Veterans have become the latest in a very long line of citizens on the receiving end of the Harper government’s austerity measures — measures that continued in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s recent budget.
While the finance minister wanted Canadians to think this budget was “boring,” it was anything but. The devil is always in the details and the details included more frozen department budgets. More frozen budgets on top of billions of dollars in cuts will produce even more service cuts and job losses.
Veteran services are just another casualty.
The Harper government has closed nine Veterans Affairs offices in the last year. The savings were miniscule, but when your objective is slash and burn, every cut counts.
So used to getting away with their abuse of power, the Conservatives didn’t count on the backlash.
But the headache for the government is only just beginning. Veterans announced last week they intend to take on the government in the next election. They have already started to fundraise.
This government never counted on images of veterans decked out in their medals explaining to Canadians just how disrespectful and uncaring the government is.
The question is, how does Mr. Harper make this problem go away without seeming to capitulate? Sombre second thought has never been part of his repertoire.
Prior to the closure of the offices and the elimination of services, veterans and their supporters were out in the thousands to protest the cuts. Some veterans even went to Ottawa to meet with the minister responsible for Veterans Affairs. They were consequently treated with such disrespect by Julian Fantino that the minister was forced to apologize for his actions.
But the veterans refuse to give up. You see, veterans are like that. They are a determined lot who have earned the respect of a nation.
The Harper government used to understand that you can’t tangle with veterans.
It is a losing proposition, especially for a Conservative government that has done its share of exploiting war and veterans for their own political purposes.
Many veterans were already feeling that their real issues, including their treatment upon their return from duty, have not been addressed adequately by the current government. The closure of the offices and the services provided there added insult to a growing pile of injuries.
But it’s the politics of this that makes no sense for the Harper government.
One would think the government is losing its ruthlessly strategic edge.
But then it introduces, through their perversely labelled minister
of Democratic Reform, Pierre Poilievre, an elections law that will prevent some people from voting and stops Elections Canada from promoting voting.
But hey, no surprise there — this government invented voter suppression.
This law is so bad that an American fair elections expert says it will deprive some Canadians of their voting rights. Witold Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union for Pennsylvania, told The National Post that Canadians need to ask themselves an important question: will the number of cases of fraud prevented actually be greater than the number of people prevented from voting?
Voting rights. Democracy. These were things those veterans, now fighting to hang on to a few meagre services, fought for and many died for.
The Harper government is making a mockery of all it.
But if that wasn’t enough, another anti-worker, anti-union private member’s bill made its way a little further through the House of Commons this month. Some amendments marginally weakened the full impact of Bill C-525, but important union rights have again been gutted. This time it is an attack on workplace democracy and the right of workers to become members of unions.
Veterans. Informed-debate. People’s right to a union and free collective bargaining. Voting rights. These are all under threat in Harper’s Canada.
This really is a government that hates; hates anyone that disagrees with them. Hates unions and the ability of people to work collectively to get a fair share of the economic pie. Hates democracy. Hates people who vote for other parties. Just plain hates.
This is not healthy for our country, our society. This is no way to govern. This is no way to build an inclusive nation where fairness prevails. This is just simply nastiness and hate. And we should call it out for what it really is.
Lana Payne is the Atlantic director for
Unifor. She can be reached by email at email@example.com.
Her column returns March 8.