02/06/2018 09:11 EST | Updated 02/06/2018 10:06 EST

Trudeau's Lack Of Empathy For Veterans Puts Us All At Risk

With a little thought, no doubt you can name at least three areas where government could find funds to spend on veterans.

The unspeakable has been spoken. The truth has finally been revealed and is being reviled. At a town hall in Edmonton on February 2, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, "Why are we still fighting against certain veterans' groups in court? Because they are asking for more than we are able to give right now."

That statement was immediately greeted with outrage from the crowd, and nearly as fast, from the veterans' online community. How dare he? How dare the prime minister make such a bold declaration?

"You are asking for honest answers," Trudeau replied.

As vile as that declaration may be, I applaud it.

Chris Wattie / Reuters
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau places a poppy at a grave during an event to mark the Veterans' Week at the National Military Cemetery in Ottawa, on Nov. 3, 2017.

I applaud it because the suggestion that we cannot afford veterans is the one thing no politician has been willing to say in public. From prime ministers, to ministers responsible, to critics, to backbenchers, not one would ever say veterans are unaffordable.

Every time an issue related to veterans has been raised, there would be a fancy political dance-n-dodge, shifting focus to some fresh program, or blame to a previous government, immediately followed by partisan attacks and recriminations, until people lost interest and veterans were yet again fighting among themselves. Issues would be lost in the barrage of verbiage. The reasoned debate of veterans was buried in a mass-grave of portrayed outrage and false promises.

So I thank Trudeau for his candor.

We do demand "honest answers." I believe that was one. Or what Ottawa honestly believes. Year after year, decade after decade, from The Great War to now, veterans have been treated as a burden on the budget.

Trudeau's suggestion that veterans groups want the whole farm is, frankly, the contents of the fertilizer bin.

In 1914, Prime Minister Borden promised that Canada would not"fail to show just appreciation of your service to the country. No man... will have just cause to reproach the government for having broken faith with the men who won and the men who died."

During the 2015 election campaign, Trudeau himself said the Liberals "would ensure that no veteran has to fight the government for the support and compensation they have earned." And yet, a century after Borden's promise, and two years after Trudeau's victory, the Crown is fighting veterans in court, denying it owes anything to veterans.

It may be honest, but that doesn't make it factual. With a little thought, no doubt you can name at least three areas where government could find funds to spend on veterans. We'll each come up with different places to cut, but the point is that the money is there if we cared enough about veterans. If we had the will, we'd find the funds.

Trudeau's suggestion that veterans groups want the whole farm is, frankly, the contents of the fertilizer bin. The veterans are seeking equality. There are veterans who were wounded in Afghanistan, where if the attack had been the previous week, they would have received a lifelong pension. But because Ottawa changed the rules while the troops were in theatre, those veterans received a far lower lump-sum award. A kiss off. Last week, your leg was worth more than this week. That's what the lawsuit is about: fairness.

Chris Wattie / Reuters
A veteran waves to the crowd as he arrives for Remembrance Day ceremonies at the National War Memorial in Ottawa on Nov. 11, 2017.

Service in Canada's military is under unlimited liability; the individual takes an oath to give their everything, their life, to the Forces. They can be ordered to die for the greater good of our nation and must comply. Whenever you hear "sacred obligation" from a veteran, this is what they mean: if Canada requires unlimited liability from the troops, logically, Canada assumes unlimited responsibility for them. Unlimited responsibility is not unlimited funds.

The legal maxim is "but for" — how would this individual's live have been but for their injuries or death? That is how civil awards are determined. Unless you were injured while serving Canada. Then, but for is tossed out the window. Your sacrifice — your limbs, organs, mind, very life — is only worth what Ottawa says it is worth. And Ottawa says it isn't worth as much now as it used to be.

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Laying aside the various moral and legal arguments, there's a basic problem with this "we can't afford veterans" position. That attitude destroys the concept of unlimited liability. It makes a lie out of the fundamental belief of our volunteer military. Canada demands unlimited liability, but puts limits on its responsibility. That's an abusive relationship, not a social contract.

This is a very dangerous game that Ottawa is playing with veterans. It's a bigger threat to national security than any foreign foe. It's already hurting us. Fewer people are enlisting because they know they won't be cared for. We are scaring away recruits. Experienced troops are quitting.

We have a crisis of people. A trained force armed with only rocks is more useful than a thousand tanks with no crew. No matter how many fighter jets, helicopters, ships, trucks or tanks are purchased, none of those vehicles will be of any use if we don't have operators. With Ottawa showing that serving Canada is a fool's game, our security faces a bigger threat from the Hill than from any foreign foe.

The question for Trudeau is not how much can we afford for veterans, it's how much security can we afford to lose?

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