Opposition leaders are complaining that Prime Minister Stephen Harper didn't invite them to the 90th anniversary celebrations of the battle of Vimy Ridge until it was too late to accept.

"This should be above partisan politics. He should be a statesman, he should have invited us since a long time," Liberal Leader Stephane Dion said Tuesday.

But Harper insists they had a chance.

"I always leave these decisions to the opposition, whether they want to come or don't want to come, but they're certainly welcome," he said.

The three leaders claim they have commitments that couldn't be changed and will be sending MPs in their place.

Robert Fife, CTV's Ottawa bureau chief, pronounced a pox on all their houses.

"The prime minister should have invited the other opposition leaders without having to be prodded," he said.

"Having said that, there is no excuse for Stephane Dion and (Bloc Quebecois) Leader Gilles Duceppe not re-arranging their schedules to go to Vimy."

The main event is scheduled for Easter Monday.

While the opposition leaders won't be there, another notable no-show will be President Jacques Chirac of France, although Queen Elizabeth will be in attendance.

"It was on French soil that Canadians shed their blood for the French," Fife said.

The battle began on April 9, 1917. The 100,000-strong Canadian Corps fought as a unit to try and take Vimy Ridge, a strategic bit of high ground.

French and British troops had been trying to take the ridge for 2-1/2 years -- and failing. The Canadians took it in three days at the cost of almost 3,600 killed and another 6,400 wounded.

Fife said the French embassy told him that Chirac can't attend because of the French presidential elections, although Fife noted that Chirac isn't running.

France's Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin will be replacing Chirac.

Veterans' announcement

Harper recycled a budget announcement about the creation of a veterans' bill of rights and ombudsman.

"Both of these initiatives follow through on a very important promise we made during the election campaign," Harper said at a news conference in Kitchener, Ont.

"Mainly that if elected, a Conservative government would ensure that Canadian veterans were accorded the respect and honour they deserve by putting in place mechanisms to ensure better responsiveness to their needs and concerns."

The bill of rights takes effect immediately and will allow the government to respond quickly and fairly to any concerns of veterans, the prime minister said.

The ombudsman, who will operate at arm's length from the government, will report annually to the veterans' minister and Parliament.

"My hoping is we will start to notice any systemic problems as a consequence of this in the very near future," Harper said.

The ombudsman will play an important role in raising awareness of the needs and concerns of veterans, Harper said.

"Our veterans have given their very best to Canada, and our government is taking yet another step to ensure Canada does its very best for them,'' the prime minister added.

Harper said that the ombudsman's position is currently being advertised and that he hopes to fill it by this spring.

Pierre Allard of the Royal Canadian Legion said: "Both the ombudsman and the veterans' bill of rights are certainly very good indications veterans will get the service and benefits they deserve."

However, one critic said the bill lacks legal clout and only offers veterans what they already get.

"It's far too vague, it's far too wishy-washy to give veterans what they really deserve," said Sean Bruyea, an ex-captain in the intelligence corps.

With a report from CTV's Roger Smith