In my role as Veterans Affairs critic, I am on a listening tour this week visiting five cities across Western Canada to meet with veterans and stakeholders along with deputy critic Cathay Wagantall.
So far, the meetings have confirmed much of what I have been hearing since I took on this role nine months ago.
Although I was not part of the former Conservative government, I recognize veterans support was not particularly strong in recent years. In spite of record investments and more spending on the way, the relationship was on shaky ground leading up to the 2015 federal election.
Former Veterans Affairs minister Erin O’Toole was doing some very good work to rebuild trust, but having only been on the job for seven months there was not enough time to right the ship.
Liberal strategists seized the opportunity and the campaign machine kicked into high gear, making lofty promises to woo veterans.
Justin Trudeau said veterans would immediately return to a lifelong pension if he became prime minister, and for many vets that sealed the deal. Just like that, Liberals had their vote in 2015.
However, soon after the election, the government’s narrative on pensions began to evolve. They changed the way they spoke about a return to lifelong pensions and started referring to it as “an option.” They said they were working hard on the file, but after more than two years, little progress has been made.
Candidate Trudeau, with his hand over his heart, was also unequivocal that veterans would not have to fight their government in court, referring to the Equitas lawsuit launched in late 2013.
That lawsuit was put on hold in May 2015 when O’Toole, as minister, worked with the plaintiffs to find resolution.
Despite this goodwill effort, less than a year later Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took our veterans back to court.
Those two reasons alone have vets up in arms and the recent Omar Khadr settlement has only poured gas on that fire. Most Canadians are unhappy with the payout and veterans are among the most vocal. Our veterans have served us proudly and decisions like this are a disrespectful slap in the face to many of them.
Regardless of the election result, previous failures to communicate properly or the fact that most issues facing vets stretch back decades, as a country we must do better for veterans. Unfortunately what veterans are telling me these days is that they feel blind-sided and betrayed by Trudeau.
Moving forward, I welcome further constructive dialogue and when Parliament resumes, the government will hear more from me on how we can better support our veterans. I sincerely hope the Liberals will listen.
On another note, join me this Saturday from noon until 2 p.m. at the Stroud Arena in Innisfil for my second annual Barrie-Innisfil Community BBQ. It’s free to attend and we will have lots of food and activities for kids of all ages, including me in the dunk tank for charity.
Hope to see you there!