Senate QP: With apologies to the minister

After delays from a number of votes in the Commons, Senate QP finally got underway, with special guest star Kent Hehr, minister of veterans affairs. Senator Larry Smith, the new Conservative leader, led off for his first time. Instead of asking the minister, however, he turned his questions to the Government Leader — err, “representative,” Senator Harder, for his remarks to CBC last week about “two classes of senators.” Harder assured him that it was not his intent to insinuate that all senators were not equal. He did not apologize, and Smith pressed the issue, and Harder talked about collaboration across the chamber but there was a different appointment process, and then gave a half-hearted apology for those who were offended by his words. Senator Plett got up to carry on the jabs at Harder, who kept insisting that he was trying to work collaboratively.

Senator Day was up next, asking a question on behalf of a Canadian from Nova Scotia as to why injured veterans need to keep proving their injuries and disabilities. Hehr first congratulated Smith on his election as leader, before saying that they were working to “close the seam” between DND and veterans affairs by having his also having been appointed as associate minister of national defence to bridge that gap, and that they were taking a “benefit of the doubt” approach.

Senator Wallin was up next, asking about the demand by the National Defence Ombudsman to make his role report to parliament directly. Hehr noted that he appreciates his own ombudsman, and takes his advice, but couldn’t speak to the National Defence Ombudsman.

Senator Omidvar asked about the item in his mandate letter about vocational training, and the hiring of veterans, and what targets had been set. Hehr talked about the benefits offered, and noted that they have hired a priority secretariat that would help deal with veterans hiring, and they were hoping to see results from that, while letters were sent to other ministers and deputies to have them encourage their departments to hire more veterans.

Senator Martin asked about the participation of Korean War veterans in Canada Day celebrations. Hehr noted his appreciation for her work on the file, and while he didn’t have a direct answer to her question, he would work to get her one and be in touch.

Senator Dagenais returned to the question of ombudsmen, and Hehr listed off the various changes made in response to recommendations with his Ombudsman and noted that he has regular meetings to keep a dialogue going.

Senator Jaffer asked why they don’t wait for all benefits to be in place before those serving in the Forces are discharged and whether it was an issue of governance. Hehr again noted that his appointment as associate minister of national defence to work on that smooth release process, and that they are trying to professionalize the process, but the hard work was being done.

Senator Boniface asked about the proposed centre of excellence for PTSD treatment noted in the budget, and what kind of availability it would have across the country. Hehr noted the aims of the centre of excellence, and the importance of them.

Senator Christmas asked about a settlement made to Indigenous veterans not matching a settlement to non-Indigenous veterans and if they would work to get parity. Hehr first gave his ode to the participation Indigenous people in the service of the country, and added that they acknowledge they need to do a better job of getting things right, and wanted the Senator to follow-up with his office.

Senator White asked about RCMP veterans who were being shunted off to provincial healthcare systems when they have a memorandum of understanding with Veterans Affairs, and wanted that entrenched rather than be further pushed off to provinces. Hehr agreed that it was important, but largely noted that this was the call of the RCMP leadership.

Senator Hubley asked about survivors benefits from the Veterans Independence program, and that access hasn’t been based on needs. Hehr detailed the program, but I wasn’t sure if he actually answered the question.

Senator McIntyre asked about the issue of lifetime pensions for disabled veterans, which Hehr insisted that they were still committed to the plan, and would have details before the end of 2017.

Overall, the bit of drama at the beginning was unusual for Senate QP, but also indicative of some of the brewing tensions in the Chamber around the way in which Senator Harder is behaving. As for Hehr, I will say that he was a bit better than some of his Cabinet colleagues when it comes to answering questions rather than talking around them (though it was not entirely the case – there were times in which he did seem to talk around the questions). He did evade the issue of the Defence Department Ombudsman when asked a couple of times, but then again, I’m not sure it was really a question that was in his wheelhouse, so there is that consideration.

Sartorially speaking, snaps go out to Senator Wanda Bernard for a sharp black suit and skirt with a brilliant blue top, and to Senator Peter Harder for a light three three-piece suit with a crisp white shirt and darker grey tie. Style citations go out to Senator Percy Mockler for a tan brown suit with a butterscotch shirt and a brown and grey striped tie, and to Senator Francis Lankin for a frumpy light blue smock top with an oversized black sweater.

2 thoughts on “Senate QP: With apologies to the minister

  1. “Hehr noted that he appreciates his own ombudsman, who takes his advice….”
    If Ombudsman Guy Parent is in the habit of taking Hehr’s advice, I’m not surprised that the Minister appreciates Parent’s work!

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