OTTAWA — The resignation of the minister Jody Wilson-Raybould this week has fuelled the frustration, the disappointment and the anger of veterans who claim to have been ignored and betrayed by the Trudeau government.
During the last federal election in 2015, the liberals had greatly courted the former canadian military with a promise to improve the delivery of services and the restoration of a pension permanent disability for veterans after years of cuts and inaction of the conservatives.
This board, created for the first time after the First world War, was abolished by the conservative government with the unanimous support of the House of commons in 2006 and was replaced by a series of programs for the rehabilitation and financial compensation for injured soldiers.
Since then, the liberal government has counted three ministers of veterans affairs in as many years: Kent Hehr, Seamus O’regan and Jody Wilson-Raybould. The service provision has been improved little while the commitments on the disability pension have not been met.
Some benefits have been increased. The Trudeau government also unveiled its own programme, Pension for life, which shall enter into force from 1 April. For veterans, this program is well short of the commitments the liberals.
“We are mainly concerned about the treason that represents the non-respect of commitments by Justin Trudeau in 2015”, underlined the president of the national Council of veterans associations of Canada, Brian Forbes, who represents more than 60 groups of ex-combatants.
“It feels very much within the veteran community”, he added.
The liberal government is also accused of having ignored the various advisory groups departmental and other mechanisms put in place after the 2015 elections in order to solicit the reactions of the veterans about their needs and concerns.
The veterans were already unhappy before the department is entrusted to Ms. Wilson-Raybould, in replacement of Mr. O’regan, on the 14th of January.
In the wake of the resignation of Ms. Wilson-Raybould, in the wake of the controversy surrounding possible legal action against the firm SNC-Lavalin, many veterans feel they have been forgotten. In the meantime, the responsibility of this ministry has been entrusted temporarily to the minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan.
“It is as if the veterans were the last priority of this story,” said Aaron Bedard, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who had led a court battle to be unsuccessful against the government to restore the former disability pension. “We no longer have a minister of veterans affairs.”
The veterans have also tired of the instability in the department of veterans affairs. Over the past ten years, seven ministers have marched to this post, not to mention Mr. Sajjan.
This in itself creates difficulties, has supported Scott Maxwell, executive director of Wounded Warriors Canada, a non-profit organization that helps ex-servicemen with mental health problems, because the new ministers take time to be reflected in the records.
“It just makes the job difficult”,said Mr Maxwell in an interview at the beginning of the month, before the resignation of Ms. Wilson-Raybould. For us, it is like an obstacle that must be considered.
Not to mention that the arrival of Ms. Wilson-Raybould has been perceived by many observers as a demotion for her.
“When it is said that one is demoted and sent to the department of veterans affairs, it is a slap in the face to us, said a former Afghan war, Daniel Tremblay. This should be a promotion, not a demotion. This way, you will be sure that this person will want to be in this position and will take care of us.”
It is difficult to assess the impact of the concerns of veterans on the federal elections, given that they are scattered throughout the country, but anecdotal evidence suggests that many of them voted liberal in 2015, mainly because of the promise of a disability pension.
This is likely to change in October, but who will benefit ?
Several are still rigour to the conservatives for the cuts that have occurred under the Harper government.
“The folder is poorly managed for a decade or more,” said David MacLeod, a veteran of Nova Scotia, who was forced to leave the army in 2010 for health reasons. Because of this poor management, I would argue, none of the main political parties in the upcoming elections. I will vote for one of the smaller parties or an independent candidate credible.