Top bureaucrats ignoring promises at Veterans Affairs

Published on March 22, 2016
Department of Veterans Affairs
Guardian file photo

EDITORIAL

There is an undercurrent of concern circulating through the headquarters of Veterans Affairs Canada in Charlottetown.

The concern is being voiced around water coolers, in coffee shops and at hockey arenas – wherever rank and file VAC employees gather.  

Concern is based on the following premises:

-- With a new minister and a new government in place, senior VAC bureaucrats believe they can develop policy and enact change without much political oversight.

-- The new minister and government are reluctant to challenge senior bureaucrats – even if policy is contrary to Liberal promises.

-- These senior bureaucrats, holdovers from the Stephen Harper government, never supported a federal department headquarters outside Ottawa and are intent on inexorably reducing staff, power and decision-making in Charlottetown. These senior bureaucrats find it an annoyance to travel to Charlottetown or live on P.E.I.

-- With politicians distracted with a budget, new immigrants and implementing election policy, senior bureaucrats believe they can make key changes. And before politicians realize what’s happened, it will be too late to reverse them.

-- Senior bureaucrats are re-hiring Conservative appointees whose terms have expired but who share an agenda that is not sympathetic to P.E.I.

At least one Island MP has been alerted to the situation. He made general inquiries and has been assured that all is well.

There is still no word on re-opening the district office, closed by the former government almost two years ago.

VAC’s Human Resources component has already been moved to Miramichi, N.B. What other components or units are leaving Charlottetown?

This bureaucratically-driven strategy is defended because the intent is to make operations more efficient.

But these senior bureaucrats are ignoring iron-clad political promises made to this city and this province. The then-Department of Veterans Affairs was relocated to Charlottetown more than 30 years ago for a specific purpose – to enhance and maintain a national presence on P.E.I.

Concerns about the future of VAC are nothing new. There was a major review done in 2010. More than 140 jobs were cut in 2013. At one time, there were more than 1,200 jobs on P.E.I. and promises were made to keep levels at approximately 1,000. What are today’s actual numbers?

Things became more acute in the last two years or so under the former government when cutting costs took precedence over delivering services to veterans.

Retiring or injured armed forces veterans who served with recent NATO and UN commitments in Afghanistan and other theatres of conflict have increased the workload at VAC.

By the end of this week, a decision is pending that could impact other jobs. There should be an immediate freeze on job transfers to Ottawa until we get some answers. Decisions negatively impacting jobs on P.E.I. should be reversed.

How many senior VAC positions are in Ottawa that really should be located in Charlottetown? Senior managers here have recently seen their authority reduced or removed.  

The importance of a fully-operational, fully-staffed national headquarters cannot be overstated.

If things are indeed so dire, it's time the premier, the city’s mayor and the four Island MPs sit down with the new minister and his deputy and get answers and assurances. It’s time to renew federal vows to P.E.I.

Or are we going to see our national headquarters die by a 1,000 cuts?