Keep promises to veterans

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Keep promises to veterans

Post by Trooper on Sat Dec 16, 2017 8:29 am

Times Colonist
DECEMBER 16, 2017

Our military veterans lay everything on the line for their fellow Canadians. When they get hurt, they deserve to be treated fairly. But when they fight for fair treatment, the government fights back.

Despite promises by Justin Trudeau during the last election campaign, the Liberal government has fought just as hard against veterans as Stephen Harper’s Conservatives did.

Last week, the British Columbia Court of Appeal ruled against six injured veterans in a case that the federal government should have dropped long ago.

In 2006, Parliament passed the New Veterans Charter, which replaced lifelong pensions for injured veterans with lump-sum payments. The veterans say the lump sums leave them with much less money than is paid under provincial workers’ compensation.

The veterans group called Equitas took the government to court to have the pensions reinstated. They argued that prime ministers such as Trudeau, who campaigned with Equitas members, promised to treat veterans justly.

However, the Court of Appeal stopped the suit, saying it had no chance of succeeding because election promises are just promises.

“The idea that inspirational statements by a prime minister containing vague assurances could bind the government of Canada to a specific legislative regime in perpetuity does not, in any way, conform with the country’s constitutional norms,” the court wrote.

Perhaps not, but outside of courtrooms and constitutional norms, promises are supposed to mean something. And Trudeau promised to reinstate the disability pensions. He was the only party leader to do so in the last election.

“This is about doing right by people who have offered everything in service of our country,” he said at the time.

That’s a sentiment that even the judge who wrote the court’s decision seems to agree with.

In his preamble to the court’s reasons, Justice Harvey Groberman wrote:

“I have considerable sympathy for the plaintiffs, who have served our nation and suffered serious injuries in doing so. We have tremendous respect and admiration for the plaintiffs.

“All right-thinking Canadians would agree that they should be provided with adequate disability benefits. If that is not occurring, it is a national embarrassment.

“Again, however, that is not the issue the court is deciding. Rather, the question before the court is whether an arguable case can be advanced that the Canadian Parliament lacks authority to enact legislation fixing and limiting compensation.”

If courts are not the best place to set things right, where can justice be found? In Parliament.

MPs who took away the pensions can restore them, as Trudeau, now a prime minister with a solid majority, said he would.

There are signs he intends to do that.

Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan said that by the end of 2107, the government “will have a pension-for-life option ready to present to veterans.” Reports suggest it could be released next week.

Some fear such a pension would simply stretch the lump sum over a long period, or would make the payments taxable, leaving the veterans worse off. The government must do better.

The courts might not hold Trudeau to his promises, but voters certainly can.
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