Tempers flare during veterans affairs Minister's committee appearance


Tempers boiled over Thursday as opposition members grilled Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan on how the government’s handled issues faced by former military members.

The meeting of the House Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs was to discuss main estimates, but became a site for harsh exchanges between the minister and opposition members.

Over the course of the hour, both Conservative and NDP MPs expressed their frustration with the minister as a witness, which brought out animation that members don’t typically show.

“That’s about as heated as it’s gotten,” said Chair Neil R. Ellis.

Conservative MPs were the most visibly frustrated.

Things got tense between Conservative MP John Brassard and O’Regan over judicial proceedings between the government and veterans since the Liberals took office.

“As I don’t think I need to remind the honourable member, we inherited a few things,” O’Regan said after he and Brassard traded interruptions.

“We continue to have to represent ourselves in court, and certainly, if there are veterans, or veterans’ organizations who want to take us to court then they will. I can’t do anything about that other than making sure the government of Canada and this department is represented.”

Brassard wasn’t sold on that response and blamed broken government promises for the strained attitudes at the meeting.

“It’s frustrating for us to hear from veterans across the country how frustrated they are with the government,” he said. “The talking points of the minister, the platitudes of the minister – veterans are feeling that they were lied to in a lot of areas.”

O’Regan and Conservative MP Robert Kitchen later clashed over a new post-traumatic stress disorder centre of excellence that will be located in Ottawa. He said it didn’t address veterans’ needs properly since it will not be a functioning in-person treatment facility.

“If I’ve got a certain amount of dollars that I’m going to use, I’m going to make sure that it has outreach to every single community and every Canadian veteran with maximum impact,” O’Regan said, once the chair stopped Kitchen from interrupting him.

“I live in a rural community and these people do not have these services and they’re asking for them,” Kitchen responded before Ellis brought his questioning to an end.

Earlier, New Democrat MP Gord Johns expressed his frustration for being halted before O’Regan could answer his question about post-traumatic stress disorder, which he said was his most important of the meeting.

Despite all the back and forth, O’Regan said later he didn’t think things had become too heated.

“I thought it was pretty substantial. I’m happy to engage,” he said. “For the most part I thought the questions they asked were good.”

Brassard was left feeling a little lukewarm about it all.

“The minister packages things nicely,” he said. “But veterans know the truth because they’re not seeing any measurable results on the ground. I think that’s where that frustration comes, not just from our side, but from the veterans’ side too.”

It wasn’t the first heated committee meeting of the week. On Tuesday, things reached a boiling point at the House environment committee. Liberal and Conservative members repeatedly balked back and forth throughout the hour that Environment Minister Catherine McKenna appeared as a witness.

Opposition MPs said McKenna was responsible for giving overly partisan testimony, while the environment minister blamed the Conservatives, alleging that in the past they’d attacked one of her public servants.

Brassard said he watched that committee meeting and said it’s a lack of measurable results that has opposition members upset.

“If you’re not going to give us information then we’re going to step it up a little bit and put pressure on the government, particularly when ministers show up at committee and we have their time and we have their attention to make sure that pressure is stepped up on behalf of Canadians who are asking those questions too.”

O’Regan said tensions within committees are typical at this point in the political calendar.

“As we head into the end of June, the pressure’s on for the government to get legislation passed. Everyone is down to the wire,” he said.

“There’s a little more pressure, a tad more anxiety and sometimes that means things can get a little heated.”

The House rises and rests in two weeks. Time will tell if the same can be said for MPs’ tensions.