The Conservative government is being accused of misleading Canadians after saying it would spend $200-million over the next six years on mental-health services for veterans when it actually planned to stretch the money over decades.
The announcement of new and expanded mental-health initiatives for veterans, military members and their families was made by three federal cabinet ministers last Sunday morning in Halifax. It came two days before Auditor-General Michael Ferguson released a report saying many vets are waiting months – and in some cases years – to access mental-health disability benefits.
"Earlier this week, the Auditor-General blew the whistle on the Conservatives' pitiful record when it comes to helping injured veterans. But adding insult to injury, the money they promised to veterans in a face-saving measure will actually spread over, not five years, but over 50 years," Libby Davies, the deputy leader of the New Democrats told the House of Commons on Friday. "Conservatives misled the House, they misled the public, and they misled veterans."
In a news release issued to coincide with the Sunday announcement, the government said it "has committed to providing an additional investment of approximately $200-million over the next six years. …"
That document was removed from the Veterans Affairs website after staff in the office of Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino told The Globe and Mail that $140.1-million of the money announced Sunday will be spread over the duration of the operational stress injury program. And that, they said, could take 50 years because the funds will be available to all veterans who are currently in the program for as long as the program lasts.
Mr. Fantino is in Italy on official business this week and has not answered questions about the Auditor-General's report or the funding. But Parm Gill, the parliamentary secretary for veterans affairs, suggested to the House on Friday that releasing the money over a protracted period will be a good thing.
"The investment announced by our government will not only help today's veterans," said Mr. Gill, "this will also help veterans of the future." He also pointed out that the Conservative government's announcement this week will add eight additional operational stress injury clinics.
But the opposition did not accept Mr. Gill's positive spin.
The Conservatives "said that the $200-million that they promised for veterans would be spent over a period of six years but we now know that these funds will spent over a period of 50 years," said Liberal MP John McCallum. "How can the government defend such subterfuge?"
Bruce Poulin, a spokesman for the Royal Canadian Legion, said his group is not disappointed to learn it could take decades for some of the mental-health money announced this week to reach veterans. "It's reassuring to know that these programs will not just be a fly-by-night operation."
But Scott Maxwell, the executive director of Wounded Warriors Canada, a veterans advocacy group, said he almost fell off his chair when he heard the money could be stretched over 50 years.
"That number has never been mentioned in any briefing, in any press release or conference," he said. "It always was meant to look like it was going to come in a six-year funding roll out, which was encouraging because it is not an unsubstantial amount of money in particular areas that we know the funding is needed."