriote worked in unison with Peter Stoffer on many of the issues disparaging the Conservative tactics you have continued to use. At least with the Conservatives, they told you no -- they did not promise you something they had no intention of delivering.
I reached out to Peter Stoffer and Erin O'Toole after you published your response, and Mr. Stoffer was of great help. His voice is greatly missed by the veteran community. He encouraged me to write this and his support was much needed.
He reminded me that benefits delayed are benefits denied, raising the question of why the Liberals are attacking veterans in court if they cared about them so much. He also told me that "the men and women that serve our country have the unlimited liability, and then as a grateful nation it is we that have the unlimited responsibility to them all the way to and including the headstone. Lest we forget."
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