A sacred duty?

The Toronto Star argues, in an editorial, that “There is no commitment in this country like the one made by Canadian soldiers going to war. They accept the very concrete possibility of being killed, maimed, and psychologically damaged in the service of the nation. They don’t choose when and where they’ll fight, but rather do so at the behest of the government and on our behalf … [and] … As Seamus O’Regan takes the helm of Veterans Affairs following Monday’s cabinet shuffle, he inherits the duty of acknowledging and rewarding that commitment. He will have a long task ahead of him: principal among his obligations will be to resolve the ignoble squabble between the federal government of Canada and injured veterans who wish to see the return of lifetime pensions for soldiers wounded while serving Canada.” I agree, fully, with the first bit; I also agree that the “squabble” ~ the Star’s editorial Board really could have picked a better word ~ between injured veterans and the Government of Canada is “ignoble.

I will not argue for any specific benefit package. I have heard from many people, including ones I trust on this issue, that life-long pensions are not the best or, at least, not the only answer for some (many?) vets. The problem, as far as I am concerned, is that the New Veterans’ Charter, which was introduced in 2005 by the Paul Martin (Liberal) government, despite having broad support including Conservative political support, and while having many added benefits, was introduced in an immoral fashion.

Normally, when the Government of Canada changes military benefits, including pension schemes, those who were serving before the changes are made are given an option to be “grandfathered” under the previous existing scheme or to opt in to the new one. When the New Veterans’ Charter was introduced, in 2006, we had troops in close combat with a deadly enemy and ALL those troops had joined with an implicit promise of certain, life-long, veterans’ benefits. It doesn’t matter if the Paul Martin (Liberal) government honestly and sincerely believed that the new benefits scheme was better in every single respect, they should have given all members serving at the time the right to opt in to the new package or opt out and remain with the old scheme. That was the moral thing to do. The Liberals failed.

I am very, very certain that officials in Finance, the Treasury Board and Veterans’ Affairs have told the cabinet that changing back to life-long pensions will be too costly and too complex and Seamus O’Regan will hear the same thing very, very soon.

The Star concludes that “The new minister inherits a small department with an extremely important mandate: to adequately compensate these public servants for their extraordinary contribution. He has both the opportunity and the obligation to make real all of the high-sounding rhetoric veterans have heard from too many successive governments. If Trudeau truly believes in this country’s sacred duty to veterans, then he must empower his ministers to act in accordance with that obligation … [and] … It now falls to O’Regan to lead Veterans Affairs out of ignominy by retiring the “no sacred duty” legal defence and taking action to restore livable lifetime pensions. If we can profit as a country from putting soldiers in harm’s way, surely we can find the resources to take care of them once they return.” I see two problems:

  • The first problem is that I really, really doubt that Prime Minister Trudeau gives a tinker’s dam about veterans; and
  • The “no sacred duty” legal argument is not as easy as it looks, either. I believe that there is a real fear in government that if a court ever agrees that the government has a “sacred duty” to any one group, even to injured vets, that there will be an never-ending line up of groups also demanding to be the beneficiaries of equally “sacred” trusts and, therefore, to having a priority claim of the public purse.

Veterans were treated immorally by Paul Martin’s government. Veterans felt insulted by the Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau governments’ “no sacred duty” legal argument. I suspect, in fact I’m pretty sure, that Seamus O’Regan is in cabinet for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with veterans or with his a ability to sort out a 10 year old problem, and I also think that his leader just wants the problem to go away, quietly and cheaply.

CRI_rS4UAAA9H9WThe core issue is about values: the Martin Liberals failed the moral test; the Trudeau Liberals don’t want to reopen a potentially expensive political can of worms. That’s the real change for which too many Canadians voted in 2015.


3 thoughts on “A sacred duty?”

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