A threat to our national security

Many thanks to my friend Tony Prudori for posting this article. The topic has also been under discussion on Army.ca where members focused on this bit from the report: “If we don’t change the position and the approach we have, I think the conversation is going to change away from transitioning members to national security.

I have worried about this before. My concern was not and still is not with the veterans benefits themselves. There are arguments for and against life-long pensions and large cash payouts and while I do have an opinion about one way or the other, my views don’t matter ~ there is merit on all sides: politics is about making choices. My complaint has been, since 2005, that the way the New Veterans Charter was introduced, by the Liberals, but with CPC support, was, and remains, immoral.

When I was serving (starting almost 60 years ago) whenever changes were made to e.g. our pensions and other “terms of service” those of us actually serving were given a choice: take the new plan or be “grandfathered” (as the term was) and remain under the old plan or terms of service. In other words, the new system applied, fully, to anyone who joined the day after the new system was put in place but we, who were serving, had a choice. In 2005 we had Canadians soldiers in close combat with a deadly enemy, in Afghanistan, and our men and women were being killed and grievously wounded but the Liberal government of the day altered the pension benefits available to wounded soldiers without offering them an option to remain under the “terms of service” under which they had signed up … it was fundamentally immoral, there is no other word chretien_ballspierre-trudeaufor it. It displayed a deep seated contempt for the men and women who wear the Canadian Forces’ uniforms. That contempt predates Prime Minister Martin and his VA Minister Albina Guarnieri, it goes back through Jean Chrétien to Pierre Trudeau, both of whom displayed, more than once, their personal contempt for the military. In the fifty years since Mike Pearson stepped down it has, pretty much, become part of the Liberal political DNA.

The issue that the ombudsman raises is fair and pertinent: the Canadian Forces needs to be able to recruit, train and retain the right kinds of people for its many and varied roles ~ some, many of which involve risking life and limb. Pay is always a big “motivator,” and military pay is, as it should be, not too bad; but pay is just one part of a broader “benefits” and “quality of life” package that should make the military a “career of choice” for many Canadians. Many of those benefits have been deeply eroded as bureaucrats, often spurred on by unions, including civil service unions, and social activists who were jealous of some of the benefits that CF members enjoyed, have whittled away at the benefits packages until pay and pensions are about all that remain.

Many years ago soldiers could count on the service to look after them as they retired and to keep them in the “family.” As the ombudsman reports that is falling away. It costs a bit of money to make the system work “for” people instead of making people work to satisfy the system and sometimes it requires other government departments, who have no great love for the military, to get off their bums and do some of that work. What is happening, right now, is that many young people who are horseshoe-nail-3inclined to join the CF are hearing and reading about lost pensions and inadequate post-service medical care and they are deciding to make their careers elsewhere. For want of a nail, and all that … I have explained before that a good military force needs good equipment and good command and control (C²) and good policies and so on, but, above all else, it needs good people. The right people are the horseshoe nail without which everything else can be lost. My friends on Army.ca are right: how we treat, or mistreat our veterans and soldiers making the transition back to “civvy street” can have a profound impact on our ability to recruit and retain the people we need.

It will cost some money to fix these things, hundreds of millions, certainly, over time, if pensions have to be adjusted “back” for those who served prior to 2005, but it is well within the remit of a handful of people in Ottawa …

… including Ministers Sajjan and Hehr, Treasury Board President Brison, some deputies and the Clerk of the Privy Council, all of whom need to apply some leadership and, quite probably, need to knock a few political, bureaucratic and military heads together and also explain to Team Trudeau …

… that treating veterans and serving military members fairly, even generously, can pay dividends at the polls or that, at the very least, being perceived to be mistreating wounded vets can cost votes.

It was way back in the 1960s that a whole suite of government polices were put in place that aimed to reshape the Canadian military into a career oriented force that was tied, fairly closely, to the public service in terms of pay and benefits. Serving members were allowed to opt out of some of those changes but most were universal. The aim was to make personnel management better and, by and large, it did. But the military members were expected to “pay” for their new, better, pay and benefits and, over the years, everything from free flights on military passenger aircraft for members and their families to “free” room and board for single soldiers went by the wayside. I’m not suggesting that we want to go all the way back but the ministers and their deputies need to listen to serving military members and veterans and do what they can to make conditions of service, the transition to retirement, pensions and post retirement medical care better. It is not just about being fair, it is also a question of national security.

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