All posts in category In the News

How Seamus O’Regan can do the right thing

This piece was first published in the Hill Times on September 4, 2017.

Removing Minister Kent Hehr from Veterans Affairs Canada was the right thing to do. The new minister, Seamus O’Regan, must do better.

Just six days prior, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commemorated the calamitous losses Canadians suffered on the beaches of Dieppe 75 years ago. In the midst of a downpour, the prime minister folded his umbrella, noting that enduring rain is nothing compared to the bullets of war.

Such apparently unscripted compassion has been the hallmark of Trudeau’s repeated promises to make things right for Canada’s veterans. Sadly, nothing has meaningfully changed in the department mandated to care for them. Its persistent affliction: a profound cultural disconnection from veterans’ needs in the only federal department heaquartered outside of Ottawa—in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

The best Hehr could muster in his almost 22 months as minister was an unimaginative barrage of talking points written by an insensitive senior bureaucracy. When challenged by media or veterans, he was prone to outbursts of self-righteous parroting or to abruptly end town halls, hastily heading for the door.

One would expect that the tragic circumstances that led to Minister Hehr becoming a quadriplegic and his ensuing struggles would have engendered sympathy, compassion, and a sense of urgency to make real and substantive changes at Veterans Affairs.… Read the rest

A Tale of Two Committees

This piece was first published, in edited form, in the Hill Times on July 3, 2014.

When Dickens wrote the opening to A Tale of Two Cities, set over two hundred years ago, he described an age of contrasts – wisdom and foolishness, belief and skepticism, hope and despair. He also wryly observed that this could be said of any era. It certainly seemed true to whistleblowing advocates attending two sets of recent Parliamentary committee hearings.

The committees in question were the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates (or OGGO, as it’s commonly known) and the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities (or TRAN). In both cases, the committees had serious, deeply embedded problems to tackle: whistleblower protection on one hand, and aviation safety on the other.

For its part, OGGO set its sights on reviewing the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act in early February. This is the law which is supposed to protect federal government whistleblowers, but which has been spectacularly ineffective at doing so for 10 years. Without going into details – David Hutton and Allan Cutler have dealt with the issues thoroughly in previous editions of the Hill Times – it would be no exaggeration to say that the law intended to protect whistleblowers is little known and even less trusted by the rank-and-file public service.… Read the rest

Can O’Regan avoid putting his foot in veterans’ mouths?

Hill Times file photo

This piece was first published in the Hill Times on September 18, 2017.

If the first public comments of newly appointed Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan are anything to go by, veterans and the governing Liberals should be worried. The Trudeau government will have to understand veterans far better. They also should be eager to do more than they promised if they wish to reverse seven decades of ghettoizing veterans and their families into arbitrary castes and classes.

O’Regan, in his first advertised action, visited the Veterans Affairs (VAC) bureaucracy in Charlottetown, P.E.I., the only federal department with its head office located outside Ottawa: “I decided to make it a top priority that I get out here and meet people as quickly as I can.”

For those who have battled VAC over the years, and sometimes decades, it is the senior bureaucracy in Charlottetown that has been the principal source of an often dismissive and antagonistic relationship with veterans and their families. It is not unlike Ottawa’s paternalistic and hostile treatment of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. That the minister thought his “top” (and first) priority was the senior bureaucracy and not veterans, sounds a foreboding trumpet call.… Read the rest