Letter To Government - Veterans' Ombudsman, 20 July 2005
July 20, 2005
Breaking Faith: Veterans Affairs Canada Pushes Ahead with C-45 Regulations and Policies without Input from True Stakeholders
cc. DND/CF Ombudsman
Dear (see Distribution List below)
In this, the year of the Veteran, it is understandable that a minority government would want to be seen as defending and promoting veterans’ interests. However in its zeal to court public sentiment as we celebrated the 60th anniversary of VE day, the government appears to have confused ‘doing it right’ with ‘doing it fast’.
The recently enacted Veterans Charter (Bill C-45) was passed through the House of Commons in a record five minutes on May 10th, 2005 as all four parties granted unanimous consent to “An Act to provide services, assistance and compensation to or in respect of Canadian Forces members and veterans.”
Normally, as you are well aware, government legislation goes to committee for thorough study before being passed. At committee, witnesses express their concerns, and especially in a minority Parliament, the legislation is amended to improve and address those concerns. By contrast, with C-45, no party wanted to be seen as anti-veteran, and, as a result, potentially flawed legislation was passed by the House of Commons without as much as minute of scrutiny.
This virtually unprecedented Parliamentary ‘blank cheque’ was based on the understood promise by Veterans Affairs Minister Albina Guarnieri of a ‘transparent, open and comprehensive consultation and feedback process’ with respect to drafting the regulations and policies to put Bill C-45 into force.
Perhaps Parliament was deceived.
It now appears that Minister Guarnieri believes that giving the leadership of a select group of six veterans’ organizations a mere month in the heat of summer to consult their members and deliver recommendations is the ‘transparent, open and comprehensive’ process promised Parliament when it approved Bill C-45.
Her process mocks Parliament’s goodwill and ignores the concerns of the very veterans she says she respects and honours
In reality, the vast majority of veterans, approximately 80 per cent, or more than 500,000 veterans, do not belong to any veterans’ organization. Furthermore, the legislation’s true stakeholders are not veterans at large but disabled veterans, serving CF members and their families of the post Korean War period.
Ironically, these are the very people who are excluded from Minister Guanieri’s process.
Veterans’ Affairs has consistently and erroneously claimed that a select leadership of six organizations represents all of the almost 750,000 veterans and still serving Canadian Forces members. No political party or even a majority government would be so audacious as to claim they represent all Canadians. By the same logic, since the more than 500,000 veterans and by extension the approximately 1.5 million family members are not represented by a veterans’ organization, the signatories below can claim to represent more than 2 million Canadians, most of whom are voters.
Minister Guarnieri and her Department have broken faith in this next crucial step. Furthermore, her Department’s vehement opposition to an Ombudsman shows its repugnance to the ‘transparent, open and comprehensive’ process that Parliament, the Senate, Canadians and Canadian veterans and their families were led to believe would occur.
We believe that VAC cannot be trusted to carry out this process without impartial and effective oversight, such as that assured by an ombudsman. It is incumbent upon the elected officials in the House of Commons and the Senate members to take action to ensure that promises and expectations of a ‘transparent, open and comprehensive’ consultation and feedback process are more substance than illusion.
Democracy requires constant vigilance and, therefore, has a very high price. We know; veterans have paid that high price. We neither sacrificed ourselves nor the well-being of our families so that the sacred words of our government can be so tritely snubbed.
We request your assistance in opening up the writing of policies and regulations to the true stakeholders: disabled veterans, serving CF members and the families of both. On May 11, 2005, the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance gave their word that the three veterans who testified in favour of caution with respect to passing C-45 would be included in this process. However, the process has already begun without their involvement.
We also request that you lend your support to the creation of a VAC Ombudsman in order to provide some checks and balances on a department and a Minister who seem to react to genuine, transparent, open and comprehensive public dialogue the way Superman reacts to kryptonite!
In the Year of the Veteran, the fundamental Canadian rights so many veterans and their families have paid such a high price ensuring with their lives must not be sacrificed for political expediency or bureaucratic arrogance. We have every hope you will not let this occur.
Names Withheld for Confidentiality of Source
Members of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance c/o Senator Donald H. Oliver Members of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence c/o Senator Colin Kenny Members of the Senate Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs c/o Senator Michael A. Meighen Members of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs c/o John Cannis Members of the House of Commons Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs c/o Anthony Rota
The Right Hon. Paul Martin The Hon. Stephen Harper The Hon. Gilles Duceppe The Hon. Jack Layton
The Hon. Bill Graham The Hon. Albina Guarnieri The Hon. Gordon O’Connor The Hon. Betty Hinton