05/19/2016 06:07 EDT | Updated 05/19/2016 07:59 EDT

Liberals, Tories Accuse Each Other Of Hypocrisy Over Veterans Lawsuit

"The prime minister misled veterans in the last election."

The Liberal government's decision to battle injured veterans in court has sparked accusations of hypocrisy on both sides of the House of Commons.

Two Conservative MPs, who also happen to be veterans, rose in question period on Thursday to charge that Liberals were breaking a pledge that vets would never again need to fight the government for benefits or respect.

At one point, Erin O'Toole, a veterans affairs minister under the former Conservative government, directly called out Andrew Leslie, the chief government whip. Leslie previously commanded troops in Afghanistan as a lieutenant-general.

Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr speaks in the House of Commons on May 19, 2016. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)

While Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr defended his government, he provided no explanation for its course of action after a legal truce with disabled Afghan vets expired this week.

Alupa Clarke, the Tory critic for veterans affairs and a former master bombardier, claimed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was showing "pure hypocrisy" by promising to respect ex-soldiers on the campaign trail, only to change his mind once elected.

“I find it ironic that this member opposite can stand and accuse this government of anything.”

— Veteran Affairs Minister Kent Hehr

Clarke asked for confirmation the Liberals intend to drop a legal challenge to a suit launched in 2012 by six injured veterans arguing modern soldiers wounded in battle receive less generous compensation than those who served decades before.

Hehr shot back saying, "I find it ironic that this member opposite can stand and accuse this government of anything. This came about because of years of neglect by the former government on this file."

'The prime minister misled veterans'

Hehr pointed to the $5.6-billion funding pledge, over six years, earmarked for vets in the first Liberal budget. He said the fund would provide ex-soldiers with financial security. The spending plan did not, however, mark a return to the lifetime pensions Liberals promised veterans during the election campaign.

"The truth is very clear, the prime minister misled veterans in the last election," Clarke said, adding that the previous Tory government didn't make false promises or give false hope.

"Canada needs a respectful leader, a coherent leader and not a schoolchild who manhandles his colleagues," the critic said, referring to Trudeau's dust-up in the House a day earlier.

Hehr responded by rhyming off how Tories closed nine veterans affairs offices, cut support staff, and ignored ex-soldiers for "10 long years." Vets, he said, will do much better with Liberals in charge.

Conservative MP Erin O'Toole rises during question period in the House of Commons on Feb. 23, 2016 in Ottawa. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)

O'Toole, a former captain in the Royal Canadian Air Force, then asked when Leslie would "stand up against the arrogance of his government" and stop "driving injured veterans into court." O'Toole said Leslie made a solemn vow to vets that his party would bring back lifetime pensions and other measures.

"When will chief government whip, a retired Canadian Armed Forces general, stand up and live up to the promises he made to our veterans?" O'Toole asked.

But it was the Liberals' point-man on the veterans file who responded.

Again, Hehr said he was acting on his mandate letter to improve things for veterans by, among other things, making disability awards more generous.

"It's really above the height of hypocrisy, these questions regarding this file from the former government," he said.

Mulcair to Trudeau: Show 'shred of decency'

Trudeau was not in question period Thursday but was grilled on the matter by NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair a day earlier.

The NDP leader said Liberals were taking vets to court with "the same lawyers and the same arguments" as the last government. He called it "disgusting," and pointed to a CBC News report in which the veterans' lawyer described the situation as a "betrayal."

Mulcair urged Trudeau to "show a shred of decency" and change course.

"It's really above the height of hypocrisy, these questions regarding this file from the former government."

— Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr

The prime minister said ex-soldiers deserve more than "people trying to play politics on their backs." Trudeau lauded the investments in his budget and work done by Hehr so far, while conceding there is more to do.

CBC News was first to report this week that federal lawyers informed the B.C. Court of Appeals Sunday that they would defend the lawsuit after both sides failed to settle.

The Harper government spent more than $700,000 on the lengthy court battle. In a strategy that outraged vets, federal lawyers argued Ottawa has no special obligation or "social contract" with ex-soldiers, and that it was unfair to hold that government to promises made by another prime minister nearly a century ago.

With files from The Canadian Press

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