November 2013 Archives

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Interested?

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Any group of people who band together to advocate for something could be called a “special interest group,” but some get labelled that way and some do not. What are the selection criteria?

That’s easy, actually. In Conservative politics, the phrase is only used to describe opponents. Conservatives have supportive organizations; we have “special interest groups.” Allegedly, the latter’s appeal to the public good is a mask: we have much narrower, self-interested aims, so our arguments can be dismissed with a wave of the hand. Industry Minister James Moore once infamously spoke against extending the Canada Health Act to autism treatment, claiming that autism is not a disability but a “special interest.” Even those who opposed scrapping the long-form census were attacked in that manner—a bit ironic, as it turns out, since many of them had been Conservative voters up to that point.

More recently, Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver described environmentalists as “radicals,” funded by “foreign special interest groups.” The Harper government even changed the tax law and set aside $8 million to have the Canada Revenue Agency go after charities deemed too critical of Conservative policies. Big Oil welcomed the move—just more special interest groups, “masquerading as charities,” to be weeded out. This didn’t apply, however, to the foreign-funded right-wing Fraser Institute—which continues to have charitable status, but openly advocates for “right to work (for less)” laws.

Special interests do seem to cut both ways. So let’s follow the Conservative inconsistencies on the subject a little further, into territory in which we are all affected.

In December of 2011, Big Oil wrote a letter to the Harper government. Briefly, it wanted a lot of pesky environmental regulations abolished so it could go on making large profits. It asked Harper to comply.

And comply Harper did:

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Oil companies are now free to pollute the environment even more than they have done already.

Our waterways, including lakes, have now been almost entirely exempted from government environmental oversight—except, oddly enough, lakes in Conservative ridings. This will make it much easier for oil and gas pipeline-builders like Enbridge, and other industries as well, to proceed with their projects free of environmental impact assessments, but the rest of us, including First Nations people whose communities depend on those waterways, have lost vital environmental protection. Transport Canada has predicted that this massive deregulation will give rise to numerous court battles, with litigation taking the place of government regulation.

And by no coincidence at all, Canada has now dropped to the very last place among the OECD countries with respect to environmental protection.

Isn’t Big Oil a special interest group, after all? Who could seriously argue otherwise? Here’s the major difference, however, between advocacy organizations the Conservative government has been busy attacking, and the oil lobby. The Harper government jumps to its command, passing laws on request, while it denounces others as “enemies.” But individual Canadians, and those associations who work on our behalf, have a shared concern about a healthy environment, one which we hope to pass on to future generations to enjoy. And that makes us one very large special interest group indeed—the only one, I think, that really counts.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

What's $3.1 billion?

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“What’s a million?” the Liberal cabinet minister C.D. Howe once allegedly asked. Well, even allowing for inflation, the Harper government has done him several times better.

Somehow, in the press of things, the government has managed to lose track of $3.1 billion. That’s not something you’d easily recover from under the couch cushions, and it’s a darn sight more than you’d need for an over-priced glass of orange juice, or, for that matter, a bunch of new gazebos and parks in Tony Clement’s riding. But, as Lawrence Martin noted recently, there hardly seems to be a squeak of outrage about it. It’s almost if that sort of thing is now business as usual.

Is it that the amount is simply too large to comprehend? Too big a sum to worry about? Or do we comfort ourselves by imagining that there must be a good explanation, so no big worry? After all, the cost overruns for the F-35 bomber dwarf those missing billions by quite a bit. And the government has so far weathered all the outrage over that, and moved on to the squalid realm of good old-fashioned scandal.

Well, I’m not an economist by any means, but I have my own theory. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty recently announced, with much fanfare, that our deficit problem would be history in 2015, which, by no coincidence, is the year of the next federal election. Not only will he have slain the deficit dragon, in fact, but we are promised a surplus—of $3.7 billion. Hmm, says I, scratching my head. That amount seems suspiciously similar to the mislaid amount.

Could it be…no, surely not.

Chris Aylward

Philippines relief

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As most readers will know, the Philippines have recently been devastated by the greatest storm in recorded history—Typhoon Haiyan. 1.9 million people have been left homeless; it’s likely that more than 4,000 died.

International aid has, thankfully, not been slow in coming. Canada’s military has been playing a significant role with its Disaster Assistance Response Team. Conditions are improving, but there is still a long way to go.

The Canadian government has pledged to match donations to registered charities for the relief effort. Oxfam Canada and other member agencies of the Humanitarian Coalition have already secured $5 million in government funding to assist the victims of Typhoon Haiyan. The government has announced a total of $20 million in funds at this point for Canadian and international aid groups.

I’m proud that our labour movement is playing its part. The Canadian Labour Congress put out an appeal for donations to Oxfam Canada. Individual unions are already involved. The PSAC’s Social Justice Fund has made a $25,000 donation—$10,000 to Oxfam Canada and $15,000 to union and community partners in the Philippines—and with our Components, Locals and regional committees, our own union’s contribution now exceeds $50,000.

Oxfam is on the ground in the Philippines, helping to restore access to clean water and basic sanitation, providing tents and tarpaulins to flooded-out families there, and assisting in restarting farming and fishing, and setting up food markets. Oxfam plans to assist 100,000 people in the first phase of their work. In the devastated town of Tacloban, Oxfam has been working on the immediate repair and rehabilitation of the water system: 276,400 people (80 per cent of the population) now have access to water.

As noted, there is an enormous amount of work left to be done. 13 million people have been affected by the storm: 4 million people have been displaced from their homes and lands. 2.5 million require food aid, of whom only 1.1 million have been reached through international relief efforts.

Everyone’s help is needed. Please give generously.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

How to crititicize a politician

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I’ve been idly following the verbal eruptions that followed Justin Trudeau’s infamous “Ladies Night,” not to mention his off-the-cuff remarks about China, and his star candidate in Toronto-Centre claiming Sarah Palin as a “true feminist role model,” and trying to get a sense of what it all means.

The commentary has ranged from reasonable to downright vicious, and it got me thinking. Canadians for some time have been lamenting the cheapening of political discussion in this country, and I think they’re on to something, but suppose we take that critique a step further. Do politicians themselves, too often the targets of cheap rhetoric, offer less than they did once upon a time? Are they part of the problem?

What do we want from them? That was an easy question once. Politicians (other than Senators) are people whom we have elected to represent us, and who are accountable to us. We have expected them to stand for certain principles and policies, and remain true to them. Some do better at this than others: at their best, though, they can inspire as well as carry out their duties on our behalf.

These days, however, things don’t seem so clear. Now it’s too much about image, optics, and talking-points. Politicians can go an astonishingly long way on appearance alone, and an ability to memorize “the message.” Don’t look for substance, or you’ll be disappointed.

On the other hand, maybe we get the politicians we deserve. It’s not that they all lack quality by any means, but political life at present doesn’t necessarily encourage the best and the brightest to get involved. There has been a marked decline in civility—the courteous expression of differences, a willingness to consider other points of view, and the boldness to express new ideas and communicate a vision of the future rather than to attack opponents.

Politics is a rough-and-tumble occupation: no one expects it to be a hand-holding exercise. But there should be rules. Civil discussion allows for the free exchange of opinions and information. It allows for the occasional gaffe—I stress the word “occasional”—and for apologies where called for, without those apologies being seen as a sign of weakness.

All of us who have been elected to various positions of leadership in the labour movement have encountered criticism, sincere, well-intended, sometimes sharply phrased. It’s not only a way of keeping us accountable: it helps us navigate, it informs us, it brings new information and ways of thinking that can only be to the benefit of both leaders and rank-and-file members.

The best criticism doesn’t hold back on matters of substance. But—as readers of comment threads on online newspaper articles know very well—there is that other criticism, too: rude, insulting, sometimes verging on slander, where the object is to tear down rather than to engage. This, too, goes with the territory; it’s an occupational hazard. But when it overwhelms the serious airing of differences by concerned members, it can hollow out any notion of solidarity. It can also be profoundly discouraging to those activists who might be considering a run for office, whether it be at the Local, Component or national levels. And it can paralyze us in moments of crisis.

We’re facing extraordinarily tough times ahead, and there will be more than a few anxious moments for all of us. Nerves will fray, and tempers will rise. Our opponents will do their level best to divide us against ourselves—which is what the current “union boss” slur from the President of Treasury Board is all about. But we are a democratic organization, and so long as we keep our channels of communication open, and remember how important solidarity is and will be, we can and we will prevail.

We should be unafraid of our differences. Solidarity doesn’t mean only one permissible opinion. But at the end of the day, we have more in common than not. Building on that shared sense of purpose is what makes us strong. We should pay heed to the current state of federal politics, and take a lesson from it. We have always demanded respect from the employers—but respect begins at home.

Let’s engage, at every level of our Union, and have the intense discussions over strategy that we need to have. As a part of that process, criticism is not to be discouraged, but welcomed. Like other PSAC leaders, I may have my own views, but no views, certainly not mine, are forever set in stone as our circumstances rapidly change. Speak out! We’re listening, and all of us are continuing to learn. Surely that’s what serious politics, and politicians, should be all about.

Sharon DeSousa

Anti-labour rumblings in Ontario

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With so much in the news recently about the Harper government’s numerous anti-union initiatives, it’s easy to forget that the same struggles are shaping up in other jurisdictions.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Ontario looks to be a major battleground in the future. After all, key figures in the Harper government—Tony Clement, John Baird, Jim Flaherty—originally served in the Mike Harris provincial government. They do stay in touch with their provincial counterparts. And ideology travels freely across borders and jurisdictions in any case.

Opposition Leader Tim Hudak has already laid all the familiar anti-union cards on the table. “Pathways to Prosperity,” he calls his action plan. But those in the know call it a “pathway to poverty.”

Be assured that the anti-labour component of Hudak’s “pathways” is no quickly-forgotten policy document gathering dust somewhere. As we have now learned, it is likely to form the cutting edge of Tim Hudak’s next electoral campaign.

Less than two weeks ago, backbencher Monte McNaughton was virtually quoting from it, echoing the same nonsense about lack of transparency in union finances that the feds used to justify the union-busting bill C-377: the latter just reintroduced in the Senate last month.

Unions are democratic structures whose leaders are held accountable by their membership who elect them. Policy decisions are created democratically, and it’s likely a lot of those decisions will offend anti-union conservatives—no surprise there.

No union I’m familiar with conceals its annual audited financial statements or its Convention-approved budget from its members, so the alleged need for union “transparency” is a false assumption. The reporting requirements set out in C-377 are far more onerous than for any other non-profit institution, or Canadian corporation. C-377 is intended to drown unions in paperwork, divert their resources, and give early warning to employers. Hudak’s “Pathways to Prosperity” calls for the same union-busting tactic.

At the federal level, we also have C-525 to contend with: A “private member” initiative that would allow a minority of workers to prevent certification of unions and to decertify unions already in place. But Hudak goes much further, promising to repeal the Rand Formula.

With the passage of a “right to work (for less)” law in neighbouring Michigan, Hudak wants to transform Ontario into a “right to work” jurisdiction as well. Workers in a union shop would be permitted to benefit from a collective agreement without having to pay any dues. Unions would even be forced to represent the free-riders. The “prosperity” Hudak talks about is for business owners, not for the workers who would face a significant wage penalty if such legislation were passed. (Here’s a substantial take on what “right to work” actually means, from labour law professor David Doorey).

Given that the Conservative Party convention in Calgary has just made “right to work” an official Conservative policy, Ontario is likely to be an important testing-ground for the feds. That makes it doubly important for workers in Ontario to be on their guard and to do what has to be done.

Only union principles and union solidarity will save us when our fundamental union rights are threatened. Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives are here to test our resolve—and its up to all of us in the labour movement to meet that challenge head on.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Trouble with facts

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Once again, Tony Clement, the President of Treasury Board, is speaking out against “alarming” public service absenteeism. It’s a perfect replay of comments he made last June, during Public Service Week, a supposed “no-nonsense” approach to an ailing public service with its alleged culture of slackness. Since June, however, Statistics Canada has tried to correct the record, noting that when appropriate comparisons are made, the differences in absenteeism between the federal public sector and the private sector are minimal.

But it’s as though StatsCan never uttered a word.

When ideological bias runs into facts, those facts are at a clear disadvantage today—assuming we can even get access to them. But there is nothing new here from Clement. Remember when he was Minister of Industry and he trashed the long-form census? A voluntary census, he said, would yield equally valuable results. Statisticians said otherwise, but what did they know?

As it happened, they knew more than the Minister.

But I need to be fair to the Minister at this point. He’s not alone in the car here. In fact, he’s not even the driver. Speaking of the ill-fated long-form census, he announced that “There’s not a micron of difference of opinion between myself and the prime minister on this.”

Well, there seldom is. But that’s true of Harper’s entire Cabinet.

It’s no coincidence that scientists, as well as statisticians, have been under the gun since Harper was first elected in 2006. Facts are their stock in trade. But facts can get out of hand. The muzzling of scientists is by now too well-known to merit a detailed discussion. But if you have the time, check out this informative piece about the Experimental Lakes Area, a world-class ecological laboratory shut down by the Conservative government last year, allegedly because of cost. The flow of uncomfortable facts about environmental pollution had to cease. Amazingly, it’s now illegal for scientists to pursue their research there.

Speak out against this sort of thing, better prepare to be trashed. Four scientists did: Diane Orihel, a PhD candidate at the University of Alberta; Britt Hall, an associate professor at the University of Regina; Carol Kelly, professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba; and John Rudd, the former ELA chief scientist at Fisheries and Oceans Canada. They were immediately dismissed as a “group of radical ideologues who have lead [sic] a campaign of misinformation about [Science Minister Greg Rickford’s] work to protect the Experimental Lakes Area.”

Facts, and the folks who bring them, can be downright annoying when they get in the way of ideological prejudice. But they’re all we have—other than the will and the determination to be guided by them.

Chris Aylward

"We have never needed unions more"

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The former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page is back in the news. Installed by Stephen Harper in 2008 as a gesture towards Parliamentary transparency, Page quickly found himself at odds with the Conservative government when he actually took the job seriously. Despite withholding both funds and essential data from his office, however, the government was unable to prevent Page from continuing to do his work conscientiously. Namecalling was their only option, until they were able to replace him earlier this year.

But Page did not go quietly into the night. Instead, he secured a job at the University of Ottawa that would, in essence, continue his earlier work in public policy. This proved to be sufficiently alarming that he became the target of new attacks—like this one, from Philip Cross, a former economist at Statistics Canada who now works for the right-wing but charitable Macdonald-Laurier Institute. Allegedly, it’s unethical for Page to compete with the PBO to hire qualified employees—an odd position for a defender of the free market to take, but there you go.

In any case, Page has emerged as a defender of unions, which, even given his fearless critiques of government secrecy and phoney estimates was not necessarily a given. He has recently been the recipient, for example, of an award from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation—no friends of ours. But as it turns out, Page sees unions as indispensable partners in the “ground-up” public service renewal he would like to see.

Older members will recall that public service renewal has been a thing for quite a long time now, and has been mostly a top-down exercise with some perfunctory consultation along the way—far more consultation, admittedly, than we have had with the Harper government, but not exactly a partnership.

But Page argues that federal public service unions can galvanize our memberships to get behind public service renewal and take an ethical stance that favours public service transparency.

Page said the mandate of unions extends beyond collective bargaining. They defend labour and human rights and promote professional standards and values, which “gives them the opportunity to help develop a bottom-up renewal exercise and create that discussion.”

“We have never needed unions more,” said Page. “Union survival may mean doing things a different way and not just about the right to strike, fighting for disability benefits and wage increases. They can raise credibility in a different way.”

He said unions can speak out for their members and also about the obligations of professional public servants to provide the information Parliament needs to do its job.


Page believes that public workers have a role, or as he puts it, a mission, to help deliver good governance to Canadians. His own PBO staff, he says, carried on despite “intimidation from the government and senior bureaucrats. Doing their jobs for Canadians was more important than self preservation in an environment that is becoming more toxic.”

Unions, in other words, could assist substantially with an overall bottom-to-top renewal of the public service, were that ever to occur. And in part, as Page sees it, the unions are there to encourage their members to carry out their duties fearlessly in the face of attempted political interference. One can speculate about precisely what that might mean in practical terms, but a strong defence of those who blow the whistle on unethical government practices is obviously a key part of our work.

It’s good to have a strong voice defending us and even calling for an expanded role, even if that voice is no longer heard on Parliament Hill. Meanwhile, however, the secrecy continues, and proposed sweeping changes to labour legislation threaten our union’s abilities to represent our members, as well as the fundamental workplace rights of more than a million Canadian workers.

Was Page’s battle in vain? As noted, he will continue to speak out publicly. He makes a lot of sense. But good sense alone, as we know from bitter experience under the present government, is never enough—proof by itself that unions have never been needed more, as we prepare ourselves for what’s to come.

[Photo credit: Sean Kilpatrick, Canadian Press]

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Elites

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“In our party,” Stephen Harper said in his less-than-memorable speech to the party faithful in Calgary, “public service must mean private sacrifice. That’s why Laureen and I first left our home here in Calgary. We didn’t go to Ottawa to join private clubs or become part of some ‘elite.’ That’s not who you are; it’s not who we are.”

For some reason this reminds me of an earlier speech “Canada now has one of the most accountable and transparent systems of governance in the world.” The man can say just about anything with a straight face.

In any case, let’s have a closer look at these elites. Surely we wouldn’t find them in the public sector, where Treasury Board president Tony Clement has vowed to cut back, claw back and transform the Public Service into a lean, mean operation, in part by gutting collective bargaining and laying off thousands of workers. Oh, wait…

You could be Nigel Wright, paid a handsome severance allowance after putting in all of two-and-a-half years at the Prime Minister’s Office. The same generosity applies to all ministerial staff.

That’s two weeks salary for every year worked—twice what federal public workers, most of whom no longer receive severance pay, used to get on retirement, and four times what they got after resignation. (Those workers needed to put in ten years to qualify for severance, by the way.) In addition, it’s now much less certain that Wright left his job voluntarily: the Prime Minister now appears to be saying that he was dismissed for just cause. If so, and he had been a unionized public worker, he would have received nothing at all. And speaking of accountability and transparency, the government refuses to let the public know Wright’s salary and the amount of his severance—all paid for by the taxpayer.

Or—close your eyes—you could be a Deputy Minister.

Then you’ve got it made. For every year worked, you get two years of pensionable service. Yes, you read right. And there are big bonuses on top of that.

But it gets much better. Even when you leave the Public Service, you can keep buying more years of service to increase your pension while you pursue another career, or enjoy retirement.

Federal public sector unions are not permitted to bargain pensions. But the ministerial assistants and Deputy Ministers didn’t have to bargain to get entitlements that no worker in the country enjoys.

They’re an elite, in other words. And judging from the recent shenanigans in the Senate, where 56 Harper appointees now loll about, there are others, even if these days there are limits.

All of this is to say that, far from being opposed to elites, the Harper government fondly nurtures them. Indeed, when you hear the word “elite” being uttered with staged contempt, take a close look at the speakers. More often than not, they’re really talking about themselves.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Inclement weather

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The days are getting colder, and shorter, and, as if by coincidence, most of us have just set our clocks back at the same time as the Conservative Party Convention wrapped up on the weekend.

That was quite the little 1950s-fest they had in Calgary. In among guns, pipelines, making prison inmates pay room and board, and supporting the alleged right of religious organizations to discriminate against LGBT folks, there was the whole Conservative anti-labour agenda in all its dubious glory.

Conservative delegates voted to change party policy on a range of motions that would push for federal employees to be switched to a different pension plan, claw back federal employees’ benefits, increase requirements on unions to report how they spend their money and allow union members to opt out in part or altogether.


So there, in one fell swoop, is the Conservative Party’s battle-plan. Fueled by Fraser Institute and Canadian Federation of Independent Business rubbish, and the tripe dished up by Terrence Oakey’s anti-union “Merit” lobby group, Conservatives will attempt to con the Canadian public once again: union-busting is going to make everybody better off, they’ll tell us, and punishing public sector workers in the meantime is just good public policy—even if there is no evidence to back up the notion that they do better than unionized employees in the private sector.

This isn’t about the facts—those just get in the way of a good old-fashioned anti-union scapegoating. Expect Bill C-377 this Fall, back for a second tour. And Bill C-525, which would allow a minority of workers to decertify a union, or keep one from being organized. And then the crowning achievement of any conservative ideologue—the abolition of the Rand formula, replacing it with Deep South “right to work (for less)” laws.

It’s all coming. Don’t have any illusions about that. The Conservatives certainly don’t.

Meanwhile, this is what federal public workers are now facing, with Bill C-4, now before the House. I met with Treasury Board President Tony Clement last week to propose that he withdraw his changes from the bill, and that instead the unions meet with the employer to consult constructively on new Public Service labour legislation.

This has been the approach both sides have taken until now in conducting everyday labour relations; cooperation where possible has been the rule with previous Treasury Board presidents, including the late Reg Alcock and, more recently, Vic Toews. My suggestion to Clement was that we look at the draft labour legislation together, in that same spirit, and discuss our positive proposals in that context.

We got nowhere with Clement. He stated bluntly that he had no intention of consulting with us, and that he wanted all his changes in place for the next round of collective bargaining—in fact, by Christmas. In the face of that, I let the Minister know in very clear language indeed that we would be zealously representing our members in the workplace, we would protect their health and safety rights at all costs, and we would not accept concessions at the bargaining table.

Here is what Clement had to say about that meeting later on: “That’s also the meeting where you claimed co-governance with Parliament. Takes ‘union boss’ to a whole new level.”

I didn’t say any such thing, of course. I referred, as noted, to labour relations in the recent past, and stressed the idea of consultation—working with the employer to resolve problems together. But Clement is not a person who places much stock in cooperation. And after our meeting, lacking even a veneer of professionalism, he proceeded to misrepresent and name-call on Twitter.

Not a sterling example of how to conduct labour relations in the Public Service or anywhere else, to put it mildly, but it’s what we have to deal with these days—sneering, contempt, and everywhere bad faith. Fighting back is now our only option, and fight back we will.

A cold winter is coming, and the storms are already brewing. Anyone still wondering why we called our blogsite “Headwinds?”


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I didn’t think I’d have to blog about this issue again for a while longer, but the Conservative campaign against our veterans is getting nastier, and it’s time for Canadians to speak out. After all, Remembrance Day is in less than two weeks.

Defending those who have risked life and limb to defend us seems like a natural Canadian impulse. But why should we have to? Veterans should need no defence, least of all against their own government. Yet what we’re seeing is an excess of ideological spite directed against a group of Canadians who once might have been seen as part of the Conservatives’ natural constituency. (If that was ever so, it isn’t any more.)

Anyone who dares to criticize or actively oppose a measure of this government appears to be fair game for smearing and dirty tricks. And veterans who have recently been doing plenty of both, in their own defence, have been on the receiving end for some time.

The latest example has been the antics of a Conservative operative in Ottawa, accusing the head of a veterans’ advocacy group, Mike Blais, of advocating violent extremism. It was a stupid and sloppy move—Blais’ actual words state the exact opposite—and it has produced a social media backlash. But the operative in question is a military reservist, who for some reason has been permitted to make public partisan statements on behalf of Stephen Harper for some time, even though military orders permit no such thing without chain-of-command approval. Once this all went public, he was ordered to resign from the South Ottawa Conservative Association and cease his noisy political activities.

The mystery, of course, is how he had been permitted to go on for so long, and why it took a public outcry before the military acted. Perhaps we can see the same sort of benign neglect in the Conservative-leaning press: here we have the same person writing a letter to the National Post, posing as an ordinary citizen and praising Harper to the skies, nowhere identified as an official Conservative organizer.

Was this sleazy attack on Blais a on-off? Not at all.

The government went after outspoken veterans advocate Sean Bruyea back in 2006, circulating his private medical records to attempt to discredit him. When the story broke, it turned out that he was far from alone. Veterans Ombudsman Pat Stogran, a fierce defender of veterans’ rights, had his own records accessed 400 times. He was given the heave by the Conservative government in 2010—but he didn’t go quietly.

Then there was Harold Leduc, a member of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, who sided with veterans a little too often for the powers that be. His private medical records were circulated and he became a target of gossip and innuendo: the Canadian Human Rights Commission ordered the Board to pay him for the harassment he suffered at the hands of other Board members.

And then there were Jim Lowther and David MacLeod, working to house homeless veterans. They were denounced by sleepy Conservative MP Rob Anders as “NDP hacks” and, unbelievably, supporters of Russia’s Vladimir Putin. As it happened, both veterans were card-carrying Conservatives.

There’s a pattern here.

And it parallels that other pattern: treating our veterans with contempt, which has now gotten to the point of dumping wounded veterans before they can qualify for military pensions. The New Veterans Charter, with its numerous shortcomings, allows the Conservative government to save money on the backs of disabled veterans. The feds also tried, unsuccessfully, to get a lawsuit by several Afghanistan vets tossed out of court, on the incredible grounds that the government didn’t owe any special obligation to them. And then there are all the regional Veterans Affairs office closures, which will effectively deny many of our vets access to the services they need.

It’s a mystery to me—targeting veterans in this mean-spirited fashion while still beating the drum for the War of 1812. Remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf is, of course, a part of who we are and what we do on November 11. But if we want to honour the spirit of Remembrance Day, let’s remember the living, as well as the dead.

[Photo credit: Pawel Dwulit, Canadian Press]

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