Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau promised to "reinstate" lifelong pensions for Canada's injured veterans during a campaign announcement in Belleville, Ont. that pledged $300 million annually to expand and create military support programs if elected on Oct. 19.
Trudeau said that after "10 years of neglect" under the Conservative government, he would implement changes immediately, including a new fund to cover post-secondary education costs for veterans, two new veterans' care centres and more support for the families of veterans.
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"For 10 years, Stephen Harper has been nickle-and-diming our veterans, lacking the respect and the support that Canadians have earned through service to country and that's something that we have to fix as a priority," Trudeau told supporters in the southern Ontario riding Bay of Quinte, which is home to CFB Trenton.
"This is about doing right by people who have offered everything in service of our country."
Trudeau said a "fully costed platform" would be released in coming weeks to show how the Liberal plan would be funded should he form government.
The plan includes:
- $20 million to create two new veterans' care centres.
- $100 million annually to expand support for families of veterans, including education and counseling.
- $25 million to expand the Permanent Impairment Allowance for the most seriously wounded.
- $40 million to increase the Earnings Loss Benefit from 75 per cent to 90 per cent of a soldier's pre-release salary.
- Increase the veteran survivor's pension amount to 70 per cent from 50 per cent.
- Double funding to the Last Post Fund for the burial of veterans.
Harper defends record
Asked about Trudeau's plan during his own campaign stop in Drummondville, Que., Monday morning, Harper defended the Conservative record with veterans under his leadership. He said his government has increased benefits for veterans by 35 per cent.
"Veterans are big supporters of our party and have been for a long time," he said in French.
"Evidently, it's not a unanimous opinion, but I think veterans understand, really, the support the Conservative government has for them."
Retired air force officer Erin O'Toole took over as minister of Veteran Affairs from Julian Fantino in January amid criticism over the decision to close regional offices and what veterans described as a lack of mental health support. O'Toole has since made several announcements to increase support and benefits for veterans.
Retired general Andrew Leslie, who is running as the Liberal candidate in the Ottawa riding of Orléans, spoke ahead of Trudeau, accusing "Harper's spin machine" of spending "a fortune" to convince Canadians that his government supports veterans when it does not.
"The whole attitude of Mr. Trudeau is, 'Let's fix it,'" Leslie said.
Trudeau also vowed to reopen the nine Veterans Affairs service offices closed under the Conservative government, and further promised to hire 400 new frontline service workers, including Veterans Affairs case managers.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said at a campaign event in Toronto Monday that his party will have its own detailed announcement about veterans during the campaign but also vowed to reopen the nine offices that were closed.
"We think that our veterans deserve to be recognized and respected 365 days a year — not just on November 11th," he said.
Liberal plan considers 'future generations'
Trudeau said that while 158 members of the Canadian Forces died during the mission in Afghanistan, 170 committed suicide since 2004 and that many more suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
He promised to implement all of the Auditor General's recommendations on improving mental health service to veterans.
"Future generations of brave women and men should know that they will be looked after when they finish their service to Canada. There should never be any doubt in their minds," he said.
When asked about how he will convince Canadians he is ready to lead given the "lack of experience" he and some Liberal candidates have on the federal scene, Trudeau said he has demonstrated leadership through his ideas and his team.
He pointed specifically to two candidates at the announcement: Leslie and Harjit Sajjan, a former police officer and lieutenant-colonel running in Vancouver South.
"One of the things I learned from my father is, you gather around you extraordinary people to serve, to bring forward solutions, to be strong voices for their communities in Ottawa," he said.
"And, I have to say, sir, you're a fairly brave man to stand there and question the life experience of folks like Harjit Sajjan and general Andrew Leslie."