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Veterans' benefits beefed up
MICHAEL DEN TANDT
Globe and Mail Update
The Harper government Thursday unveiled a beefed-up package of veterans' benefits that it billed as the most comprehensive since the end of the Second World War.
The legislation, which was drafted in consultation with veterans' groups following years of complaints that former soldiers were being given short shrift, significantly increases pensions and survivor benefits. It also offers a new program of aid for reintegration into civilian life, including counselling and job training.
“A healthy young soldier's life can be turned upside down by enemy fire at any time,” Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson said.
The ceremony Thursday in Parliament's Centre Block — attended by numerous members of the House and Senate as well as the Chief of the Defence Staff and Mr. Harper — was yet another signal that the Tory government intends to cast itself as strongly supportive of the military, and Canadian patriotism generally.
Tory strategists are said to believe that the party's chances of winning a majority in the next election hinge to a degree on whether it can “capture the flag” or harness Canadian nationalism to its cause.
In a brief speech, Prime Minister Stephen Harper first thanked the numerous veterans in the audience, saying they embody the “highest attributes of citizenship.” He then made pointed reference to his recent journey to Afghanistan.
“I was deeply moved by the strength and enthusiasm and dedication of those brave men and women,” he said. “Canadians stand behind them and their mission.”
Mr. Harper also used the occasion to express public support for Chief of the Defence Staff General Rick Hillier. “That goes right up to the top,” he told the general. “I wouldn't worry about becoming a veteran just yet.” The legislation underlying the New Veterans' Charter, Bill C-45, was passed into law last May, with all-party support. But just as Mr. Harper made the Liberals' Afghan deployment his own by travelling to Kandahar, he Thursday seized the issue of veterans' welfare.
The Prime Minister's public endorsement of Gen. Hillier is significant. During the election campaign, there were rumblings in the Tory camp that the general was providing advice to then-defence minister Bill Graham that amounted to partisanship.
This, and a philosophical disagreement with Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor on the issue of airlift procurement, had led to speculation in defence industry circles that Gen. Hillier, despite his dynamism and popularity with the troops, would not stay on for long under the new regime.