Veterans on the chopping block?

It looks like Veteran’s Affairs will not be spared from the cuts planned by the Harper government (Jeff Davis, “Veterans decry MP vote on budget cuts as a ‘travesty’,” Calgary Herald, 6 March 2012):

The Harper government blocked an NDP motion asking that support for veterans be spared from upcoming budget cuts Tuesday, a motion Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney called “useless.”

The motion was defeated by a margin of 147 to 122. All opposition MPs voted in support of the motion, while the Conservatives voted unanimously against it.

“There’s so many guys that have died in the last conflict for this government, and the government has more or less spit in the veterans’ faces,” veterans advocate Dan Slack said following the vote.

“It’s bullshit.”

Dozens of veterans representing every major conflict Canada has participated in since the Second World War packed the House of Commons galleries Tuesday night to watch the vote. Some were very aged, some came in wheelchairs or on crutches, but all proudly displayed their medals.

The government’s relationship with veterans has been fraught; it has clashed publicly with its own veterans ombudsman about the support provided to veterans. There are concerns that the planned cuts will make the situation worse (Gloria Galloway, “Spare veterans from budget axe, opposition says,” Globe and Mail, 5 March 2012):

The government has said it will reduce the budget of the Veterans Affairs department by $226-million over two years, arguing that the money is no longer needed because the number of traditional veterans from the Second World War and Korea will decline significantly over the next five years as they succumb to old age.

In addition, the department is facing the same cuts of between 5 per cent and 10 per cent that will affect all departments as the government looks to balance the books.

In a recent incident that many are calling symbolic of this government’s approach to veterans,  Conservative MP Rob Anders reportedly fell asleep in a committee hearing on homeless veterans and then accused the two veterans who were presenting of being “NDP Hacks” and supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin (David Pugliese, “Should Conservative MP Rob Anders Resign for What He Said About Veterans?Ottawa Citizen Defence Watch, 7 March 2012):

The men, Jim Lowther and David MacLeod, volunteer their time and money to work with homeless veterans. They were the ones who had originally complained that Anders fell asleep during their recent presentation to the committee about homeless former soldiers and what can be done to help them.

But Anders denied he fell asleep and then accused the two men of supporting Putin and working for the NDP. (Both veterans in question are Conservative supporters).

To get comment about where Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney stood in all this, Defence Watch phoned and emailed his communications official Codie Taylor…..But Taylor never bothered to return the call or emails.

It didn’t matter. Blaney signaled his position on Monday when he was front and centre in defending Anders. He suggested the matter was settled since Anders apologized.

Not so fast, came the response from veterans. Anders’ original apology didn’t even mention Lowther and MacLeod. Nor did he phone them. Instead, he shipped off a statement to the Ottawa press gallery around 9:20 p.m. last Friday night. Not surprising, the veterans rejected that.

As veterans continued to seeth, Anders rose in the Commons on Tuesday to give it another try, this time with a very brief apology that included mention of Lowther and MacLeod.

But veterans are saying it’s too little, too late. They want Anders to resign from the Commons committee, arguing that he doesn’t have the best interests of former military personnel at heart.

Mr. Anders is well known for sleeping on the job. Here he is falling asleep in the house of commons:

DND Photo

Tags: New Veteran's Charter, Rob Anders, veterans