John Ivison: Trudeau is in a fight he can’t win with veterans, and his frustration shows

John Ivison
John Ivison

Trudeau was elected on a platform that raised expectations to infinity. To Blaszczyk, even the Tories look good right now. ‘At least we weren’t given false promises’

You have to be pretty tone-deaf to tell a man who lost a leg in Afghanistan that the government is fighting veterans groups in courts “because they’re asking for more than we’re able to give right now.”

Yet that’s exactly what the prime minister did at a town-hall in Edmonton last Thursday — a gaffe that has gone viral on social media and infuriated veterans.

Brock Blaszczyk stood to ask Justin Trudeau a question, with his prosthetic leg and medals in clear view. He was a corporal in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, who lost a leg to a road-side bomb in Afghanistan in 2009.

He asked Trudeau why his government is fighting a legal battle with veterans (the Equitas class-action lawsuit), even though the Liberal election platform said “no veteran will be forced to fight their own government for the support and compensation they have earned.”

Further, he complained he was not eligible for the new lifetime pension option, yet the Liberals have found money to pay for the re-integration of ISIL fighters and the $10.5-million compensation payment for Omar Khadr.

“What veterans are you talking about — those fighting for the freedoms and values you so proudly boast about, or those fighting against?” he said. “I was prepared to be killed in action. What I wasn’t prepared for, Mr. Prime Minister, was Canada turning its back on me.”

It was more devastating than anything Trudeau has faced in the House of Commons, by several degrees.

“Thank you, sir, for your passion and strength, and your justifiable frustration and anger,” the prime minister replied courteously. But then it seemed as if his frustration got the better of him — he shot back with the line about veterans asking for more than the government can afford to give.

The crowd started booing and the Teflon Prime Minister was in trouble.

“Hang on … you’re asking for honest answers,” he pleaded in vain. He tried to explain what he meant but, as any good politician knows, when you’re explaining, you’re losing.

“It was pretty disappointing,” said Blaszczyk in an interview. “He said we were asking too much but, from the personal side of things, I felt like saying ‘what did you ask from me?’”

The Conservatives have labelled the exchange “shameful” and “reprehensible.” They’ve released an ad that overlays the footage with examples of wasteful government spending — Omar Khadr’s settlement ($10.5 million); Trudeau’s vacation ($215,000); the cover artwork for the budget ($212,000); Liberal staff moving expenses ($220,000).

Yet the prime minister has grounds for frustration on this file.

Since taking office, the Liberals have pledged an additional $10 billion for veterans — a huge investment in financial support that the government says should leave most soldiers better off.

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