For the duration of the election, The Globe is answering your questions – from fact-checking leaders’ statements to digging deep into policies and promises. Have a question? Tweet it with #AskTheGlobe
Globe reader N. Miller asks: To what was Conservative Leader Stephen Harper referring when he said, during the first leaders’ debate of this federal election, that his Conservative government has increased spending on veterans by 35 per cent? #asktheglobe
Reporter Gloria Galloway in Ottawa has the answer:
In response to accusations by Liberal leader Justin Trudeau that the Conservative government had been “nickel and diming” veterans and not giving them the services they need, Mr. Harper said: “This government has made record investments in veterans. We’re spending 35 per cent more on the average veteran today directly than we were when we came to office.”
Is this true? Yes. Technically.
The annual budget of Veterans Affairs Canada increased from $2.85-billion in 2005-06, the year before Mr. Harper’s Conservatives were first elected to power, to $3.55-billion in 2015-16. That is down slightly from 2014-15 when the budget was $3.58-billion.
Meanwhile, the number of clients served by the department dropped from 220,660 to 199,154 between 2005-06 and 2014-15, largely due to the declining numbers of aging veterans from the Second World War and Korea.
So, between 2005-06 and 2014-15, the average annual expenditure per client of the Veterans Affairs department increased from $12,930 to $17,960, a jump of 38 per cent – which might suggest that Mr. Harper was being modest with his 35 per cent figure.
And it would seem to discount the complaints of modern-day veterans who say they are not being fairly or adequately compensated for their service.
But the numbers need some explanation.
The modern-day vets are compensated under what is known as the New Veterans Charter which was introduced by the previous Liberal government, supported by all parties in the House of Commons, and brought into force by the Conservatives shortly after they took office in 2006.
It replaces a system of lifetime pensions for disabled veterans with one that relies largely on lump-sum payments.
When the Liberals proposed the New Veterans Charter in 2005, Albina Guarnieri, who was the minister of veterans affairs, promised there would be increased spending of a billion dollars over six years to help ease the transition from one program to the other. And, when the Conservatives took office, they followed through with that commitment in their first budget, increasing the money to Veterans Affairs by $349.7-million to $3.20-billion in 2006-07.
The department’s budget then went up incrementally, year after year, until 2013-2014 when it started to drop off.
According to the Royal Bank’s inflation calculator, $3.20-billion in 2006 would be worth $3.72-billion in 2015. So, given that this year’s Veterans Affairs budget is $3.55-billion, the increases have not kept pace with inflation.
Also, in the intervening years, there were large numbers of soldiers returning from Afghanistan with severe physical and mental injuries – some estimates suggest more than 2,000 Canadians were wounded during that mission. Their treatment has consumed a significant portion of the money allotted to the Veterans Affairs department.
Plus, the government was forced to admit last year that, since 2006 when the Conservatives came to power, the department has returned $1.13-billion in unspent funds to the federal treasury.
So, while Mr. Harper is correct that the average amount spent by the federal government per client of the Veterans Affairs department has gone up, it would be wrong to say the department is spending more money, in real terms, on the needs of veterans than it did before the Conservatives took office.