OTTAWA – Leader’s Ledger – This past week the Conservative government of Stephen Harper defeated a New Democrat motion to help Canada’s veterans during what is sure to be a slash burn budget process this spring.
The Conservatives defeated the following non-binding motion that my New Democrat colleagues and I tabled this week; “That, in the opinion of this House, the government should: a) honour the service of Canadian military and RCMP veterans and their families by committing to not cut Veterans Affairs Canada in the upcoming budget; and b) provide programs and services to all military and RCMP veterans and their families in a timely and comprehensive manner.” I’m not sure what part was the most offensive to Harper’s gang, the not-cutting Veterans Affairs portion, or the idea of providing timely service.
As part of the Conservative government’s spending review and desire to cut its massive budget deficit, each department has been asked to cut between 5 and 10 percent from their annual budget. A cut of that size will amount to about $226 million from the Veterans Affairs, which pays out about 90 percent of its budget directly to veterans. If the payments and benefits aren’t reduced, then the budget reduction will mean a loss of about 500 jobs out of the 4,100 positions in the department that delivers services to more than 750,000 living veterans across Canada. We know that you simply can’t cut the Veterans Affairs’ budget without also cutting the quality of services provided to retired personnel, so we believe that the Conservatives should first consider shelving their $15-25 billion purchase of 65 F-35 jets, or at least reducing the purchase by one jet to save the $226 million needed.
The defeat of our motion has really exposed a chasm between the values held by the Conservative Party and those held by Canada’s New Democrats. It has also raised the fundamental question; ‘what does it mean to ‘support the troops?’
If you are a Conservative partisan or Member of Parliament, then it would appear that ‘supporting our troops’ means that you believe in sending them into battle frequently, often illegally, and buying the most expensive military hardware on the market in support of those efforts. That’s seems to be it really. If you think it is unwise to spend $15-25 billion on just 65 new F-35’s that can’t fly in the arctic or communicate with our existing fleet of F-16’s, then you simply don’t support our troops. Likewise, if you didn’t support sending our men in women in uniform into the illegal Iraq War of 2001-11, or were in favour of bringing our personnel home from Afghanistan in 2008 when it was time for the other allies to step up, then the Conservatives would argue again that you don’t support the troops, and may even support the enemy like ‘Taliban Jack’ once did.
New Democrats have a different idea of what it means to ‘support our troops.’ We don’t believe in fighting every war that our allies willfully engage in on its face, which is why we opposed George W. Bush’s request to join in the preemptive, illegal, and unjustified Iraq War. New Democrats do support NATO and sharing the work of defending our collective interests and values when an ally is attacked, such as we did with the invasion of Afghanistan in search of Al Qaeda following 9/11, but also bringing our troops home when our share of the hard work is finished. But what I really believe separates New Democrats from Conservatives on this issue is that our support for the troops doesn’t start and end on the battlefield. New Democrats recognize the contributions and sacrifices of our men and women in uniform and their families each and every day; from the day they enlist, through their days of active service, and throughout their retirement.
Canada’s New Democrats will continue to support our troops, active and retired and day in and day out, until their sacrifices are finally honoured and respected by the Conservative government, and we will continue our fight this spring to prevent any unnecessary and unjustifiable budget cuts to the Veterans Affairs budget.