Veterans Affairs minister promises Afghan war memorial, but won’t say when

OTTAWA — Veterans Affairs Minister promised the Liberals would “get it done,” but refused to provide further details, as Conservative MPs grilled him Monday over whether the government plans to move ahead on a national Afghanistan .

The heated back-and-forth on the floor of the House of Commons came after the minister’s office told the Citizen last week that the government had not decided whether to proceed with the Afghan memorial or another devoted to Victoria Cross winners.

“We do have a duty to honour and respect those men and women who have served in Afghanistan,” Hehr said in response to a question from Conservative defence critic James Bezan.

“We’re going to be working closely with those men and women who served as well as the organizations who want to see this project go forward. I ask the member to give us time. His government couldn’t get it done in 10 years. We’ll get it done.”

The previous Conservative government announced the National Memorial to ’s Mission in Afghanistan in May 2014. The project, pegged at about $5 million, was intended to honour the 40,000 Canadians who had served in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014, including 158 who died.

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The Tories re-announced the project — along with a separate memorial for Canadians who had won the Victoria Cross — last year. A site for the two memorials was chosen halfway between the Parliament Buildings and the Canadian War Museum.

Hehr said Veterans Affairs Canada is working closely with Heritage Canada “to advance this initiative.” But the minister refused to provide more specifics, including whether the memorials will be included in the upcoming budget.

Conservative veterans affairs critic Alupa Clarke accused Hehr of obfuscating since the latter took over the veterans file last November.

“This House has been sitting for four months already and yet the minister has not been able to give me one real answer regarding the veterans,” Clarke said. “We are talking about memorials for veterans. Will the Liberals honour our commitment to the Afghanistan memorial in the upcoming budget? Yes or no?”

“The Conservative government demonstrated its commitment to recognizing the sacrifices of our Canadian Armed Forces by closing nine Veterans Affairs offices and by cutting 800 front-line workers,” Hehr shot back. “We will treat our veterans with care, compassion, and respect. As well, we will take their commemoration forward in a dignified fashion.”

Hehr was asked at one point about his government’s decision to pull the plug on a $5-million program, also set up by the Conservatives, that helped local communities build their own war memorials. Conservative associate defence critic Pierre Paul-Hus asked if the Liberals had consulted stakeholders first.

“This government understands the importance of commemoration and recognizing the men and women who have served in our armed forces,” Hehr said.

“We will treat them with care, compassion and respect, not only getting them the services they need but also the commemoration they deserve. We will not continue with the (former veterans affairs minister Julian) Fantino follies of the last 10 years, and will do things better on this side of the House.”

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