Canadian Veterans Advocacy

Monday, October 21, 2013

Canadian Veterans Advocacy: Subject

Closing Veterans Affairs offices unconscionable

Published on October 20, 2013

Of freedom, a Norwegian resistance fighter in occupied Norway in the 1940s wrote this: "In us is born the conviction/That freedom is life's first law."

In Canada, the legacy of freedom, built up by our military, guarantees that governments can make decisions for right or wrong reasons.

When the Harper government decided to close nine Veterans Affairs Canada offices by February 2014 at a measly saving of $6 million, it made the wrong decision. To include the very busy Sydney office was unconscionable. At the same time, in a bid to convince Americans of the benefits of the Keystone pipeline transporting Alberta oil to the States, the Conservatives propose to spend $24 million on advertising.

This paper has in the past year published letters and articles on the closing of the Sydney office and the offices in Charlottetown and Corner Brook. It's now estimated that as a result of the closure of the office here, the Halifax office, with a staff of 68, will pick up an additional 4,200 clients from Cape Breton, giving it approximately 22,000 clients in Nova Scotia and making it the third largest office in Canada. These statistics demonstrate that a disproportionate number of service personnel from the Maritimes have served our country with distinction but now need assistance of one kind or another. But will they be looked after?

Where are the protests about the closing of the Sydney office from the Tory elite in Cape Breton? Where are their letters, their articles? Did anyone hear them speak out? I heard only one prominent Tory say on radio that online services and a call centre provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs would take up the slack. The numbers, ages and competency of our most distinguished veterans suggest otherwise.

On Aug. 3, 2013, Stephen McNenly wrote an article in this paper emphasizing the human dimension of the government's decision, the effect of the changes on his uncle, a veteran, and the loss here of 13 permanent and four casual jobs. One casualty is his sister, Jennifer, a 17-year case worker. Ms. McNenly advocated for and provided excellent service to my 93-year-old brother. His macular degeneration precludes his using a computer. I doubt whether he would pick up a phone to talk to Halifax or travel there. Would case worker travel from Halifax to his home in Donkin be cheap? When would they get around to the visit? How can one stomach the government's disrespect of our veterans?

Here's the rub: It is political suicide for the Tory government to balance the budget on the back of our veterans just as it was a mistake to close our EI centre in Glace Bay. Yes, cut costs, but base them on sound evidence. At a provincial legion convention in this province in May, the deputy minister of the Department of Veterans Affairs offered no sympathy at all to delegates. In fact he questioned, in an arrogant way, the numbers of needy clients.

And we thought that the Conservative government and its underlings favoured our military. Apparently, that doesn't extend to our veterans. On Saturday, Nov. 9, in Sydney at 10 a.m., you can let them know how you feel. The Maritime mayors have already done so.

LeRoy Peach lives in Port Morien and may be reached at His column appears every two weeks in the Cape Breton Post.

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

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