Committees and other Reasons for a Public Inquiry into Veterans
By Sean Bruyea
Veterans Affairs claims it wants to do business
differently. The big question is: can Parliament, Canada and
veterans trust the bureaucracy? And can veterans trust that the
veteran organizations will not just bark but finally bite when
Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) instinctually and inevitably
strays off the path?
Veterans Affairs has a six-decade old habit of
keeping a tight leash on CF veterans. The department has failed
to fulfill its legal and ethical obligations to Canadian Forces
(CF) members and their families by denying CF veterans access to
similar assistance given to World War II veterans.
This week (February 8 and 9th), Veterans
Affairs will be hosting its third “stakeholder committee”
meeting in Ottawa. This stakeholder committee involves
executives from CF veteran groups, some of which have been
clamouring to be heard for anywhere from five years to five
Why the change? It is certainly not because of some
sudden realization that the demographics are changing. The CF,
Parliament, military veterans, their families and even the
Auditor General in 1998 have been telling VAC to adequately
respond to the demographic shift for almost twenty years
following the Gulf War in 1990-91.
What has changed are six years of growing scandals
which reveal a department in crisis…and woefully out of touch
with the military it claims to serve. The past two years have
shone a bright light on the Department’s inability to
comprehend the needs of veterans and their families. They, along
with Canadians are outraged at the payment of one-time lump sums
for lifelong military injuries, the maximum of which ($293,000)
is deceptive as the average payout is only $40K. To put that in
perspective, one year’s compensation package for a Deputy
Minister like Suzanne Tining is $415,000 for a DM-2 as of April
1, 2010. This is 70% more than the maximum lump sum, of which
only 134 received the maximum in the first four years of the
This is the same Deputy Minister who oversaw the
escalation of the privacy scandal from what could have been
resolved quickly and quietly which instead became a national
outrage. Meanwhile, in November 2010 and 2011 more than 10,000
veterans and supporters took to the streets in national public
demonstrations for the first time in over 90 years protesting
the Department’s insensitive policies.
Why should Canada expect any better from VAC? Only
100 employees of 4,400 have worn a military uniform and not a
single executive or senior manager has ever served. Of the more
than 1107 veterans with disabilities who have applied for
priority hiring in the public service over 10 years, VAC has
hired just 26, or 1.8%.
The department believes that this new stakeholder
committee holds the key to reversing their losing game. What is
the committee supposed to accomplish? According to the Terms of
Reference, three of the five “roles and objectives” consist
of focussing upon discussion and exploration. The remaining two
roles focus upon action, responsibility for which absurdly falls
upon the veteran organisations to “provide a mechanism for
dissemination of information on VAC initiatives and programs.”
You see, in sharp contrast to the more dedicated
and far more sympathetic frontline employees, the senior
managers at the department have been briefing Ministers for more
than five years that the reason for the scandals, the homeless
veterans, the inadequate programs and poor treatment and the
overworked frontline staff is that there is a communication
problem. This problem, according to senior officials, centres
upon the lack of information for veterans, or, more
patronizingly, veterans who don’t understand the good
intentions of VAC denying the programs the veterans need.
One only has to look at the “record of
decisions” from a meeting last fall to see how VAC senior
managers are massaging the message and perpetuating failure. The
Department has thus far refused to publish actual minutes of
proceedings. The “record” is most notable for what it
doesn’t contain. For instance, VAC is in the process of a
five- year modernization of their IT and online resources for
veterans which in the words
of senior officials at the last meeting, will bring VAC
up to where it should have been “five years ago”.
This five-year plan met with vociferous and
widespread condemnation as well as emphatic offers to petition
that more resources be given to VAC. Nevertheless, the “record
of decisions” leaves the five-year plan to go ahead as
planned, over five years.
VAC is legally mandated for the “care, treatment
and rehabilitation” of veterans and their “dependants,” as
the government condescendingly calls family members. Yet,
families are not represented as a stakeholder on the committee.
Nor are any of the dozens of regimental or other veteran
organizations which are far larger than some of the traditional
CF veteran organizations.
Of those stakeholders who meaningfully contributed
to the discussion, there was unanimous insistence that VAC
implement all 86 recommendations from the New Veterans Charter
Advisory Group published more than two years ago. The House
Committee on Veterans Affairs has also unanimously insisted all
recommendations be implemented immediately. The stakeholders
also emphasised the immediate implementation of the more
substantial recommendation of increasing payments to injured
soldiers unable to work so as to match 100% of actual military
members’ salaries and expected career advancement.
Curiously, no mention of any of this made it into
the record of decisions. Perhaps one of the most glaring
omissions is the near unanimous insistence to see the “Keith
Coulter Report”. This was a report prepared by a CF veteran,
former Snowbird pilot, Chief of Canadian Securities
Establishment and most recently Commissioner of Corrections
Canada. Mr. Coulter
submitted the report to the Minister more than eighteen months
ago as part of the preparations for cutbacks in the Department.
The report remains a Cabinet Confidence and no mention of this
exists in the record of decisions.
Since that time, the original contract amount paid
to Mr. Coulter has been amended from $18,990 to $24,995.25,
exactly $4.75 under the threshold which would require a
competitive bidding process. Why has the report remained secret
this long? Was Mr. Coulter asked to change the report to
contradict the possibility that his original findings indicated
the Department did not require cutbacks?
Perhaps the most telling indication that the
department intends on having the committee accomplish nothing is
the committee’s “Code
of Conduct and Confidentiality”. The longstanding complaint
from the community of more than 700,000 retired and serving CF
members has been that the government refuses to publish the
minutes of advisory, stakeholder or working group meetings. The
good thing is that stakeholders have not signed any
confidentiality agreement nor should they seeing how so many
sacrificed for open and transparent government.
is quite clear that such confidentiality has only served to
allow the department to avoid acting responsibly, effectively
and comprehensively to the needs of the military and their
families. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs
conducts its advisory group meetings in the open with minutes
and findings widely published.
true Orwellian “doublethink”, VAC justifies such secrecy in
order that “the work
of the Committee will be conducted in such a manner as to foster
openness and communication, respect for human dignity and
diversity, with fairness and civility.”
Others see clear malicious intent in VAC’s
actions. “The bureaucrats control the agenda, they control the
minutes and they control the timings of the meetings,”
explains Alan Cutler, President of Canadians for Accountability.
“It is a ‘father-knows-best’ mentality and a ‘big
brother’ attitude which allows the bureaucracy to avoid doing
anything of substance.”
Taking VAC’s line of argument, if lack of
communication to veterans is really the problem, than recording
the meetings and publishing the minutes can only benefit
How has VAC been allowed to get away with this?
Sadly, it is because of the complicity of the leadership of
veteran organisations, both new and old. The Royal Canadian
Legion was born in the tumultuous public protests following
World War I. However, the Legion Dominion Command wrote to its
membership when veterans began organizing the 2010 public
demonstrations: “Comrades, the Legion as an organization does
not advocate in this manner and does not condone this method of
in other veterans’ groups are equally complicit and often more
Politicians and bureaucrats fear only one thing:
negative media coverage which translates into lost votes and
broken anonymity in maladministration. If veterans’ groups
aren’t willing to exercise the very rights for which so many
of their “comrades” sacrificed their lives, then bureaucrats
and politicians have nothing whatsoever to fear. Stakeholder
committees, advisory groups and councils become nothing more
than paper tigers secretly struggling in vain. As Thomas Moore
in great futility defended himself before he was executed,
“silence gives consent”.
Veterans have much to learn from Canada’s First
Nations, a similarly sized population which has, at $12 billion,
more than three times the annual budget of VAC devoted to its
well-being. First Nations have been willing to exercise their
democratic rights. Just last month, the Prime Minister sat down
to intervene where the bureaucracy has failed.
Veterans need to shed their well-indoctrinated
sense of loyalty and sacrifice to a government system which has
neither shown them loyalty at the senior levels nor sacrifice.
As cutbacks loom inevitable, it is no longer reasonable for
Canada’s bravest and most marginalized to believe that senior
bureaucrats absolutely loyal to Treasury Board policy can be
trusted with the better angels of our nature. Veterans and their
families must be loyal to themselves first and become their own
angels of salvation.
Bruyea is a columnist, former intelligence officer and graduate
student of a master’s in public ethics at St. Paul University
in Ottawa. His Privacy case was settled in 2010.
For more information on the next VAC Stakeholder Committee
Meeting, 08-09 Feb 2012, see the VVi database at: