Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Should Veterans Trust the Liberals?

Let it not be said that Julian Fantino hasn't fouled up his portfolio at Veterans Affairs. It's undeniable: he has.

The Conservatives don't have much time to right this ship before the 2015 election. The election is actually the least of reasons to do it... the best reason to do it is because it's the right thing to do. But right that ship they must, and they should do it with a minister who is up to the job. Someone like Laurie Hawn or Leon Benoit.

The Liberals are gearing up for the 2015 election by promising that they are the party to right that ship.

Yeah, right.

It should also never be said that the Conservatives haven't done far, far better on Veterans' Affairs than the Liberals did the last time they were in government. It should also never be said that this wasn't hard.

Consider, for example, the sad story of Stephanos Karabekos.

The year was 1995. David Collenette was then the Minister of National Defense. Karabekos was a close associate of Collenette who had campaigned for him during the 1993 federal election.

Trouble began to brew for Mr Collenette in his own riding when the Chretien government decided to cut veterans' benefits to former members of the Greek resistance living in Canada. As of 1997 there were 8,400 former members of the Greek resistance in Canada.

It turns out this was a problem. Department of Veterans Affairs projections suggested that, under the renumeration plan of the day the $65 million paid out to such members would account for 60% of the budget. Clearly something had to be done, and did the Liberals ever. In the 1995 budget they stopped all support payments to veterans of any resistance movement, including the Greek resistance movement.

All the VA offices were open, but it didn't matter. Former resistance members could find no assistance there.

Collenette's riding, Don Valley East, has a very large Greek community. Many of them were either relatives of a Greek resistance member, or had been themselves. The problem for Mr Collenette was obvious.

He set out to solve his problem in the way that any Liberal would do. He didn't reach out to the Department of Foreign Affairs to reconsider their decision to financially abandon all former resistance members now living in Canada. Instead he paid Stephanos Karabekos to go out and "soothe the feelings" of the Greek community.

For this -- an activity that had clear implications for his ability to be reelected in his riding -- Collenette paid Karabakos $95,000. By the law of the day, any contract of $30,000 or more had to be put up for tender, allowing any individual with the skills to perform the work to bid on it.

Instead, Collenette hired Karabakos -- who, again, had campaigned for him in 1993 -- in contract installments of less than $30,000 apiece. In doing so he was able to sneak DND spending that conveniently helped his reelection prospects past the Treasury Board.

The Greek resistance fighters never did get their benefits restored. But Karabakos got his $95,000 and Collenette did get reelected in 1997. If Collenette really was relying on the Greek vote then Karabakos did a good job of "soothing hurt feelings" in Don Valley West. Collenette was reelected by the same 21,511 votes that elected him in 1993.

The purely-political approach to Veterans Affairs was one the Liberals took constantly during their time in government. There's no compelling reason to take them seriously now.

No comments:

Post a Comment