An Afghan Veteran and his Struggle for Health Benefits

Few stories have generated as much feedback as my recent series on Corporal Glen Kirkland, the 29 year old Afghan war veteran and his very public struggle for health benefits.

Arrival at Ramp Ceremony, 2007. (CP Photo)

Kirkland barely surived an ambush by Taliban snipers back in 2007.  Three of his colleagues died in the attack.  To this day, he suffers from PTSD along with a long list of other injuries:

“I’ve lost a part of sight in my right eye, I’ve lost 75% of my hearing, and I’m still picking out metal in my face when I shave in the morning” he told me in an interview.

Kirkland is upset that injured veterans who serve less than 10 years won’t qualify for a military pension. He fears he won’t be able to pay his extensive medical bills or psychological therapy when he is discharged.

So last week, Kirkland accepted an invitation to appear before the House Defence Committee studying the impact of injured veterans.

Yet hours before his appearance, he said his commanding officers called him, and threatened him if he spoke out against the military.

“In a very threatning way,” he described their tone.  “In the past, I’ve been threatened with a dishonourable discahrge, and i felt the same threatning presence from them”.

Glen Kirkland given parliamentary immunity for speaking out against the military (CTV News)

The committee took his claims very seriously.  And in another rare step, committee members gave him parliamentary immunity for his testimony against the military.

Kirkland then gave one of the most compelling speeches I’ve ever witnessed.  It clearly shook members who listened intently.  (you can watch his full testimony here).

The day after we aired his story, Defence Minister Peter MacKay made an unprescidented pledge in the House of Commons:

“[Cpl. Kirkland] will receive every and all benefits to which he is entitled. I will go further to his and his family. that he will suffer no ramifications from his testimony … in addition to that he will continue to serve as long as he decides to serve in the Canadian Armed Forces as long as he wishes”, said Mackay.

What happened next was just as extraordinary.

The following day, Kirkland flew home to his base at CFB Shilo, just outside of Brandon, Manitoba.

In his mailbox was his discharge notice from the military.  He said he was “shocked … speechless” it happened. He said calls to his direct commanders were not returned, and he was getting no answers from the military.  For someone dealing with PTSD, he said the added anxiety wasn’t helpful.

When we aired that story, I’m told defence officials were floored.  An official told me privately there was a “colossal breakdown in the chain of command”.  MacKay and his staff went in full damage control and eventually reversed the decision.

MacKay called the vice-chief of defence staff and ordered him to tear up the discharge notice.

MacKay then ordered the Chief of Military Personnel, Gerry Blais, to call Kirkland personally and smooth things over.

The military reversal lets Kirkland serve until 2015.  He will have reached his 10 year mark and will be eligible for a pension. (Here’s an explainer on Canadian military pensions & benefits)

So Kirkland’s issue may have been resolved.  But he adds he won’t stop his latest battle to get all sick and injured veterans a full pension …. regardless how long they’ve served.

A Campaign Relic Shows How (Little) Politics Has Changed Since 1963

Election Colouring Book

Here’s a fun blog I wrote for the CTV Website. I thought I’d share it here, too.

My esteemed CTV colleague Roger Smith has acquired many unusual campaign souvenirs, but this one is particularly hilarious.

It’s an old colouring book issued by the Pearson Liberals during the historic 1963 election … and 50 years later, you’ll notice the political attack lines haven’t changed much.

History buffs will recall Pearson ran on a platform called “60 Days of Decision.” Perhaps this colouring book was merely a bonus:

RM Blog - 1963 cover

The election was triggered when the minority Conservative government, led by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, lost in non-confidence votes.

With an economic downturn looming, among other things, the Liberals tried to exploit the Conservatives’ fiscal record:

RM Blog - Carpet

“This is a beautiful Conservative rug. It is a wonderful place to hide things, especially facts. If neccessary, it will even cover up a financial crisis. Colour the rug lumpy.”

***

At the time, there was an emerging threat on the political left. A new, upstart coalition called the NDP was formed two years earlier by Tommy Douglas.

The Liberals were quick to define them (even though Pearson later depended on the NDP to pass legislation under his minority government).

RM Blog - NDP

“This is an NDP party. They are discussing their platform. They are against just about everything. Sometimes they are even against themselves. Colour them black and blue.”

***

The military became a hot issue after the Diefenbaker government cancelled the Avro Arrow.

It raised questions about military resources, among others:

RM Blog - Fighter Pilot

“This is a Canadian fighter pilot. He flies for NATO. All the other NATO pilots have planes that fight good. The Canadian pilot doesn’t. Colour him highly embarrassed.”

***

Improving First Nations conditions, and a vision for Canada’s North, were issues the Liberals vowed to address.

Of course, things were less politically correct back then:

RM Blog - Eskimo

“This is an Eskimo. He is looking at a Northern Vision. Other people sometimes see visions in the North. If you see a vision, colour it transparent.”

***

On the back page of the colouring book, we see the old campaign slogan …

RM Blog - Back Cover

The outcome of that election: Liberals narrowly defeated the Conservatives with a minority government, and Lester Pearson became Canada’s 14th Prime Minister.

He won a second minority in 1965 and retired from politics in 1967. Party faithful then elected Pierre Trudeau to replace him.

And the rest, as they say … is history. Colouring books and all.

Read more: http://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/colouring-canadian-history-how-the-liberals-campaigned-1963-style-1.1167546#ixzz2Lmv7sHSl

My Take: Finance Minister Reveals Battle With Skin Disease

The deeply personal revelation by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty about his skin condition was meant to douse months of rumours and speculation about his health.

flah

Finance is one of my “files”, so I see a lot of Jim Flaherty.  Last spring, I had noticed he gained some weight, and he looked tired.  I didn’t think much of it – a stressful job with hectic travel schedule probably doesn’t allow one to eat healthy or sleep regularly – and it was around the time of Budget 2012.

Fast forward to autumn that year.  Flaherty met met with private sector economists at the finance building in Ottawa and later took questions from reporters. While his answers were concise, his voice was raspy, his eyes seemed glazed.  But what I specifically recall from that day – how he lingered at the podium after the scrum was over and seemed somewhat disoriented.

I think that’s when the rumour mill launched into overdrive.

Later that day, I made several inquiries to my contacts at Finance, MPs and political staff who know him well.  They all noticed the same thing but were at a loss to explain.

Flaherty held many news conferences since then. At one of them, a reporter did ask about his visible physical changes, but Flaherty didn’t answer and walked away.

His condition appeared to worsen in late November. Perhaps his medication side-effects explains why he teared up during a press conference.

So with no answers, the mystery continued.  Many wondered if his ailing health was somehow connected to why he missed a key budget vote in early December.

Just last week, when Flaherty was clutching his stomach while answering questions in the House, we all knew something was terribly wrong.

I suspect that’s when Flaherty’s new communications director concluded the news had to get out there.

I’ve been asked many times why I – or the 100’s of other Parliament Hill reporters – didn’t press Flaherty to disclose his health condition sooner.  After all, some argue, Flaherty holds a powerful role within government, and is in public life.

Let me answer this way:  I did inquire. Many times. I had been told Flaherty had visible lesions on his arms and neck. It was obvious there was a serous health issue. But the deeply personal disclosure had to come straight from Jim Flaherty.  My colleague Don Martin explains further in his excellent column.

An Eagle Tries to Steal Baby. Seriously.

Soo … I usually try to stay focused and only post economic or political stories.  But this video is one of the strangest things I’ve seen in a while.

Apparently, it happened in Montreal, and was posted a few days ago.

There are two strange things going on here – not just the video, but the unusual music choice for the slow motion replay.

True, this is not nearly as amazing – or fashionable – as the Ikea Monkey, its just plain weird and perhaps a sign of looming Animal Apocalypse.

What do you think?

UPDATE:  the video is fake – a really good fake, I might add.  A Montreal animation company has taken credit for it.  You’ve got to give these guys credit for such a unique viral marketing campaign.

London Calling: Canada’s Mark Carney Named Bank of England Governor

So a funny thing happened Tuesday morning.  I received an email alert of a last-minute press conference with the Finance Minister at promptly 10:30 that morning.

I figured it was an unusual advisory because Jim Flaherty doesn’t normally hold formal press conferences with such short notice.  There was no immediate legislative urgency – and Flaherty’s junior minister had just announced a bump to TFSA’s moments earlier –  so obviously it was something significant enough to overshadow the government’s own “proactive” news strategy.

True, it was widely known the Cameron government was to name the new head of the Bank of England around the same time.  But I dismissed any links to Flaherty’s news conference simply because Bank of Canada Governor, Mark Carney, had repeatedly insisted he wasn’t in the running for the job.

London Calling

So as I made my way to the National Press Theatre, several theories ran through my mind about the topic and/or issue.  When I arrived, I spotted Flaherty’s media handlers standing off to the side, but they were unusually distant and noticeably quiet.

When the clock hit 10:30, assembled reporters were informed the press conference would be delayed for exactly 5 minutes … not too unusual, I thought … but the mystery intensified.

So as I waited for it to start, I was scrolling through my twitter feed and nearly jumped out of my chair when I saw this post.

I was stunned an announcement of this magnitude was kept under wraps on both sides of the pond.  No one saw it coming (and if someone tells you they knew all along, they’re lying).

Nevertheless, it explained the delay of the Ottawa press conference.  Bank of England Chancellor George Osborne had to make the announcement first, in the British Parliament.

Seconds later, Mark Carney and Jim Flaherty entered the room.  And then … this happened.

Shrinking GDP Suggests Canada Hit by Global Slowdown

tsx

The Canadian economy shrank in August — the first time in six months — which economists suggested is a sign the global economic crisis is dragging on Canada.

Figures released Wednesday showed that Canada’s real gross domestic product shrank by 0.1 per cent, which is equal to about a $2 billion loss to the Canadian economy.

The news came as a surprise, after economists predicted growth of about 0.2 per cent.

“It’s below average, a little bit slow for comfort, and I think the headline here is the global slowdown is starting to affect the Canadian economy,” BMO senior economist Doug Porter told CTV News.

Shrinking GDP suggests Canada hit by global slowdown | CTV News.