Veterans who testified at a Commons committee this week say the parliamentary secretary for Veterans Affairs was more interested in exploring their backgrounds and whether they had ulterior motives than hearing their views on improving compensation for ex-military personnel.
Parm Gill, who is also the Conservative MP for Brampton-Springdale, queried three leaders of the Canadian Veterans Advocacy – a four-year-old group that has often been critical of the government’s treatment of veterans – about their service, their alleged ties to a union, and their political affiliation.
The two six-minute rounds of questioning by Mr. Gill at the veterans affairs committee on Thursday became heated with the veterans demanding to know how the questions were pertinent to the review of the New Veterans Charter which had been ordered by Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino and was the reason for their appearance.
The veterans said later that they believe Mr. Gill’s objective was to discredit them.
“I thought it was very upsetting,” Michael Blais, the president of the Canadian Veteran Advocacy, said Friday. “We had our medals questioned, we had our funding questioned. There were questions that had nothing to do with the subject matter we were invited to testify about and it was very uncomfortable.”
Mr. Blais said his group’s message was that the government needs to fix the New Veterans Charter, which came into effect in 2006 and provides disabled veterans with a lump-sum payment, to a maximum of just over $300,000, rather than the pension for life that was offered to previous generations of soldiers, sailors and airmen.
When asked about his line of questioning, Mr. Gill said in an e-mail: “It’s an honour to have veterans appear before the House veterans affairs committee as we review the New Veterans Charter. When veterans appear before the Committee, it is a common courtesy to hear about when and where they served, and often to thank them for this service.”
But Liberal MP Frank Valeriote, another member of the committee, raised a point of order during the meeting saying Mr. Gill’s questions were “irrelevant.” And Greg Kerr, the Conservative chair, appeared to agree saying it was time to move on.
Among other things, Mr. Gill asked the veterans to describe their military service. And he wanted to know if there was any indication on the Canadian Veterans Advocacy website of “where your organization’s funding comes from and any lobbying or political activities that your organization does.”
Mr. Blais replied that the group receives donations from veterans but he and the other and spokesmen pay much of their costs out of their own pocket. In addition, he said, there have been contributions, including a $2,000 donation two years ago from the Union of Veterans Affairs Employees.
In the second round, Mr. Gill wanted to know what percentage of the budget of the Canadian Veterans Advocacy the $2,000 from the union represented.
“We don’t raise a lot of money so, that year it was probably half,” replied Mr. Blais. “You have to understand that we may appear to be well-financed or whatever, but the reality of the situation is, from day one, we’ve been pretty well sponsoring our advocacy on our own.”
Mr. Gill then went on to ask about “any activity you have engaged in with political parties in Canada.”
Jerry Kovacs, a former officer in the reserves who has voluntarily provided the Liberals with information about veterans issues, told the committee that he worked for a number of MPs in the former Progressive Conservative Party in the ‘70s and ‘80s and also a Reform MP in 1996.
Which Mr. Blais followed by saying: “I don’t give a hoot what his political affiliation is. … because we are apolitical, end of story.”