04/17/2012 05:16 EDT | Updated 06/17/2012 05:12 EDT

Harper, Get Over Your Commitment Issues to Veterans

You can judge the quality of a person by their actions rather than their words.

That truism is so often repeated that we tend to forget its value. But whenever we begin to neglect that observation, someone comes along to remind us just how significant that statement is.

Take, as an example, the Harper government and their oft-cited commitment to veterans.

Actually, that's not accurate. It isn't "oft-cited" -- that implies there is a commitment, which many people reference. It should read "oft-repeated" -- which gives a much clearer description of what actually happens. For years, any Conservative MP, addressing the House in relation to veteran matters, has opened with something like "Mr. Speaker, the Conservative Government is committed to Canada's veterans."

Presumably, some political tactician thinks that citizens will nod OK at that point and go back to sleep, thus freeing the Harper government of all responsibility. Commitment stated; end of story. Or perhaps they are playing word games by using "commit" in a general sense, stating their emotional attachment. Or perhaps they are indicating that they feel institutionalized.

The Conservatives cannot use "commitment" in the generally-accepted governmental meaning. They can not possibly be referencing a sense of dedication and obligation. If so, they have a very strange way of demonstrating their commitment to Canada's veterans.

Budget 2012 says that Veterans Affairs will continue to make entitlements available "in the shortest possible time." Which should prove to be an interesting exercise, as the government has just cut 261 employees from the Department. That's on top of the 550 jobs already going, making for a workforce reduction of 17.5 per cent.

Faster service with 20 per cent less staff -- fewer if you count all the employees that will be on leave because of overwork. That's a magic trick Doug Henning would have been proud of. Or perhaps it's more of an illusion, in keeping with the Conservative repertoire of commitment.

Which leads me to another meaning of "commitment" -- a funeral.

Government is showing its commitment to veterans by cutting veterans' commitments.

That only looks confusing.

Well, the sentence only looks confusing. The reality is actually confusing. See if you can follow along.

In 1909, the Last Post Fund was established to ensure that Canada's veterans were buried with dignity. Even if they die in poverty and debt, the Last Post Fund is there to give a veteran a proper send off, using money from Veterans Affairs.


In reality, the Fund has had problems. Three years ago, on the Fund's 100th anniversary, then Veterans' Ombudsman Colonel Pat Stogran released a report urging Veterans Affairs to "act quickly to bring about improvements to the Funeral and Burial Program." The Fund didn't have enough funds and wasn't available to all veterans. Over a year ago, the Royal Canadian Legion was calling for more money for the Fund. Last June, current Ombudsman Guy Parent noted that the Conservatives "seem to think it would be better spent on the living."

That might be a plausibility, if they were actually spending the money on the living. But that's not the case. Because, in addition to cutting Veterans Affairs, Government just halved the operating budget of The Last Post Fund as well.

When it comes to showing its commitment to Canada's veterans, the Conservatives have just put the final nail in the coffin.

Well, half a nail.