Harper promises to do more for Canada's war veterans at legion campaign stop
Harper promises to do more for Canada's war veterans at legion campaign stop VICTORIA (CP) - A Conservative government would enact a veterans bill of rights and hire an ombudsman to enforce it with instructions to give veterans the benefit of the doubt in most disputes with the government, party leader Stephen Harper said Wednesday. Harper also promised to compensate aboriginal veterans for what he called their 60 years of mistreatment since the end of the Second World War, although he couldn't say how much compensation they might be entitled to. ""There is a historic injustice there,"" said Harper, surrounded by veterans at a Royal Canadian Legion hall. ""Most aboriginal veterans received virtually none of the benefits that veterans were entitled to, and that's something we plan to act upon."" Harper ended his Christmas holiday campaign swing through Vancouver Island with another pledge to conduct a review of veterans health services and look at the make-up of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. Harper said the board is tainted by Liberal patronage, leading to decisions for veterans that are based on politics because not enough independent medical experts sit on the board. ""All too often we hear stories of veterans who are ignored or disrespected by the government. What a shameful way to treat the men and women who risked their lives to defend this country,"" he said. Harper's Conservatives are expected to be in tight races in a number of ridings with the NDP on Vancouver Island. His stop in Victoria was preceded less than 24 hours earlier by a campaign visit to CFB Comox, which is about a three-hour drive from the provincial capital. That stop produced a Conservative promise to beef-up the presence of Canada's Armed Forces on the West Coast if the Tories are elected Jan. 23. Harper noted that the current Veterans Charter, which changed federal legislation to reflect the fact that Canada's military veterans will be younger and need different services in the future, was not proclaimed by Prime Minister Paul Martin's government despite its easy passage in the Commons. The charter would be put in place by the Conservatives, he said, in addition to the development of the bill of rights, which would streamline how claims are handled to get them through the system faster. The proposed Conservative bill of rights would also provide a presumption in favour of veterans on most claims handled by the government. ""There are processes in place to adjudicate these things and some require higher standards of proof than others,"" he explained. ""If there's reasonable evidence that's not otherwise contradicted, then the benefit of the doubt on claims should go to the veteran.""