Lee Berthiaume More from Lee Berthiaume
Published on: December 3, 2014Last Updated: December 3, 2014 5:12 PM EST
Veterans Affairs Canada is preparing to launch a new $5-million advertising campaign, as the Conservative government struggles to defend its treatment of those who have served in uniform.
The upcoming campaign is just one of several government advertising initiatives revealed in budgetary documents tabled recently in the House of Commons, and the second to be conducted by the department over the past year.
About $4 million was spent on a campaign this past spring that included television commercials during the NHL playoffs highlighting services available to military personnel who are moving into civilian life.
While Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino's office did not immediately respond to questions Wednesday, the minister has previously said advertising campaigns are important for informing veterans and their families about the many benefits and services available to them.
But Liberal veterans affairs critic Frank Valeriote compared the ad campaign to propaganda, alleging the purpose was to counter the litany of recent bad news that has undermined the government's record on veterans issues.
The Conservative government was stung last week by an auditor general's report that found many veterans are being forced to wait more than eight months to find out if they qualify for mental health services.
The government has also faced criticism for closing nine Veterans Affairs offices, cutting hundreds of positions since 2008, and failing to reveal it will take 50 years for $200 million in new funding for mental health services to be paid out.
Questions have also been raised about the Veterans Affairs department returning more than $1 billion in unspent funds to the treasury since 2006.
In the House of Commons Wednesday, a visibly annoyed Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended the government's record on veterans issues in the face of renewed opposition attacks.
"We have taken resources out of backroom administration from bureaucracy. We have put it into services," he said in response to a question from NDP leader Tom Mulcair. "That is called good administration, good government, and it is good service for the veterans of this country."
But Valeriote noted one of the programs showcased in the $4-million advertising campaign in the spring benefitted just 296 veterans, each of whom received $1,000 for career counselling, resume writing training and other job-hunting help.
"They spent $4 million in the spring on ads over the NHL playoffs for a program that they spent $296,000 on," Valeriote said.
"They use every opportunity to promote themselves under the pretext that it's really informing of the programs. And that's not the case."
Senior Veterans Affairs officials were scheduled to appear before the Commons' veterans affairs committee on Wednesday, where the budgetary documents were to have been discussed. But committee chair Greg Kerr sent out a notice late last week saying the meeting was cancelled.
The committee now isn't scheduled to meet again until Parliament resumes after the Christmas break at the end of January.
The opposition blames the committees' Conservative majority for suspending the committee's work, which they say is scandalous given the auditor general's findings and other concerns.
"They just said there's no remaining business and things to talk about in that regard, and they have the majority, so that was it," said NDP veterans affairs critic Peter Stoffer. "But there's all kinds of things we could talk about."
Neither Kerr nor Fantino's parliamentary secretary, Parm Gill, who is the senior Conservative MP on the committee, responded to requests for comment.
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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.