Lib­er­als look to buy peace with vet­er­ans

National Post (Latest Edition) - - CANADA - John I vi s on Com­ment

Frus­trated vet­er­ans took to Par­lia­ment Hill Thurs­day say­ing the Lib­er­als are on their last warn­ing. “They need to re­turn to life­long pen­sions or their cred­i­bil­ity with the vet­eran com­mu­nity will die,” said re­tired ma­jor Mark Camp­bell, who lost both legs in Afghanistan.

The words will have raised hairs on the back of Lib­eral necks.

No group has the power to in­flict dam­age on a sit­ting gov­ern­ment in as dev­as­tat­ing a fash­ion as irate vet­er­ans — as for­mer Con­ser­va­tive min­is­ter Ju­lian Fantino would tes­tify. His ca­reer never re­cov­ered af­ter he turned up late for a meet­ing with vet­er­ans and then stormed out when he was told he was talk­ing “hog­wash.”

The Tories were never more de­rided than af­ter the story broke that one dou­ble am­putee said he was forced to prove to Vet­er­ans Af­fairs that his limbs hadn’t grown back. The story riled peo­ple not nor­mally moved by pol­i­tics.

“It makes me sick and I think I’m vot­ing Lib­eral,” said one caller to CHEZ 106FM in Ot­tawa, whose lis­ten­ers nor­mal as­so­ciate pro­gres­sive ideas with Pink Floyd.

The Lib­er­als en­tered of­fice with a finely de­vel­oped sense of self- preser­va­tion and im­me­di­ately at­tempted to in­gra­ti­ate them­selves with vet­er­ans.

Kent Hehr was ap­pointed min­is­ter — the idea ap­par­ently be­ing that a man in a wheel­chair would be more likely to form em­pa­thetic re­la­tion­ships with wounded sol­diers.

Money was thrown at the prob­lem — lots of money. In fact, one in four of the new dol­lars spent by this gov­ern­ment in its first two bud­gets was on vet­er­ans — a to­tal of $ 6.3 bil­lion. Last April, when a new ben­e­fit en­hance­ment was be­ing im­ple­mented, $ 500 mil­lion was spent in one day.

Yet the largesse gen­er­ated lit­tle pos­i­tive cov­er­age and did not pre­vent vet­er­ans ad­vo­cates ar­riv­ing in Ot­tawa this week, warn­ing the Lib­er­als that they might soon get the same treat­ment as that meted out to the Con­ser­va­tives.

So why has the vet­er­ans is­sue bub­bled up again?

For one thing, the Lib­er­als are con­tin­u­ing to fight as de­fen­dants in the Equitas class ac­tion law­suit, in which they main­tain that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has no le­gal obli­ga­tion to its ex-sol­diers.

For an­other, the elec­tion pledge to re- es­tab­lish life­long pen­sions as an op­tion for in­jured vet­er­ans re­mains un­ful­filled.

In the last bud­get, the Lib­er­als said they were de­vel­op­ing these pen­sions and would an­nounce de­tails this cal­en­dar year.

It seems the pres­ence of vet­er­ans on the Hill was a re­minder that they ex­pect the prom­ise to be hon­oured.

It is un­der­stood that the prom­ise soon will be — and it is ex­pected to cost fur­ther bil­lions, giv­ing younger vet­er­ans like Mark Camp­bell the op­tion of re­ceiv­ing tax- free monthly pay­ments for the rest of his life, rather than a lump sum, capped at $360,000, that is on offer un­der the new vet­er­ans char­ter brought in with all- party par­lia­men­tary sup­port in 2005.

The B.C. Court of Ap­peal has not yet ruled in the Equitas court ac­tion — per­haps in the hope that the griev­ances raised may be ad­dressed by gov­ern­ment pol­icy.

The plain­tiffs can be for­given for their anger at gov­ern­ment du­plic­ity in the case — Lib­eral MPs joined their col­leagues from other par­ties in vot­ing for a House of Com­mons mo­tion af­firm­ing the gov­ern­ment’s moral, so­cial, le­gal and fidu­ciary obli­ga­tion to vet­er­ans. Yet lawyers later dis­puted any “duty of care” prin­ci­ple, ar­gu­ing the mo­tion should not bind the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

No amount of money can com­pen­sate some­one like Camp­bell, whose fam­ily was trau­ma­tized by him los­ing his legs to an IED in Afghanistan in 2008.

As he has de­scribed it, his 11- year- old son saw “his su­per­hero” left with­out legs; his wife was driven to a ner­vous break­down by the “be­trayal” by the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment.

The re­turn to a life­long monthly pen­sion plan will go a long way to restor­ing the so­cial con­tract be­tween Canada and the men and women it sends into harm’s way. The happy co­in­ci­dence from the Lib­eral per­spec­tive is that the best part of $ 10 bil­lion will likely buy them peace with a group that has brought pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ments to their knees.

SEAN KIL­PATRICK / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Afghanistan vet­eran and re­tired ma­jor Mark Camp­bell, right, joins a group of ­vet­er­ans on Par­lia­ment Hill on Thurs­day. No group has the power to in­flict ­dam­age on a gov­ern­ment like irate vet­er­ans, writes John Ivi­son.

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