As It Happens

Retired army major laments 'revolving door' of Veterans Affairs ministers

The rotating cast of Veterans Affairs ministers shows that Canada's former soldiers are not a priority for the Liberal government, says retired Canadian Army Maj. Mark Campbell.

P.E.I.'s Lawrence MacAulay will become the 5th minister in 2 years under the Liberals

Retired Maj. Mark Campbell says the Liberal government has proven that veterans are not a priority for the government. (CBC)

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The rotating cast of Veterans Affairs ministers shows that Canada's former soldiers are not a priority for the Liberal government, says retired Canadian Army Maj. Mark Campbell.

In a cabinet shuffle on Friday, P.E.I. MP Lawrence MacAulay, formerly the minister of agriculture, was appointed to the portfolio, filling a spot left vacant after Jody Wilson-Raybould quit cabinet amid the brewing SNC-Lavalin scandal.

MacAulay will be the fifth Veterans Affairs minister in the last two years, if you include Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, who served as acting minister in Wilson-Raybould's absence. 

Campbell, an Edmonton vet who lost both legs in Afghanistan, serves on the Veteran Affairs minister's policy advisory group. Here is part of his conversation with As It Happens host Helen Mann.

The new Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay [says] he's excited to take over this file and get to work with veterans. How does seeing a brand new minister in this role make you feel?

No offence to Mr. MacAulay, but they all say pretty much the same thing.

Now if we take what he has to say at face value, then that's great news because he's already expressed a desire to work with veterans, not just with the bureaucrats who make our lives miserable in Veterans Affairs.

I hope ... we can take his words at face value because he's moving into a real pressure situation.

Minister of Veterans Affairs Lawrence MacAulay on serving veterans

3 years ago
Duration 0:48
Newly-minted Minister of Veterans Affairs Lawrence MacAualy describes why it is an honour to serve Canada's veterans.

Why do you keep saying "face value"? Have you had an experience of hearing a different story than what you're seeing actually happen?

We've had different stories than what we've seen right from the prime minister on down, unfortunately.

He promised us a return to the lifelong pension and what he's giving us with this so-called pension-for-life scheme that the bureaucrats of Veterans Affairs have cooked up bears no relation whatsoever to the former Pension Act. 

How difficult is it to build a relationship, to have a sense of where the department is going, when you're dealing with this rotating cast of ministers?

It's difficult because the minister is, in fact, the political go-between the prime minister and the bureaucrats who actually cook up the schemes like pension for life and implement these things.

And rest assured the bureaucrats are working behind the scenes whether there's a minister there or not. It's just a question of whether the inmates are in charge of the asylum, or there's some adult supervision in the form of a minister to keep the bureaucrats in check.

And if Mr. MacAulay is willing to be able to do that — keep the bureaucrats in check and keep them singing his tune — then that'll be a huge step forward.

Because what we've seen in recent years is the new minister comes in, he or she is immediately taken away, whisked away by the bureaucrats and fed, you know, glasses full of the Kool-Aid.

Then by the time they actually get around to meeting and talking with veterans, they're already sort of touting the party line. 

Campbell is a member of the Veteran Affairs minister's policy advisory group. (Submitted by Mark Campbell)

Mr. MacAulay made very clear he does not see this role as a demotion from his previous cabinet post, and Jody Wilson-Raybould had said the same thing. But, you know, it was characterized as that when she was moved from the Justice Ministry by an awful lot of pundits, a lot of people out there expressing that opinion. How does that feel as a veteran and someone who works with other veterans to hear that?

It's frustrating and disappointing because, at the end of the day, if there's a perception out there, a widespread perception, that Veterans Affairs is sort of the bottom of the line in terms of portfolios, then that doesn't bode well for veterans, because it implies that our concerns aren't necessarily going to be heard or met.

The revolving door of ministers really, you know, I think it's a fantastically accurate indicator of the attention that this government is willing to pay to the veteran portfolio or the veteran file — which is not a whole lot, to be honest.

Jody Wilson-Raybould was the minister of Veterans Affairs very briefly before she quit cabinet last month. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

What are the biggest challenges you think the new minister is facing in this job?

Trust. Earning our trust. That's going be his biggest challenge in this job.

I find his words refreshing and I'm hopeful that he's able to live up to those words. And I'm hopeful that the government of Canada, in the form of the prime minister of Canada, will allow him to live up to those words and do the right thing, finally, by veterans.

Given all of the fires the Liberal government is trying to put out right now, do you think that this is going to be a priority for them?

Of course not. It never has been.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Richard Raycraft. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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