Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has broken a promise made to veterans by allowing $105 million earmarked for Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) to go unspent in the 2018-19 fiscal year.
The money was left unused by VAC and sent back to the government’s general “fiscal framework,” according to documents obtained by Global News.
In September 2018, Global News reported that the Liberals allowed more than $372 million meant for veterans to go unspent during their first three years in office.
This revelation came seven months after Trudeau told a Canadian Armed Forces member during a town hall meeting in Edmonton that some veterans groups in Canada were “asking for more” than the government could afford to give.
It also followed comments Trudeau made during the 2015 election campaign slamming former prime minister Stephen Harper and the Conservatives for leaving roughly $1.1 billion meant for veterans unspent while they were in office.
“Canadians know this is wrong, a government led by me would make it right,” Trudeau said during an August 2015 stump speech.
In November 2018, about a month after Global News reported the $372 million in lapsed funding, the House of Commons voted unanimously to support an NDP motion that said all unspent money at VAC should “automatically carry forward” to the next year for the “sole purpose” of improving services for veterans.
The motion said this money should continue carrying forward each year until VAC meets all of its service standards for providing care to veterans.
According to the government’s most recent statistics, VAC is failing to meet 15 of 24 service standards, including wait times for accessing disability payments, long-term care, rehabilitation, vocational training and health benefits.
The government, meanwhile, says it has increased annual funding for veterans by more than a billion dollars a year since 2016, providing roughly $4.4 billion directly to veterans and their families last year.
“Ensuring veterans and their families get the support they need is our number one priority. With respect to benefits, every single eligible veteran who comes forward will get the benefits they need,” said Alex Wellstead, a spokesperson for Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay.
Regarding lapsed funding, Wellstead said budgets are based on estimates. VAC also says that any money returned to the government’s general fund is available for services in the following year.
Wellstead also said that current backlogs for accessing veterans’ services are “unacceptable.”
He added that the government is processing more applications than ever before, going from 29,000 in 2015 to 54,000 in 2019.
In total, the Liberals have allowed $477 million budgeted for VAC to go unspent since 2015.
“We have a lot of veterans with major needs and concerns,” said NDP veterans affairs critic Rachel Blaney.
“To see another year gone by with lapsed spending really makes us question what is the dedication to getting these resources into services that support veterans.”
By Brian Hill - Global News