The federal government has earmarked more than $83-million over the remainder of this decade to commemorate Canada’s military history and the exploits of its soldiers at a time when Ottawa is under fire for the level of support it offers living veterans.
The commemorative budget includes roughly $32-million for the Department of National Defence over seven years and nearly $50-million over three years at the Departments of Veterans Affairs for public education, ceremonies, events and remembrance partnerships, according to figures compiled by The Globe and Mail. The budget also includes several million dollars through the Department of Canadian Heritage, the figures show.
This funding is not a complete tally and is in addition to the tens of millions of dollars the Conservatives already dedicated to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, the conflict with the United States the government billed as “The Fight for Canada.”
National Defence has created a special program called “Operation Distinction” to oversee a spate of commemorations, chiefly important anniversaries of the First World War and Second World War. The initiative spans all the way to 2020, which will mark the 75th anniversary of the Second World War’s Victory in Europe Day and Victory over Japan Day.
Ottawa wants to use these occasions to build a “greater understanding that Canada’s development as an independent country with a unique identity stems in significant part from its achievement in times of war,” according to a January 2014 memo from Chief of the Defence Staff General Tom Lawson obtained under access-to-information law.
The government has made boosting appreciation of Canada’s military tradition a priority, in part to fashion a more conservative national identity. It’s cultivated an image as pro-military since taking power but in recent years has alienated a vocal group of veterans and their families, upset over what they consider insufficient federal support.
The government plans to draw attention to this heavy commemorative period this summer by rededicating the National War Memorial in Ottawa and greatly expanding the use of ceremonial guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The next few years will see three government departments spearhead remembrance of key battles and moments in the First and Second World Wars and other conflicts. A narrative drawn up by National Defence divides Canadian military history into three periods: The Nation Takes Shape, Major Wars of the 20th Century and The New Security Order, which spans Korea to Afghanistan.
Royal Canadian Legion Dominion president Gordon Moore, the head of Canada’s largest veterans organization, says Ottawa’s commemoration budget is “a lot of money that could be well used for veterans and their families.”
He wants enriched support for veterans’ funerals and burials and more money for personal support workers and support dogs, among other things.
“Commemoration is important but at the same time we have veterans and their families who are in need and I think it’s important the government of the day gets their act together to ensure the dollars we require for veterans now is given to them,” Mr. Moore said.
Liberal veterans affairs critic Frank Valeriote contrasts Ottawa’s hefty commemoration budget with the recent closing of nine regional Veterans Affairs offices across Canada. Ottawa shut these offices in the name of saving money, saying veterans could get help online or at Service Canada locations.
“We have to honour veterans … but it cannot be at the expense of looking after them when they get home,” Mr. Valeriote said. The Conservative government says it provides $700-million more annually for veterans today than the former Liberal government did in 2005. “Veterans Affairs spends $3.2-billion each year directly on benefits and services for Canadian veterans who have been injured in the line of duty,” says David Pierce, director of parliamentary affairs for Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino.
Some commemoration spending was obtained under access-to-information law by researcher Ken Rubin.