Canadian veterans run, campaign for better treatment
Benefits, Veterans Affairs office closure among issues on road to Oct. 19 federal election
Military veterans are heating up campaigns in ridings across Canada for the Oct. 19 federal election, with a shared goal for better treatment.
Their presence comes in the form of both candidates, and activists fighting for veterans' rights.
The number of veterans running for the Liberal Party is into the double digits. They include retired general Andrew Leslie in Orleans, Ont.
The Conservatives, who have long characterized themselves as a friend of the military and veterans, have candidates including in Ontario, with retired lieutenant colonel Pierre Lemieux running in Glengarry-Prescott-Russell and Erin O'Toole, a former Air Force captain turned lawyer, vying for re-election in Durham.
The NDP, however, has no veterans running in the eastern Ontario in this election.
ABC veterans front and centre
The ABC, or Anyone But Conservatives, is a veterans group behind protests both on social media and outside Conservative rallies.
Boudreault has historically voted Conservative, but said the party won't get his vote this time around.
He said the Conservatives' Scott Reid, who is running again in the Ontario riding of Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, has been missing in action when it comes to helping him secure his veteran's benefits.
"I did vote for him," Boudreault said of Reid. "I'm waiting for a knee replacement and some other treatments, and benefits. And I've been after him since 2012 and I haven't got any answers yet."
Red tape, benefits top complaints
Boudreault served at Garrison Petawawa, which is in the Ontario riding of Renfrew-Nippissing-Pembroke.
The area has voted in Conservative Cheryl Gallant for 15 years, and in the last election, the Liberal Party came in fourth.
"I broke one of my legs in multiple places," said Lehoux in an interview from the riding. "My other leg was ripped open and had a lot of bleeding from it. I was too badly injured to carry on with my duties."
Since then, Lehoux has become personally familiar with the Department of Veterans Affairs, and said he's running for office as a way to "take care of the soldiers, especially in this riding."
Lehoux and more than a dozen other Liberal candidates stood behind leader Justin Trudeau in August to unveil the party's platform on veterans, promises that included reopening Veterans Affairs offices across Canada.
The Conservative government's relationship with some veterans went sour in a very public way in January 2014, whenthen Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino got in a lively dust-up with senior veterans over the closure of nine department offices across the country.
The office closures, the red tape and the denial of certain benefits top the list of complaints from veterans. The New Veterans Charter, which grants injured veterans lump-sum payments rather than a lifetime pension, continues to rattle young former personnel injured in recent conflicts.
Tories want to ensure 'no one is left behind'
"We're taking steps to make sure no one is left behind. We are making changes to show veterans we are listening," O'Toole said after becoming veterans affairs minister.
The Conservative Party has made several changes to veterans affairs policies over the last several months and in March the government brought in a new Retirement Income Security Benefit to "make sure that anyone with a moderate to severe injury has the financial security for life."
In an interview, O'Toole said he's been reaching out to veterans.
NDP to release veterans platform soon
Peter Stoffer, who is running again in Nova Scotia's Sackville-Preston-Chezzetcook riding, said his party's platform on veterans will be released soon.
He said what is most important is simply letting the department spend the money Parliament has already provided.
"You can put $25 billion into the budget. If you don't have access to that money, it doesn't mean anything, and that's what the Conservatives did," said Stoffer.
Stoffer also pointed to the $1.13 billion unspent by Veterans Affairs Canada, which he believes puts the recently announced $1.9-billion government surplus for fiscal 2014-2015 in perspective.
"It is rather ironic. They can't say the money wasn't needed," Stoffer said.