The New Democrats are fighting to be the champion of Canada's veterans, promising an improved system of compensation for recent veterans as well as enhanced benefits and services.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said Monday that an NDP government would reopen the nine Veterans Affairs offices that were closed last year by the Conservatives and provide nearly half a billion dollars in additional support to veterans over the next four years. That includes a promise to develop a "one-veteran, one-standard" policy that would treat all veterans equally.
Many recent veterans say they are unfairly compensated under the New Veterans Charter, which became law in 2006 and replaced a system of lifetime pensions for disabled vets with one that is largely based on lump-sum payments. The NDP is promising to review, update and improve that charter along with making a slew of other changes that include ending pension clawbacks, increasing survivors' pensions, and improving mental-health supports.
"The very least that our veterans deserve is a government that values the work that they do and stands shoulder to shoulder with them to deliver the support that they need," said Mr. Mulcair, whose Veterans Affairs platform would cost $454-million over the next four years.
The Conservative government's treatment of military men and women injured in the line of duty has been the target of complaints over the past five years. The New Democrats and the Liberals both say the government did not do enough.
"Ask our veterans and they will tell you about nine years of disrespect they've seen from Stephen Harper. It's a record unworthy of a prime minister," Mr. Mulcair said at a campaign event at a legion hall in Halifax.
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said he was puzzled by the NDP announcement because most of the promises being made by Mr. Mulcair are already priority items for the government.
Mr. Mulcair's plan, which is constrained by a pledge to balance the budget, is competing with the Liberal strategy for veterans that was announced by Leader Justin Trudeau in August. Mr. Trudeau, who says he will run modest deficits in the first three years of a Liberal mandate, is offering to spend $300-million more a year to help Canada's disabled vets.
The Liberals would also reopen the shuttered Veterans Affairs offices and are promising significant increases to the compensation package for veterans who fall under the New Veterans Charter.
Michael Blais, the founder of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, described the Liberal pledge as extraordinary and said it would put significantly more money in the pockets of disabled vets.
But Ron Clarke, a veteran who launched an Anyone But Conservative campaign outside the closed Veterans Affairs office in Sydney, N.S., this summer, said the NDP plan is also great. "I think that Mr. Mulcair has hit the nail on the head," Mr. Clarke said.
The promises of better compensation for veterans comes as defence issues have become prevalent on the campaign trails.
Mr. Trudeau has said he would end the costly plan to replace Canada's aging fleet of CF-18 aircraft with 65 Lockheed Martin's F-35 fighter jets, and instead focus on rebuilding the Canadian navy.
On Monday, Mr. Harper dismissed the notion of scrapping the purchase, saying he doesn't know what planet the Liberal Leader is living on.
"The Liberal Party says they want to create jobs, want to build our manufacturing sector. The single biggest direct thing the government of Canada does in the manufacturing sector is we do government procurement and particularly we do defence procurement," said Mr. Harper.
"We are obviously involved in this contract, which is critical to our aerospace industry, and the aerospace industry says so," he said. "All of our shipbuilders are up to their eyeballs in work because we have the largest shipbuilding program in history. So he's not giving them anything, he's not giving shipbuilding anything. He's merely talking about cratering our aerospace industry."