Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday November 21, 2014
Over $1.1 billion in unspent funds at Veterans Affairs since 2006
Veterans Affairs Canada has returned $1.13 billion to the federal treasury in unspent funds since the Conservatives came to power in 2006 — cash that critics say should have gone toward improved benefits and services.
The figure, which surfaced this week in the House of Commons, has led to renewed criticism of the Harper government, which is already smarting over its frayed relations with disgruntled former soldiers.
Data tabled in the House in response to a written question shows roughly one-third of the so-called lapsed funds were handed back between the 2011 and 2013 budget years when the government was engaged in a massive deficit-cutting drive.
The Conservatives often trumpet how much the budget for veterans care has gone up under their watch — right now it’s about $3.4 billion a year, up from $2.8 billion when the Tories took office.
What they don’t say is that anywhere between 4.7 per cent and 8.2 per cent of the total allocation has been allowed to lapse because of the department’s inability or reluctance to spend it all, said NDP veterans’ critic Peter Stoffer.
Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino met Wednesday in Quebec City with select organizations representing ex-soldiers, but some of the loudest critics of the department’s spending on benefits and services were not invited.
On Tuesday, Stoffer put a pointed question about the lapsed funds to Fantino, who answered by tallying up the government’s total spending on the veteran’s department — roughly $30 billion since 2006.
“It means improved rehabilitation for Canadian veterans,” Fantino said. “It means more counselling for veterans’ families. It means more money for veterans’ higher education and retraining. It means we care deeply about our veterans.”
But that didn’t answer the question of why so much of the budget has been allowed to lapse, said Stoffer, noting that the overall budget of the department is something the government is committed to under the law.
The use of lapsed funding to reduce the federal deficit is an exercise that’s being practised across all departments, he added. (Source: Hamilton Spectator)