When it comes to its dealings with Canada’s Armed Forces veterans, the Harper government has a tendency to display multiple personalities. On Remembrance Day, there are the reverent, tradition-minded Conservatives who have poured millions into celebrating this country’s past military exploits and who never miss the chance to reaffirm the debt we all owe to the men and women who defend our liberties.
Call this Captain Jekyll. Then there is Minister Hyde: the coldly calculating technocrat who has cut disability payments for modern-era veterans, left critical services underfunded, and even argued in court that the federal government has no moral obligation toward its veterans. It would be nice to know which federal government is pinning a poppy to its lapel today.
A year ago, Ottawa was under fire for failing to properly fund The Last Post Fund, a non-profit organization that administers Veterans Affairs Canada’s Funeral and Burial Program. The fund has resorted to private donations to ensure all former soldiers, some of whom are impoverished to the point of homelessness, are given a proper burial.
During the summer, the Harper government was again facing criticism, after Justice Department lawyers argued in court that Ottawa has no particular moral or social obligation to veterans. It was a counter-argument to a suit filed by six veterans attempting to overturn new rules governing the compensation of personnel wounded in the line of duty, and it stung veterans that Ottawa would take such a stand.
Last month, the Veterans Ombudsman said those new compensation rules would leave more than 400 severely disabled veterans in poverty after the age of 65. The Ombudsman also said the changes are a net financial loss to the veterans of recent conflicts, and “improvements are required.” If all that weren’t enough, two weeks ago Ottawa was accused by veterans of deliberately discharging wounded servicemen and women just months before they became eligible for a pension, as a cost-saving move.
That the Harper government cares about the past contributions of our men and women in uniform is not in doubt. But veterans can be forgiven this Remembrance Day for wondering whether that same government cares quite as much about their future.