OTTAWA – POLITICS – This past Tuesday was Remembrance Day. It was a day Canadians remembered and reflected upon the selfless service and sacrifices of our veterans, active military personnel, and their families. By the end of the week however it was more obvious to me than ever that these men and women have long been forgotten by their vain and self-serving federal government.
I sit on the Veterans’ Affairs committee in parliament and represent a constituency where we have recently lost our Veterans’ Affairs office to budget cuts. I know these issues well and I care deeply, not just for today’s veterans, but for those who will be veterans tomorrow and their families who also bear a heavy burden on our behalf. Seemingly every week I learn of a new insult cast upon these honourable men and women by their own government and this past week, Remembrance Week, was no exception.
When Stephen Harper’s government announced in its 2012-13 federal budget that it would be closing 9 Veterans’ Affairs offices, they said it was because the offices were no longer needed and that they were too expensive to continue operating. The very next day my staff and I gathered and wrote down all of the questions we wanted answered concerning these cuts. How many veterans visited these offices for help accessing government benefits each year? How much money would be saved by the closures? Does the Veterans Affairs department have any room in its budget to keep the offices open? There were more.
In the days and weeks after the announcement I put many of these questions in writing and tabled them in the House of Commons, and it wasn’t long before we received a response from the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. The official figures he provided showed that the 9 Veterans Affairs offices which were closed in the past year (Thunder Bay, Sydney, Charlottetown, Corner Brook, Windsor (Ontario), Brandon, Saskatoon, Kelowna, and Prince George) served more than 20,000 veterans annually and had a total combined operating cost of just $5 million per year. What’s more, the figures showed that in 2012-13, the same year these closures were announced, Veterans Affairs spent just 96% of its annual budget as approved by parliament, which meant that more than $172 million was left unspent in the budget for that department in that year.
Needless to say, I was shocked and appalled when I read the Minister’s response. Not only did his government and his department actually have the $5 million required to keep these 9 offices open, but they left enough money unspent in their department to open and staff another 310 Veterans’ Affairs offices as well.
Fast-forward to this past week. My staff and I learned that the Department of Veterans Affairs has just launched a new $5 million advertising campaign to – get ready for it – highlight all of the great services provided by the Harper government to Canada’s veterans. In the same fiscal year that 9 Veterans’ Affairs offices were closed to save $5 million because “there was no money,” there was somehow enough money available – exactly $5 million – to fund a PR campaign to enhance the government’s own image. There are no words.
Remembrance Day may come and go each year, but most Canadians that I know remember and appreciate the selfless service and sacrifices made by our military personnel and their families year round. I do hope, and believe, that one day soon I will also be able to say the same thing about our federal government.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River