Published on April 28, 2016
© Guardian file photo
Department of Veterans Affairs
A few weeks ago, The Guardian published an editorial asking why many senior level management jobs at Veterans Affairs headquarters in Charlottetown are apparently being filled by people in Ottawa. It's curious the department hasn't responded, nor has an inquiry with VAC communications been answered. We can only conclude that senior level jobs are in fact moving to Ottawa.
Kent Hehr, the new minister of Veterans Affairs, and all of his senior level team recently assembled in Charlottetown for meetings. Neither the minister nor any of his senior staff made any public appearances while on P.E.I.
Why the secrecy? Why was there no public comment by Mr. Hehr about the future of Veterans Affairs? Why was there no effort to allay fears being raised about downsizing? Was there a meeting with our premier, city mayor or MPs to reinforce that all is well at VAC? Why did the minister avoid media questions?
Maybe there is a reason. It appears that Mr. Hehr and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould recently entered into an agreement to dismantle the VAC stand-alone, legal services unit - in existence since the department was formed. It appears they agreed to transfer responsibility for providing VAC legal services to a federal department in Ottawa - Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC).
A Guardian inquiry on this transfer has gone unanswered. New lawyers from Ottawa are taking calls and attending meetings that used to be handled by lawyers working in Charlottetown. Two senior lawyer positions at VAC are now held by lawyers who live and work in Ottawa.
The trend seems clear. First, senior management jobs quietly migrate to Ottawa; then IT Services and the entire HR division are relocated to Miramichi, N.B.; and now legal services is dismantled. The era of blaming the former Conservative government of Stephen Harper is over. The deserving finger is being pointed at the new Liberal government and Mr. Hehr.
The type of law that lawyers at ESDC practice is quite different from what Veterans Affairs lawyers would practice. Does this change in dealing with veterans and VAC legal issues mean they will be handled like EI claims - very litigious and aggressive?
Why would Mr. Hehr agree to surrender in-house legal services to ESDC, that serves more than a dozen other federal departments and has an unknown skill set for the needs of veterans. Did the two ministers inform fellow cabinet minister Lawrence MacAulay? Or the justice minister's own parliamentary secretary Sean Casey, the MP for Charlottetown?
Three major VAC units have been taken over by ESDC, which is responsible for paying benefits, Employment Insurance, Age Security, CPP and more. While VAC still pays disability pensions and benefits, doesn't it seem reasonable that its entire benefit payment component is the next to go?
What would be left here - a small department that could easily be absorbed by national defence? ESDC has no commitment to veterans or loyalty to Islanders. The federal government appears to be shirking its obligations to P.E.I. and to veterans. And no one seems to care.
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The The Canadian Veterans Advocacy - One Veteran, One Standard Team.