Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) held a Stakeholder Summit on 5-6 October 2016 to discuss issues facing Canada’s Veterans and their families and to hear recommendations brought forward by the Ministerial Advisory Groups, newly formed groups established by the Minister of Veterans Affairs to improve transparency and seek consultation on issues of importance to Veterans and their families. The Ministerial Advisory Groups focus on the areas of policy, service excellence, mental health, families, care and support, and commemoration. The members of the groups were appointed by the Minister in April 2016 for a two-year appointment and are composed of members from the Veterans’ community, family members of Veterans, and other professionals assisting Veterans. Each group also includes a senior departmental official from Veterans Affairs Canada, and a representative of the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman is also invited to attend as an observer. The Royal Canadian Legion, with a mandate for Veterans care, representation and access to benefits, support for families of Veterans, and Remembrance, has representatives on each of the six Advisory Groups.
The members of the Ministerial Advisory Groups have been working diligently the past five months to discuss the issues and develop sound recommendations to the Minister of Veterans Affairs focussed on ensuring the Department meets the Prime Minister’s mandate commitments. Read the Prime Minister`s mandate letter to the Minister of Veterans Affairs Canada and the Associate Minister of National Defence: Mandate Letter
To date, Budget 2016 delivered on only a few of the Prime Minister’s mandate commitments, providing additional financial benefits for Veterans and their families. While these improvements are a move in the right direction, there is still much work to do. The 2016 Veterans Affairs Canada Stakeholder Summit provided the opportunity to bring forward concrete recommendations to the Department to ensure the government meets their obligation for the lifelong financial security, service and support for Veterans and their families.
In addition to members of the Ministerial Advisory Groups, VAC extended invitations to the Presidents of Veterans organizations, and family members of Veterans to the Summit, for a total of over 150 attendees.
After introductory remarks, Veterans Affairs Canada presented on feedback, they have heard from Veterans, stakeholders and Canadians. The presentation confirmed the key issues that have echoed across the Veteran community for years:
- Appeal for a system that reflects ‘One Veteran One Standard’
- Concerns the New Veterans Charter provides less money and less lifelong financial security as compared to the Pension Act
- Concerns with service delivery timelines and complexity
- Increased support for Veterans and their families dealing with mental health and operational stress injuries
- Address Veteran homelessness
- Increased support for families, spouses, and caregivers
After the presentations the Ministerial Advisory Groups presented their recommendations that would help the Minister in determining VAC priorities for Budget 2017. It was clear from the six presentations that they had worked extremely hard and had to make difficult decisions in order to meet the mandate commitments. The Groups were advised that all meeting discussion and recommendations were confidential until Veterans Affairs Canada releases the Record of Discussion. For this reason, the Legion may not share information on the recommendations at this time. However, we can state that if the recommendations come to fruition, Veterans and their families will have the life-time financial security, supports and services they rightly deserve.
It is now time for the Minister’s staff to prioritize these recommendations to present to government for Budget 2017. The recommendations have been classed as “Cabinet Confidential” meaning they are protected by rule of confidentiality as defined by The Supreme Court of Canada. As the Court explains “The process of democratic governance works best when Cabinet members charged with government policy and decision-making are free to express themselves around the Cabinet table unreservedly." The Ministerial Advisory Groups will not know the prioritization of the recommendations nor what was presented to Cabinet until Budget 2017 is released.
However, the work of the Ministerial Advisory Groups does not stop here. Their appointments are for two years and these groups will continue to meet until the proposed recommendations are implemented in policy. The Royal Canadian Legion will continue to closely watch to see whether these recommendations will be implemented in Budget 2017 or projected for future year budgets, and we will hold the Department and the Government accountable in achieving the ultimate goal - implementing all of the proposed recommendations to ensure the care and wellbeing of Canada’s Veterans and their families.