According to a CTV News report, many veterans, including those who organized the ABC (Anyone But Conservative) campaigns during the last election are disappointed that the “pension for life” promise made to wounded vets was not kept in the 2016 budget. I actually believe the Minister, Kent Hehr, when he says that more (and I’ll wager difficult) consultations are going to be held in order to get things just right.
The problem was the original New Veterans’ Charter which was passed into law by a Liberal government back in 2005. The Charter was the result of long, detailed studies undertaken by the government with, I believe, the dual aims of:
- Making veterans’ pensions more consistent with disability pensions in the private sector; and
- Saving money ~ these studies were done while the Chrétien/Martin government was, some would say savagely, cutting transfers to the rich provinces in an ultimately successful effort to balance the budget. It made good, partisan, Liberal political sense that everyone, including wounded vets, should “pay” a fair share.
There was only one problem: the New Veterans’ Charter was, and still is, immoral. It was good politics, maybe, arguably even good policy, but it was fundamentally wrong on every human level. In 2005 we had, on the orders of the same Liberal government, troops in close combat with a cruel and violent enemy, Canadian soldiers who had enrolled in the Canadian Armed Forces under terms of service that included an implicit promise of the same sorts of veterans’ benefits as those who served in Korea enjoyed (that’s not really the right word, but …) suddenly found themselves with a whole new pension scheme that was much, much less favourable than the one that had been explained to them before deployment. In pretty much every other case when the government decided to alter pension benefits for the military, the RCMP and the public service those members who were serving before the new rules came into force were allowed to “opt-in” or “opt-out” of the new system depending upon how its advantages and disadvantages looked to them ~ we called it “grandfathering.” This option or choice, which should have been a key feature of the New Veterans’ Charter (NVC), and which would have made it morally acceptable, was missing … to make matters worse the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not fix this glaring, immoral flaw in the scheme. He could have and should have done so in 2006/07, when it would have been fairly easy, but he didn’t ~ probably on the advice of the same senior civil servants who advised on the NVC in the first place ~ and after that, it was too late, the political damage was done and could not, cannot now, I think, be easily undone.
I think I understand the arguments that the bureaucrats pout forward circa 2000 and, again, to a new, Conservative, government in 2006:
- Canadian veterans’ benefits were extraordinarily generous, especially when compared to the private sector;
- Generous veterans’ benefits were understandable after the two great wars but now, in the 21st century, we have an army of well paid professional soldiers, not young volunteers, and their overall compensation should be in line with the civilian norm; and
- Then, in the early 2000s, while we were trying to balance the budget, was the right time to do this.
I wouldn’t argue the fiscal aspects of that case with any director-general or assistant deputy minister who made it; but I would say, as I did in 2006, that it is immoral. You must not change the terms of service for something as critical as pensions when troops are in close combat with an enemy. The soldiers who fought in Afghanistan …
… are just as worthy as the soldiers who got life-long pensions in previous wars …
… it was, and remains, the government’s prerogative to change soldiers’ terms of service, but those who had joined before the bill was given royal assent in 2005 should have been “grandfathered.” Putting a handicapped man in place as Minister of Veterans’ Affairs and retired general in as Deputy Minister …
… doesn’t alter the fact that successive governments Liberal, Conservative and now Liberal again, enacted morally unjustifiable legislation and then failed, in a timely manner, to fix it.
I know what the right answer was in 2005, even in 2006 or 07 … I’m no longer sure that a simple “grandfathering” will work. I sympathize with the view that veterans’ benefits were, traditionally, very generous, perhaps overly generous in too many cases, and that there might be better alternatives … but it was wrong to implement the NVC when troops were in contact with the enemy. The NVC was, simply and irredeemably, wrong in its implementation and then, in the Harper years, wrong in its continuance. I wish Minister Hehr well in his consultations. I don’t hold out much hope for wounded veterans, but, hey, this government is tossing money about in all manner of useless directions, perhaps it can, unlike its predecessors, see the only morally acceptable course open to it … perhaps not.