OTTAWA – Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer announced new measures Sunday to support Canadian veterans, making him the first party leader since the federal election campaign was called to specifically address former military members.
Speaking in Canoe Cove, P.E.I., Scheer said he would clear the backlog of benefit applications for veterans within two years, which he said had been piling up since Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau took office in 2015.
According to statistics from Veterans Affairs Canada, nearly 40,000 veterans were waiting at the end of last November to hear whether their application for financial assistance would be approved – 11,000 more than the previous year.
In February, the Liberals’ benefits system – implemented on April 1 – faced fierce criticism after an analysis by the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) Yves Giroux showed it would leave inconsistencies in support for the most vulnerable and many leaving the forces now would be worse off than in years past.
Under the proposal, Scheer said he will also create a reliable veterans’ pension system.
“The Trudeau Liberals created a messy system that shortchanges some of our most severely disabled veterans by as much as $300,000.”
According to a cost estimate by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, clearing the backlog for benefit applications would cost $51 million, while the cost to up the pension program would start at $103 million in year one and decrease to $48 million by 2028-29.
He also vowed to enshrine a “military covenant” to prompt a widespread culture shift among government ranks to better uphold respect for veterans.
“What we’re doing with this is changing the culture within the government, ensuring that everyone who is working in departments that relate to veterans services understand the special bond and special obligation that the government has to those who wear the uniform for us,” said Scheer.
In 2014, under the previous Conservative government led by Stephen Harper, the government closed nine Veterans Affairs district offices, which led to numerous protests across the country.
Scheer was pressed on his predecessor’s decisions on Sunday.
“The promises that were made to them were not delivered, so this is my solemn engagement with them,” he added. “As leader of this party, I’ve been working closely with them to come up with these types of practical changes that will make their lives better.”
In an email to CTVNews.ca, a spokesperson for the Liberal party said they’ve worked hard over the last four years to bring back services stripped down by the last Tory government.
“Thanks to our investments, all veterans today, including the most vulnerable, are better off than they were under the Harper Conservatives,” said Eleanore Catenaro.
She said billions have been injected into services, new hires, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder research, and re-establishing the Pension for Life program.
With files from The Canadian Press.