Liberals 'committed' to lifelong pension option for injured vets, but may not be retroactive
Josh Dehaas, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, May 20, 2016 7:08PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 20, 2016 8:30PM EDT
Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr says the Liberals are committed to a lifelong pension option for injured veterans, but he will not say whether his government intends to offer the pensions retroactively to those who have already received lump sums.
The Liberal government was accused this week by both the New Democrats and Conservatives of breaking campaign promises to veterans, after it proceeded to fight a lawsuit brought forward by veterans in 2012, who have argued that Canada has a sacred obligation to provide the pensions and other benefits.
Funded by the group Equitas Society, the lawsuit was put on hold last year after the Conservative government made a number of changes to appease veterans, who had been particularly enraged by the introduction of the lump sum payments in 2005 -- a change that all three major parties initially supported. Equitas argues that the lump sums result in less money over time.
During last year’s election, the Liberals promised to bring back the pensions and to end the lawsuit. Don Sorochan, the lawyer working for the plaintiffs, said at the time that he expected the election would help the veterans get what they wanted. Some injured vets campaigned for the Liberals.
Sorochan told CTV News earlier this week he felt “betrayed” after the justice department asked a judge to rule on the arguments the Conservatives had made in the case, rather than dropping it.
Hehr told CTV’s Power Play Friday that the government is not “taking veterans to court,” but merely continuing a suit that has been “ongoing for years.” He said the lawsuit “was filed by veterans under the former government as a result of their lack of attention to veterans’ issues.”
Hehr said the government is “delivering for veterans” and that it remains “committed to having an option for a pension for life,” but has not followed through on that marquee promise because it needs time to consult.
“When I met with my stakeholders immediately after being elected, they said, ‘Minister please take the time to get this right, to consult broadly,’” Hehr said.
“We are doing that,” he added. We’ve set up six stakeholder groups to do this. We have added in an online consultation tool to allow for veterans far and wide to contribute to the discussion.”
Hehr did not say whether the pensions will be an option for those who have received lump sum payments for their injuries over the past decade.
“We’re delving into the details and I don’t want to prejudge any of the consultations or what the veterans or their families have to say,” Hehr said.
The minister added that his government’s first budget – which didn’t include the pensions -- delivered $5.6 billion in new money that “will increase the financial security” of veterans and their families.
When Sorochan, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, spoke to CTV News on Wednesday, he said that he believes the Liberals may still be planning to create the pension option for veterans, but that they are trying to argue they have no special obligation to those who have served.
“The gist of what the Liberals are arguing,” Sorocahn said, is that “the government happens to want to do good things for veterans now, but it has no obligation to do them.”
In daily question period Wednesday, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair accused the Liberals of trying to “stop (veterans) from getting the benefits they deserve,” despite “campaigning on a black-and-white promise to end the Conservative court case against veterans.”
Conservative veterans affairs critic Alupa Clarke said in a written statement Friday that the Liberals are “seeking to reduce veterans’ rights.”
“The Minister is treating our veterans with contempt,” Clarke said. “He should instruct the Department of Justice to follow the previous government’s lead and abandon this lawsuit.”