NDP to table motion requiring Veterans Affairs to carry over unspent funds

https://globalnews.ca/news/4628545/veterans-affairs-canada-funds-ndp-motion/

Federal funds budgeted for providing services to Canadian war veterans but left unspent at the end of the year may no longer go to waste if an impending NDP motion is passed by Parliament.

Global News has learned that the NDP will put forward a motion that, if passed, would prohibit the government from allowing funding to lapse at Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) until the department’s service delivery standards are met.

The motion is set to be tabled on Monday, less than a week before Remembrance Day.

Under the proposed plan, VAC funds left unspent at the end of the year will automatically be carried forward to the next year until the department meets prescribed service standards in 12 areas in which it’s currently lagging behind.

These include wait times for decisions on disability, long-term care, career transition and other programs, review and appeal timelines and wait times for the VAC’s telephone service.

The New Democrats will argue that if implemented, their measure will significantly improve the quality of these services at no additional cost to taxpayers. The measure is estimated to leave an average of $124 million more each year in the VAC’s coffers.

The proposed motion comes less than two months after Global News reported that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government left more than $372 million of veterans’ funds unspent since taking office in November 2015.

“At the same time, the backlog for disability benefits applications is growing,” NDP MP and veterans affairs critic Gord Johns, who is spearheading the motion, told Global News.

“They’re not meeting their service standards for case workers to deliver services to veterans that they so desperately need, and they’re not answering the phone in a timely fashion.”

Broken down annually, the unspent funds for veterans under Trudeau’s leadership represented 2.2 per cent of VAC’s overall budget in 2016, 3.7 per cent in 2017 and three per cent in 2018.

At the time, a VAC official said that lapsed funding is “simply an administrative process” and doesn’t result in anyone receiving less than they should. The department added that VAC funding is “demand-driven,” meaning that money left over at the end of the year is a result of overestimated demand.

However, Trudeau previously slammed the Harper government for leaving veterans’ support funds unspent, saying on the campaign trail in 2015: “Canadians know that this is wrong. A government led by me would make it right.”

The lapsed funding under the Harper government was first brought to light by former NDP MP John Rafferty in 2013 via a written question, submitted to the House of Commons, which helped reveal that some $1.1 billion in veterans’ funds were allowed to lapse between 2006, when Harper took office, and 2013, two years before the end of his tenure.

Earlier this year, Johns submitted a written question probing the Trudeau government on the same issue and uncovered the $372 million unspent by the Liberals.

“We want to see the money spent on veterans so that we don’t have to ask these questions next year,” Johns said. “We want to make sure that in the years to come, the money that has been allocated and approved by Parliament gets spent on veterans.”

Johns added that he’s hopeful that the Liberals and Conservatives will “do the right thing” and support the motion, saying the NDP would be left “extremely disappointed” if the motion doesn’t pass.

“They all know we have a problem at Veterans Affairs,” he said.

Billions of dollars of funds approved by Parliament go unspent every year, according to a 2015 report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

The report stated that government departments and agencies can request lapsed funds up to a maximum of five per cent of their budget be carried over to the next year.

Johns said that while Canadians have previously seen money go unspent in different departments, they think it’s “quite different” when it comes to Veterans Affairs.

“They expect that money that has been approved by parliament to be spent on veterans’ services gets to veterans,” he said. “These are Canadians who have put the ultimate sacrifice for Canada and served our country, and they deserve the services that we’ve promised them and the help they need when they come home.”

— With files from Brian Hill