If you want to know the true character of any government, don’t look to what its leaders say they will do, but rather what they actually do.
And for a government that was supposed to right the wrongs of the old Liberal regime and show better respect to Canada’s military population, the federal Conservatives have done precious little to endear themselves to Canada’s veterans.
Oh sure, there has been a lot of lip service from the Tories. In 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper launched Veterans Week in a speech at the Canadian War Museum. As Harper’s own government website states, he spoke of Canada’s long tradition of honouring and remembering those who have given their lives “in defence of the nation and its values.”
He and Defence Minister Peter MacKay have made several trips to Afghanistan over the years, dressed up in military fatigues, and even restored the “royal” monikers to Canada’s navy and air force. During a stopover in Brandon in 2008, MacKay even told members of the Brandon Chamber of Commerce that the federal Conservative minority government had “put the shine” back on the Canadian Forces.
“It’s certainly true that it’s a good time to be in the Canadian Forces,” he said that day. “I think our government has done more over the last two and a half years to re-equip our forces, to support them in tangible ways, than any government we have seen in decades.”
These days though, that shine has been all but obscured by a series of contentious policy and budgetary missteps that have put many veterans and active soldiers on the offensive.
Two years ago, the Harper government enacted a new Veterans Charter that was supposed to change how veterans’ benefits and services work. The charter quickly became a hot-button issue among veterans, who were angry that injured vets were to no longer receive a monthly disability pension for life. Instead, they were to be given a one-time payment of up to $276,000, based on the level of disability.
After promising additional funds for injured veterans, a move that calmed some of the public outcry against the government, the Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act, Bill C-55 received royal assent in March, 2011.
Then on Monday, The Canadian Press reported that the Conservatives were in full damage control after Canada’s veterans ombudsman accused a review agency of being secretive and unfair to ex-soldiers in search of benefits.
Federal Court challenges arising out of decisions from the Veterans Review and Appeal Board were the subject of an exhaustive study by the ombudsman office.
In his report, Ombudsman Guy Parent wrote that 60 per cent of the cases were returned to the agency, which is supposed to provide veterans fair, sympathetic hearings because it did not give veterans the benefit of the doubt and did not generously interpret the law surrounding compensation.
While the Conservatives have made support for Canadian veterans and soldiers a cornerstone of their government policy, the report accused the board of often leaving applicants in the dark about reasons for its decisions and not disclosing to veterans what medical information it used as the basis for its ruling.
Also this week, news broke that Cpl. Steven Stoesz from CFB Shilo was forced to defy orders from his superiors not to talk to the news media about the poor level of health services available to troops.
On Sunday, he told CTV’s “Question Period” that mental-health professionals at CFB Shilo are overworked and soldiers face a lengthy delay in getting help.
“Shilo is overwhelmed,” he said.
According to the Ottawa Citizen, Stoetz was injured in IED blasts in Afghanistan and detailed an uphill battle to get help — both physical care and mental therapy — at Shilo.
His comments follow the Conservative government’s decision to consider cuts to the jobs of health professionals involved in post-traumatic stress disorder research and suicide prevention.
If this federal government holds a great amount of respect for the men and women who have fought for their country, it sure has an odd way of showing it.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 9, 2012