Cabinet Shuffle: Veterans Get a Promotion

22 Janvier 2019

Our Honorary Solicitor for Commissionaires David Law (left), pictured with our National Board chair Vice-Admiral Dusty Miller CMM MSC CD RCN (Ret’d) conveys his optimism in an Op-Ed piece that ran in the January 21st edition of The Hill Times, following the recent cabinet shuffle.

Prime Minister Trudeau’s office may not have anticipated much fuss surrounding any of the appointments in this week’s cabinet shuffle.  As we have observed, they were mistaken. 

The thrust of the criticism is that a highly accomplished Minister was “demoted” from Justice to Veterans Affairs.  Some professional political-watchers denounce this change as an insult to women and particularly, to aboriginal Canadians. Others claiming to speak for First Nations have a new stick to hit the government with – as though there aren’t enough real problems to complain about.  

Whether anyone outside of Ottawa is really upset about this is hard to know, but the brouhaha really ought to concern (if not offend) one group of people who aren’t complaining: veterans.

There are an estimated 650,000 veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces alive today, many survivors of recent conflicts on the other side of the world, many others who served during peacekeeping missions like the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and humanitarian missions like Haiti. They are a richly diverse population from every corner of the country and every walk of life.

What every veteran has in common, is that each has pledged her or his life to the defence of this country and its values.  They didn’t just talk about it: they wore the uniform, faced the perils of aircraft, bore the burdens of army life or served long, isolated stretches at sea.

Every Canadian veteran (and serving member) volunteered for a serious, disciplined, arduous career, with so-so pay and extraordinary burdens. Their families “signed up” too, knowing loved ones faced a grinding life of duty and risk, often away from home for months at a time.

Many veterans came home well and happy, and many others came home changed: some psychologically bruised by the horrors of war and genocide; others physically injured, in pain and with disabilities. Others came home in coffins.

No one gives more to this country than those who serve in our Armed Forces.

It is perplexing then, that many in a nation which owes everything to its active and retired military, regard the business of VAC to be an insult to the cabinet member given charge of it.  

VAC is a substantial department, serving a near-sacred purpose: delivering pensions, medical care and programs to roughly 130,000 former soldiers, sailors and aviators. That business and its mandate will only grow as future veterans face evolving needs and demands. Beyond its mandate, VAC can also be a template for government service-delivery in the digital age.

The Prime Minister, to his credit, defended his appointment of Jody Wilson-Raybould to the VAC portfolio: “I could caution anyone who thinks that serving our veterans and making sure they get the care to which they are so justly entitled from any Canadian government is anything other than a deep and awesome responsibility.”

Of course, some think that is just “spin” to disguise what they perceive as a slight to women and indigenous Canadians. For people looking to be offended, it’s never hard to find a way.

Whatever the PM’s reasons were for moving Ms. Wilson-Raybould, people who take veterans’ needs seriously do not think VAC should be considered a “demotion.”  And whether it amounts to that or not, is very much up to the new Minister.

When people get a new job, they face a choice: will their performance be defined by someone else’s expectations, or will they re-define the job with their talent and effort?  Many take the former road and do their jobs well enough. The latter is what leaders do.   

Judging from Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s career performance so far, particularly in the Justice Department, the Minister carves her own path and writes her own job description. She brings proven experience, intellect and work ethic to VAC. Imagine what such a leader could accomplish for Canada’s current and future veterans.  Imagine that voice, speaking on their behalf.

Cynics may say that Jody Wilson-Raybould was demoted this week, but optimists hope that veterans got a promotion. With this Minister, there is reason to be hopeful.

David Law is the Principal of LAWatWORK and is National Solicitor for the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires, a non-profit security company with a social mandate to employ veterans.