The Ministers: Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr on rebuilding lives

Global News correspondents are sitting down with the new cabinet ministers who will shape policy in this country, to find out where they came from and where they want to take this country. Global National will air their stories in a new series called “The Ministers”.

Kent Hehr’s life as a teenager in Alberta was typical.

“I’m born and raised in Calgary and grew up in that city doing everything it had to offer,” Hehr said in an interview with Global News.

When he wasn’t at school or at home, Hehr was on the ice. Hockey was his passion.

He worked his way up to playing at the junior level and continued at college, until a single bullet changed everything.

READ MORE: Veterans Affairs offices to reopen within a year: Hehr

In the early hours of October 2, 1991, Hehr was in the passenger seat of a friend’s car. Some words were exchanged with guys in a nearby car and all of a sudden one pulled a gun.

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The shot left Hehr paralyzed from the chest down.

He was just 21 years old.

Hehr said it’s not something he thinks about today.

“Not at all,” he said. “I have every confidence that life may have been easier and a touch more fun should I have got to play it out the other way, but I didn’t.

“And really life has been very rewarding, more deeply more enriching – I sense I’ve become a better person, I understand that people don’t always have it easy.”

Hehr said that time in his life crystallized how he views the role of government.

“I understood the need for government,” he said. “What public health care meant to me and my family, what it meant to access affordable and accessible housing, what it meant to go back into post-secondary…things don’t happen in a vacuum, you need governments at all levels that are ensuring equality of opportunity.”

WATCH: In this extended video, Kent Hehr speaks about rebuilding his life after a drive-by shooting and how he plans to help rebuild the lives of Canada’s veterans.

As veterans affairs minister, Hehr has his work cut out for him.

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The relationship between veterans and the government has strained in recent years, with many ill and injured soldiers frustrated by the fight for services they need.

“We have a real opportunity here to set the reset button,” Hehr said. “At the same time I can tell you things aren’t going to be perfect, we’re going to have challenges.”

Chief among those challenges is how to pay for what the Liberals promised.

READ MORE: 42nd session of Parliament begins with election of new Speaker

The Liberals campaigned on reinstituting lifelong pensions for veterans, new care centres and hiring 400 additional staff: 300 million dollars of new spending on veterans a year.

Meanwhile, the latest fiscal update shows the projected deficit has already ballooned to $3 billion.

On paying for it all, Hehr doesn’t appear all that worried.

“It’s going to be a challenge, but it always is,” he said. “I’m going to go to Treasury Board, we’re gonna show what we’ve committed to, what that costs and go forward.”

Whether he and the government can rise to that challenge and others remains to be seen, but Hehr insists his focus will be on the men and women he serves – “rebuilding their lives” as he puts it.

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That’s a process he knows a lot about.

“I’m doing everything I really ever dreamed of, which is to be happy. I’m 100 per cent happy at the end of the day.”

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