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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh proposes plan to ‘end the theft’ of money meant for veterans – National

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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says it’s time for Liberal and Conservative governments to stop stealing from Canadian veterans.

In a motion put before the House of Commons Monday, Singh and fellow New Democrats proposed that all money allocated to Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) in a specific year should be spent. If money is left over at the end of the year, these unspent dollars should be transferred to the next year’s budget and targeted specifically to improve services and reduce wait times for veterans and their families.


READ MORE:
Trudeau Liberals leave $372M meant to help veterans unspent since taking office

“Over the past number of years money is promised to Veterans Affairs, that money has lapsed or not been spent,” Singh said. “That means veterans have been robbed of finances and resources for the services they need. This has to end,” he said.

The NDP proposal comes days before Canadians will mark Remembrance Day and the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.


READ MORE:
Veterans Affairs doesn’t know how many family members receive government-backed benefits

It also comes just six weeks after Global News revealed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government allowed more than $372 million meant to help veterans and their families to go unspent at VAC since taking office in 2015, something then-Liberal leader Trudeau called “wrong” when campaigning to become prime minister.

”The Liberal government promised to address this,” Singh said. “They were standing up with us as New Democrats in opposition saying we cannot accept this treatment of veterans, but now they’re doing the exact same thing.”

The $372 million Liberals left unspent at VAC is in addition to the more than $1.1 billion Stephen Harper’s Conservative government left unspent while in office.

WATCH: NDP MP says not passing Veterans Affairs motion will raise more questions






If passed, the practice of allowing money to lapse at VAC would effectively end. The NDP plan would also mean about $124 million a year more for veterans and their families, NDP figures show.

The money would be targeted toward improving services and reducing wait times and backlogs many veterans face when trying to access benefits.

“Veterans have had our back, at a minimum Canada needs to take care of them,” Singh said.

“This [motion] would end the theft of financing and resources for Veterans Affairs and ensure that we actually see the adequate levels of care and response times for veterans who have given so much,” he said.


READ MORE:
Trudeau Liberals fail to meet own target for improving veterans care

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 its own prescribed service standards in 12 areas in which it is currently lagging behind.

These areas include wait times for decisions on disability benefits, long-term care, career transition and other programs, review and appeal timelines, and what some veterans have described as inadequate response times for VAC’s telephone service.

WATCH:  Veteran Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan acknowledges ‘deficiencies’ in his department






According to NDP veteran affairs critic, Gord Johns, these improved services will come with no added costs. He says the NDP’s proposal is “non-partisan” and calls the decision to support the plan a “no-brainer.”

“Thanking veterans and their families is not enough. Words must be backed by action,” Johns said.

“This motion will dramatically improve the lives of veterans and their families at no additional costs to taxpayers,” he said.


READ MORE:
Injured veterans forced to wait months for support, disability benefits, government watchdog finds

And while Conservatives had previously left more than a billion unspent at VAC, they announced their support for the plan Monday, with MP Cathay Wagantall saying all members of the Conservative party will vote in favour of the motion.

Meanwhile, Minister of National Defense Harjit Sajjan seemed to indicate the government would also support the motion, saying “we will always have the resources available for veterans.”

“When it comes to any motions supporting our veterans, our government will be supporting that motion,” Sajjan said Monday.

Benefits are ‘demand-driven’

When Global News first revealed Liberals had allowed $372 million to go unspent at VAC, a department official said 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. This was reiterated by Sajjan.

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

WATCH: Trudeau slams Harper for unspent funding on veterans during 2015 campaign







Since taking office, the Liberals have reopened nine Veterans Affairs offices and rehired roughly 470 front-line staff who work closely with veterans. This includes roughly 260 case managers, who serve as the first point of contact for many veterans as they work to access the benefits they need and deserve.

The government also says it will invest an additional $10 billion more for veterans than the previous Conservative government had planned to. Much of this money will go toward enhancing services and creating new benefits, such as reinstating pensions for life and providing new educational opportunities, according to the government.


READ MORE:
Military veterans lose disability pension fight

Still, with money left unspent each year at VAC, the NDP says it’s time the parties come together to support a plan that will see veterans receive the benefits they “need and deserve.”

“And if the service levels were adequate, efficient and they were meeting their own standards then maybe the money wouldn’t need to be spent,” Singh said.

“[But it] is not acceptable that veterans are promised funding and that’s effectively robbed from them, year after year.”

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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