Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, Wednesday, October 17, 2018. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Wilson-Raybould resignation stokes anger, frustration within veterans community

Liberals have had three veterans-affairs ministers — Kent Hehr, Seamus O’Regan and Wilson-Raybould

Jody Wilson-Raybould’s resignation from cabinet this week has stoked long-standing frustration, disappointment and anger among Canada’s veterans, who say they have been ignored and betrayed by the Trudeau government.

The Liberals went out of their way during the last federal election to court former service members, as Justin Trudeau promised to improve service delivery and reinstate a lifelong disability pension for veterans after years of Conservative cuts and inaction.

That pension, first introduced after the First World War, was abolished by the Conservatives with unanimous support in the House of Commons in 2006 and replaced by a suite of rehabilitation programs and financial compensation for injured soldiers.

Since then, the Liberals have run through three veterans-affairs ministers in as many years — Kent Hehr, Seamus O’Regan and Wilson-Raybould — while making little headway on improving service delivery and breaking their pension promise.

The government has increased some supports and benefits for veterans and unveiled its own so-called Pension for Life program that will roll out in April, but that program has been widely assessed as falling far short of Trudeau’s original pledge.

“Our key concern is there’s been a betrayal of the commitment that the prime minister made in the election of 2015,” said Brian Forbes, chair of the National Council of Veterans Associations, which represents more than 60 veteran groups.

“That is felt very strongly in the veterans’ community.”

READ MORE: Wilson-Raybould’s cabinet move due to departure from team: Trudeau

READ MORE: Trudeau surprised, puzzled by Wilson-Raybould’s resignation

The Liberals have also been roundly accused of ignoring the various ministerial advisory groups and other mechanisms established after the 2015 election to solicit feedback from the veterans’ community about its needs and concerns.

All of which had sowed seeds of discontent even before Wilson-Raybould was handed the veterans-affairs portfolio on Jan. 14, taking over from O’Regan in a move widely regarded as a demotion from her previous role as justice minister.

Now, while parliamentarians and Canadians at large wonder about the truth surrounding Wilson-Raybould’s discussions with the prime minister’s office about SNC-Lavalin, many veterans feel they have been forgotten. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has added responsibility for veterans to his duties, but only temporarily.

“It’s like the veterans are the last priority in this story,” said Aaron Bedard, an Afghan War veteran from B.C. who led an unsuccessful legal battle against the government to reinstate the old disability pension. “We don’t have a minister of veterans affairs anymore.”

Even before Wilson-Raybould’s departure, some veterans and veterans’ groups had questioned the number of ministers who have handled the portfolio under the Liberals — and what it means about their importance to the government.

Not that the trend has been unique to the Liberals; all told, there have been seven veterans-affairs ministers in the past decade, not counting Sajjan. The Conservatives had three in less than two years, leading up to the last election.

That in itself creates difficulties, says Scott Maxwell, executive director of Wounded Warriors Canada, which helps former service members with mental-health injuries, because new ministers take time to find their footing.

“It just makes it difficult to get the work done,” Maxwell said in an interview earlier this month, before Wilson-Raybould’s resignation. “That’s something we’ve tracked as a barrier.”

Yet Wilson-Raybould was also different in that many of her predecessors were seen as up-and-comers getting promotions and looking to impress, not senior ministers getting a demotion. While she repeatedly denied that description, insisting that working for veterans was vitally important, it nonetheless stuck with some veterans.

“When you’re saying you’re being demoted and you’re being sent to veterans affairs, it’s a slap in the face for us,” said Daniel Tremblay, an Afghan War veteran from Ottawa who is now struggling with back problems and post-traumatic stress.

“It should be a promotion, not a demotion. That way you know the individual wants to be there and cares for us.”

The Trudeau government is scrambling to contain the damage caused by Wilson-Raybould’s resignation, which followed a Globe and Mail story saying the Prime Minister’s Office had pressured her to intervene in a criminal case against SNC-Lavalin.

Yet her resignation also makes a difficult task for the government even harder, as the Liberals already faced an uphill climb selling their Pension for Life program ahead of this year’s federal election.

It’s difficult to assess how veterans’ concerns affect federal elections given that the community is spread across the country, but anecdotal evidence has suggested many former service members voted Liberal in 2015 — largely because of the disability-pension promise.

That appears almost certain to change in October, though the question is who veterans will actually support. Bedard, who worked with the Liberals in the last election, says the Conservatives have repeatedly reached out to him and others over the past year or so.

Yet others still remember the deep cuts to frontline work at Veterans Affairs Canada that were imposed by Stephen Harper’s government and the Conservatives’ refusal to reinstate the disability pension after a decade in power.

That leaves open the question: Where will veterans turn in 2019?

“The (veterans-affairs) file has been mismanaged for a decade or more,” said Nova Scotia veteran David MacLeod, who was forced to leave the military in 2010 for medical reasons.

“Based on mismanagement alone, I will not be supporting any of the major political parties in the coming election. I support one of the smaller parties or a credible independent candidate.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. (Graeme Roy/The Canadian Press)
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of Oct. 18

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

A Rick Hansen Secondary School student died in hospital after suffering a medical incident in class on Monday. (File photo)
Abbotsford student dies after medical incident in class

Rick Hansen Secondary School offering additional counselling for students who require it

Stock photo
$93,000 in COVID-19 emergency support available to Abbotsford charities

Applications now open for grants through community foundation

The RCMP helicopter. (File photo)
Suspect escapes after police pursuit through Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford

Police chase involved two stolen vehicles, including one taken in Mission

FILE – People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday, August 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
167 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death recorded as B.C. enters 2nd wave

Three new healthcare outbreaks also announced

This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 particle isolated from a patient, in a laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID/NIH via AP
At least 49 cases of COVID-19 linked to wedding in Calgary: Alberta Health

McMillan says the city of Calgary has recently seen several outbreaks linked to social gatherings

UBC geoscientists discovered the wreckage of a decades-old crash during an expedition on a mountain near Harrison Lake. (Submitted photo)
Wreckage of decades-old plane crash discovered on mountain near Harrison Lake

A team of Sts’ailes Community School students helped discover the twisted metal embedded in a glacier

Officers with the Lower Mainland Emergency Response Team were at a White Rock home Tuesday (Oct. 20) to assist Vancouver Police Department with execution of a search warrant. (Contributed photo)
ERT, VPD response to White Rock home connected to homicide: police

Search underway in the 15800-block of Prospect Crescent

The official search to locate Jordan Naterer was suspended Saturday Oct. 17. Photo courtesy of VPD.
‘I am not leaving without my son,’ says mother of missing Manning Park hiker

Family and friends continue to search for Jordan Naterer, after official efforts suspended

A bear similar to this black bear is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bear kills llama on Vancouver Island, prompting concerns over livestock

Officers could not track the bear they feel may not fear humans

Bernard Trest and his son Max, 10, are concerned about B.C.’s plan for students in the classroom. He was one of two fathers who filed a court application in August to prevent schools from reopening if stricter COVID-19 protections weren’t in place. That application was dismissed last week. (Contributed photo)
B.C. dad pledges to appeal quashed call for mandatory masks, distancing in schools

Bernard Trest and Gary Shuster challenged health, education ministries’ return-to-school plan

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
RCMP cleared in fatal shooting of armed Lytton man in distress, police watchdog finds

IIO spoke to seven civillian witnesses and 11 police officers in coming to its decision

A 34-year-old man was treated for a gunshot wound in Williams Lake Monday, Oct 19, 2020. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake man treated for gunshot wound after accidental shooting: RCMP

Police are reminding residents to ensure firearms are not loaded when handling them

Most Read