There will plenty of celebration Friday and Saturday as cabinet ministers travel to air-force bases around the country to welcome home Canadian Forces personnel from a mission in Libya that saw rebels overthrow long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
The 630 members of Canada’s military are returning home from Operation Mobile and NATO-led Operation Unified Protector, which saw them enforce an arms embargo and a no-fly zone around the North African nation for most of this year.
Julian Fantino, the Associate Minister of National Defence, has been dispatched to Bagotville, Que., to greet troops Friday afternoon. Chris Alexander, the parliamentary secretary to the Defence Minister, will be waiting for them on Friday night in Trenton, Ont. And Defence Minister MacKay will be at 14 Wing Greenwood in Nova Scotia on Saturday, an event that was delayed by weather.
At exactly the same time that Mr. MacKay is shaking hands with the folks getting off the plane from Libya, veterans from Afghanistan and other conflicts will be on Parliament Hill protesting what they say are unfair benefits for people who have put their lives on the line for their country.
It is the second Veterans National Day organized by Canadian Veterans Advocacy against the New Veterans Charter, which the group says discriminates against military personnel who were injured after April, 2006 – a time when Canada suffered most of the casualties in Afghanistan.
Those hurt while on duty before that date will receive lifetime pension benefits that could amount to millions of dollars. In most cases, those injured after that date will receive a lump-sum payment that will add up to much less.
In addition, the group is concerned about planned cuts to the Veterans Affairs budget that the department says will not affect services and benefits to veterans.
“Veterans can do the math,” said Michael Blais, the founder of Canadian Veterans Advocacy. “and when the $226-million is added to the required 5 to 10 per cent – or $175-million to $350-million – ‘strategic review’ cuts, well, you can’t tell us that this won’t have any impact on benefits and services for current and future.”