Veterans react to Liberal funding cuts – UPDATED

The Liberal Government has cancelled a program that helps communities build monuments to Canadian Veterans. Administered by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), the Community War Memorial Program (CWMP) provided up to $50 000 dollars for local cenotaphs or monuments, and now appears to be no more.

Journalist Lee Berthiaume originally reported on this last week.

I decided to contact several groups and people in the Veteran community for their reactions to the revelations in Berthiaume’s article. With TD Bank recently forecasting Liberal deficits of up to 150 billion dollars, and recent revelations that the Government has significantly increased funding for MP offices, many I spoke to questioned why this program to commemorate Veterans didn’t measure up to other spending planned by the Liberals.

I asked the good folks at VAC for some clarity surrounding the fate of this program, and it’s uptake over the past 5 years. but haven’t received a response as of yet. I’ll update this piece when I do receive.

VAC provided me with the following info on the amount of yearly applications received:

2010/11 - 13
 
2011/12 - 48
 
2012-13 - 24
 
2013/14 - 26
 
2014/15 - 0 *
 
2015/16 - 17
 
* Given that the program was originally scheduled to sunset in March 
2015, it was closed to applications in October 2013 to ensure the 
Department could disperse all remaining funds to projects already 
committed.

As you can see, well over a hundred applications have been received for the program over the years; an indicator that there is consistent interest from our communities in commemoration. While there is healthy interest in the program, its footnote is fairly small, prompting questions as to why it’s not being renewed or taking precedence over other Liberal spending decisions.

VAC’s website states: “With help from the Community War Memorial Program, communities and organizations across Canada built cenotaphs/monuments or major additions to existing ones, that promote and preserve the memory of all those who have served Canada since 1867.” VAC also confirmed to me in their email that the program is “due to close March 31, 2016″and no mention was made of its renewal. The end result is that communities will now be required to look elsewhere for funding for their monuments.

cwmp

During Question Period yesterday on March 7, the Conservative Party highlighted the importance of the VAC file to their caucus, by kicking off leader’s round with Rona Ambrose taking Liberal Veteran Affairs Minister Kent Hehr to task over the cutting of the program.

But that’s not all. In addition to community memorials, several national monuments to Canadian soldiers are also rumoured to be on the Liberal chopping block – these include a monument to soldiers who served in Afghanistan, and a monument to commemorate Canadian soldiers who have received the Victoria Cross. Ambrose also highlighted the mystery status of these monuments in QP.

She was joined in her efforts by Conservative MP (and VAC critic) Alupa Clarke, MP James Bezan, and MP Pierre Paul-Hus – all three peppered Hehr with questions in the House over the status of the Afghanistan and Victoria Cross memorials. Both monuments were given the go-ahead by the previous Conservative government.

Former VAC Minister Erin O’Toole also spoke out on these issues, along with his former cabinet colleague Pierre Poilievre.

In the face of mounting pressure, Hehr appears to be backing away from the alleged cancelling of the Afghanistan Monument, stating in Question Period Monday that “Veterans Affairs is working closely with Canadian Heritage to advance this initiative. More information regarding the project will be available in the coming months.” No mention was made by Hehr as to the possibility of re-instating the CWMP, or if a monument to Victoria Cross recipients is still a possibility.

Several in the Veteran community appear to be behind the creation of an Afghanistan memorial. Deanna Fimrite, Dominion Secretary-Treasurer of Canada’s oldest Veteran group, the Army, Navy, Air Force Veterans Association (ANAVETS) provided me with a detailed response to my questions concerning the current situation.

“In regards to the Afghanistan Memorial, ANAVETS strongly supports its creation. Afghanistan was the longest war in our country’s history albeit with our fewest casualties and should be commemorated with its own memorial.” ANAVETS also indicated their support of a limited Victoria Cross memorial.

The group took a firm line on the loss of the CWMP. “We are disappointed in the non-renewal of the Community War Memorials Program (CWMP). The amount of money that has been spent on it to date is minimal but it has great significance to the communities that have identified the need to commemorate the sacrifice of their citizens where no monument currently exists.”

While supportive of all three commemorative items, Fimrite was also quick to point out that they would like to see additional funds “channeled directly to fund the necessary enhancements to Veterans benefits, services and transitional support”.

Bruce Poulin, comms contact with the The Royal Canadian Legion (Canada’s largest Veterans group) stated with regards to the Afghanistan and Memorial Cross monuments that “Dominion Command continues to work with other Veterans organizations and (the) federal Government on various initiatives related to commemoration.”

A colleague of mine, Canadian Armed Forces Veteran Ron Cundell, pulled no punches when questioned about the revelations of the Berthiaume article. “Guess when it comes to veterans it’s not “sunny ways” it’s “cloudy with a chance of rain.” Though it’s early I’m very interested to see how the vet community reacts to this disrespect. ”

With a Liberal Budget tabled for March 22nd, it’s very likely Cundell will see an ever growing reaction from the Vet community. The Budget should bring additional clarity to the muddy waters of the commemoration file, likely prompting a stronger response (positive or negative)  towards Hehr and co.

If you’d like to tell the Minister Hehr how you feel about the loss of the CWMP, or about the uncertainty of other memorials, his contact information is below.

In Writing

The Honourable Kent Hehr
Veterans Affairs Canada
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0P4

Email

 minister_ministre@vac-acc.gc.ca

 

 

 

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