Veterans minister likens leaving $372M unspent to getting credit back for prepaid gas
Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan is defending leaving hundreds of millions of dollars earmarked for veterans unspent, comparing the decision to prepaying for gas and then getting a credit back.
In an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson, O’Regan reacted to a report last week by Global News that found the Liberals have left $372 million set aside in federal fiscal estimates for veterans unspent despite criticizing the Conservatives for doing the same thing in 2015.
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“When you prepay at the pump, you put in 80 bucks, you don’t fill it up, you get that credit back,” O’Reagan said, before noting that the overall investments by the government in veterans’ care speak for themselves.
“Within the context of us spending $10 billion, absolutely I defend that.”
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O’Regan said the situation with the Liberals leaving money unspent differs from the situation the party criticized during the last campaign because they have been making other investments for veterans.
“We did accuse Conservatives of holding back money,” O’Regan said. “That’s because they were cutting everywhere else. They cut benefits. They closed offices. They fired staff. And somehow, that’s supposed to improve the lives of veterans?”
When asked why the money was being left unspent, given that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a veteran in a town hall seven months ago that veterans were asking for more than the government could give, O’Regan said the government is focused on making sure what it does spend has a positive impact.
“Actions speak louder than words with this prime minister and this government,” O’Regan said.
“Ten billion dollars is a lot of money and I won’t be satisfied until we get it out the door and veterans feel it.”
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The minister was also asked about the controversial case of Christopher Garnier, who was convicted this summer in the brutal murder of a female Halifax police officer.
Garnier claimed committing the murder gave him PTSD.
Veterans Affairs agreed to pay for his treatment, despite him never having served in the Canadian Forces, and Conservatives called last week for the minister to intervene and reverse the decision to pay for his treatments.
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That decision is a result of a federal policy that allows for benefits to be provided to the family members of a veteran.
Garnier’s father, Vince Garnier, is a veteran who also suffers from PTSD. He has claimed getting treatment for his son helps them both.
Trudeau accused the Conservatives this week of playing “disgusting political games” by questioning the decision by officials to pay in the case.
O’Regan said he was “outraged” when he learned of the decision and has asked his officials to look into it.
“This is perhaps one of the most frustrating cases you can imagine as a veterans affairs minister,” he said.
“We have a duty at Veterans Affairs to looking after not only the veteran but their families as well. This is a very obviously very extreme example of an extension of that policy, and I don’t back down on that policy. We’ll do whatever it takes to make a veteran well again and in this case, it’s his [Garnier’s] father.”
He continued, noting the case is an “extreme example” of the policy intended to help veterans’ families.
“This is not exactly where I intended it to go but we’ll look at the case once we get it,” he said.
“Again, I won’t apologize for looking after a veteran’s family members … but I do know that we have to take a look at this.”
Watch an extended interview with Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan below