TORONTO — An email being circulated among former Canadian soldiers suggests federal Conservatives are looking for a few happy, satisfied veterans to appear in television ads backing the prime minister, The Canadian Press has learned.
The email appears to have been written by Kris Sims, who is on leave from her role as director of communications for Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O'Toole in order to work for the party during the campaign.
In it, she asks to be connected with ex-soldiers who are willing to appear on camera and prepared "to say in their own words why (Stephen) Harper is the best choice for Canada, based on their military experience and the threats we face in the world."
The email, a copy of which was obtained by The Canadian Press, goes on to say it is intended to counter Public Service Alliance of Canada ads that "say the NDP and Liberals are the best for Canadian Armed Forces Veterans."
Conservative party officials were asked about the email and shown its contents. Spokesman Stephen Lecce would say only the party doesn't comment on "campaign strategy."
It's another sign of how much heat the governing Conservatives are feeling over the treatment of ex-soldiers. Prior to calling the Oct. 19 election, the Harper government embarked on a series of reforms to benefits and services for not only those who served, but their families.
Earlier this summer, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) launched an ad campaign entitled Vote to Stop the Cuts, but the president of the wing representing veterans employees denied they were trying to drum up support for opposition parties.
"Our campaign was not really designed to ask anyone to vote for any particular party," said Carl Gannon. "It was designed to provide facts on what the staffing, budget cuts and office closures have done to (Veterans Affairs Canada) and it's ability to provide services that veterans relied upon."
Some disgruntled veterans are running an Anyone But Conservative campaign, but Gannon says it has nothing to do with the union.
"We felt we needed to fight the rhetoric being promulgated by the Conservative Party of Canada as we felt it was dangerous and didn't even remotely reflect the actualities that vets were living," said Gannon.
The appeal for happy volunteers comes just days after the Liberals unveiled a $300-million-per-year plan aimed at addressing all of the long-standing grievances of veterans over pensions and support.
It's clear, however, that both Conservatives and the Liberals are furiously courting the vocal constituency, whose default vote would have been for Harper in bygone days.
Some of the government's most strident critics were briefed on the Liberal plan at least a week before it was unveiled and were present in Belleville, Ont., when it was unveiled.
They also got a peek at specific policy details not made public, either by Justin Trudeau — or on the party's website. Debriefs of those conversations are circulating online in the advocate community and Liberal officials, speaking on background, say they are an accurate representation of the talks that were held.
On the issue of returning the wounded to a system of life-time pensions, advocates were told the disparity between the compensation peacekeepers received and the lesser awards given to Afghan combat veterans will be eliminated. The change will be "fully retroactive" to 2006 when the Conservative government enacted the new system.
Mike Blais, president of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, wrote in a Facebook post that another sore point related to the clawback of insurance payments under Veterans Affairs will be rectified.
The Harper government chose to stop defending itself in a class-action lawsuit by soldiers as it related to the disability awards system at National Defence. The payments of injured soldiers were treated as income and clawed back, but the Federal Court found that to be discriminatory.
Soldiers who'd lost income under the Defence Department plan were compensated going back to 1976 in a $887 million settlement, but under the Veterans Affairs system the redress only went back to 2012. Blais says the Liberals are promising to take that back to 2006, when benefits were overhauled.
It is not clear how much that would cost, but sources within the Veterans Affairs Department say it could be an expensive proposition that sets a precedent and many implications for other programs, such as the decades-old war veterans allowance.
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