Wounded Soldiers, Hungry Kids Not Harper Priorities

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By Ralph Goodale *

To Stephen Harper, nothing is more important that slashing the size and -- wherever possible -- the very existence of the Government of Canada. There is no higher purpose, no greater priority.  All government is bad, according to his ideology, so the less of it, the better.

That's why the Harper regime is curtailing federal engagement in health care, restricting old age security and trying to block any upgrading of the Canada Pension Plan.  They're also closing trade and immigration offices, cutting back on RCMP training, neglecting vital responsibilities for food safety and environmental protection, and dumping federal assets like PFRA community pastures and the historic prairie tree-farm in Saskatchewan.

The list of ways in which Mr. Harper is eviscerating the Government of Canada goes on and on.  The extent to which people are outraged by his scorched-earth policies largely depends upon who the victims are and how loud a voice they can muster.  But there are two examples of almost universal condemnation.

One is hungry kids in poor families. 

Ministers in the Harper Cabinet last week tried to wash their hands of the searing statistic that one-child-in-seven in Canada lives in poverty and goes to school everyday on an empty stomach.  The Conservatives say that's too bad, but it's not their problem -- despite two resolutions in Parliament in recent years calling for national action and federal leadership to tackle child poverty.

An illustration of what's wrong is the tax credit system which Mr. Harper frequently brags about.  It's structured in such a way that low income families are not eligible for any benefits.  That's perverse.  Those is greatest need are left out.  And Mr. Harper turns his back.

Another case deserving universal condemnation is this government's neglect of Canadian Forces personnel wounded, either physically or psychologically, on active military service.

Whether that service was 70 years ago in WW2 or just this past decade in Afghanistan, Canada owes a debt of national responsibility to the courageous men and women who were ordered into harm's way in dangerous theatres of war around the globe.  Our national determination to fulfill that responsibility must be unshakeable.

But recently we've witnessed the sad spectacle of elderly Veterans holding public demonstrations to protest the Harper government's closure of Veterans' Affairs offices and the under-funding of a broad range of services, including adequate support for dignified funerals.  Older Vets had to fight this government in Court for six long years to fend-off a claw-back of their pension benefits, and Mr. Harper is again in Court right today arguing that his government owes Veterans "no special duty".

The plight of more recent soldiers is no better.  There have been appalling examples of Forces personnel being released from military service just before they could qualify for their pension.  And worse still are the implications of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which appears to have claimed at least four lives through suicide within the past month.

Even former Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier has sounded an alarm, saying "...many young men and women have lost confidence in our country to support them."  He's calling for a public inquiry into what's needed to deal with mental health issues in the military, and for major improvements in pensions and other services.  It is simply immoral to send Canadian Forces personnel "to do their duty" unstintingly in war, and then short-change them when they get back home.

Like dealing adequately with child poverty, the proper respectful treatment of Veterans and wounded soldiers will require a pro-active federal government willing to acknowledge its obligations, show leadership and make some investments in intelligent solutions.  But that doesn't fit the Harper ideological model of relentless across-the-board budget cutting -- at the expense of all else.

There's simply no room for poor kids and wounded warriors in Mr. Harper's Canada.

* Ralph Goodale is Wascana’s Member of Parliament and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Opposition in the House of Commons.

JULY 2018

Vol. 12 - No. 12


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