There is a real crisis of leadership at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Minister must be held accountable. This government must stop blaming others and using endless spin to cover up their failures. Real leadership requires listening and responding to the concerns of veterans, yet time and time again, the Conservatives demonstrate that they are only obsessed with appearance and image valuing symbolism over substance. Here are several examples:
- The Minister’s decision to interfere with the work of the independent Privacy Commissioner who was conducting an audit of the Department and investigating breaches of privacy, including the privacy of a decorated veteran, Captain Sean Bruyea.
- The Minister interfering and halting the work of the independent Veterans Ombudsman’s investigation into breaches of privacy, notably the Conservatives snooping into the medical records of veterans who spoke out again their policies.
- The Minister’s decision to remove from the Veteran’s Review and Appeal Board a decorated veteran, Harold Leduc. This Board member was outspoken in their defence of veterans, and more often than not, applied the benefit of the doubt standard for cases being reviewed.
- The Minister’s continued failure to properly honour veterans with adequate funding for their burial costs. He oversaw the rejection of over 66% of all requests for funding. Moreover, he rejected advice from his own departmental officials when two years ago they recommended changes to the Last Post Fund. This would have resulted in improved financial support for our veterans and their families at the time of their death.
- The Minister, as noted in his own internal departmental documents, was allocated sums of money by Parliament to help with programs, including the burial costs for veterans. The Minister chose not to spend those funds approved by MPs that would have helped veterans and their families.
- The Minister’s decision instead to spend millions of dollars of departmental funding on propaganda, media backdrops, photo ops and other communications to benefit only the Minister and his government, while ignoring the needs of our veterans.
- The Conservatives fought and took our veterans to Federal Court. The current Minister failed to discontinue that court action against disabled veterans who were only fighting for their pensions – something they have earned and deserve. The Conservatives lost their case, but only after the Minister had spent more than $750,000 over five years fighting the very people he is supposed to serve and represent.
- The Minister has shut down local Veterans Affairs district offices. These offices provided veterans a place where they could meet case workers in person to discuss the issues they are facing, including pensions and benefits.
- The Minister fired 800 dedicated employees at a time when the needs of veterans are becoming ever greater. The Auditor General, in particular, has raised the alarm bells on the impact of these cuts to veterans’ services.
Veterans Week may be over, but we must continue to honour Canadians who have served in uniform by putting our veterans first. This Conservative government’s record speaks for itself, and it is an utter disgrace. Our veterans deserve better. They deserve real and immediate action from this government.
Liberal Veterans Affairs critic