The West Block – Episode 10, Season 9

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, November 10, 2019 with Mercedes Stephenson.


Episode 10, Season 9

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guests: Premier Jason Kenney, Alannah Gilmore, Jeff Depatie

Location: Ottawa


Ralph Goodale, Outgoing Public Safety Minister: “The people were obviously concerned about economic uncertainty.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “A lot of work to do to make sure that we’re governing for the entire country”

Jason Kenney, Alberta Premier: “Consult with Albertans on fighting for a fair deal in Canada.”

Sean Bruyea, Veteran Advocate: “There has been a long tradition of government that they can under sell the cost of war.”

Story continues below advertisement

Unidentified Vet: “Veterans are still suffering.”

Sarah Lockyer, Canadian Armed Forces Casualty ID Coordinator: “And we use all the artefacts that are found to give us some clues that can help us narrow down the list of who this could be.”

Danny Gallagher/Sgt. John Albert Collis’ Grandson: “Remembrance Day will never be the same for me again.”

Mercedes Stephenson: It’s Sunday, November 10th. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.

Western alienation in Alberta and Saskatchewan has moved from a slow burn to rapidly igniting after the federal election results. There’s even now a new separatist party in Alberta.

Premier Jason Kenney says he doesn’t support separation, but he is looking at ways to change his province’s relationship with the rest of the country, either by altering equalization payments or pulling Alberta out of the Canada Pension Plan. But not all Conservative premiers support Premier Kenney’s approach. Here’s Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister.

Brian Pallister: We have resource development challenges that have lingered for a long time. We have a country that has like all countries, really, an intertwining of social progress that comes from economic progress. You can’t really have one without the other, and yet in western Canada we’ve got a resource expert blockages that are really hurting the people of Saskatchewan and Alberta, significantly, Manitoba too. So my advice would be, let’s get on with it. Let’s build the country and let’s heal some of these divisions that have been created with tactical approaches over the last while.

Mercedes Stephenson: Premier Jason Kenney joins us form Edmonton now. Welcome to the program, Premier.

Premier Jason Kenney: Good to be here.

Mercedes Stephenson: Sir, we just heard from Brian Pallister, the Premier of Manitoba. He’s been critical of your approach after the election, saying it’s a time that we need to look for unity, and he’s concerned that Alberta could become what Quebec was to the country in the 1980s and the 1990s in terms of a potential separatist threat. What are you doing to ensure that that doesn’t happen?

Premier Jason Kenney: Well listen, there is deep frustration in this province. I think it’s unprecedented. We can see that in the polling, and the wrong approach is to deride or dismiss that frustration. There are a lot of Albertans who right now don’t feel at home in their own country that they’re not being treated fairly. And so we need to take that frustration seriously because Alberta has been a great engine of Canadian prosperity.

In recent decades, we have made a net contribution to the rest of Canada of over $600 billion through our federal taxes, about $23 billion more a year. More than we send to Ottawa than we get back and really, Albertans are happy to be generous to share the benefit of our resources and hard work as long as we could actually develop those resources, get a fair price for them, and what frustrates the overwhelming majority of Albertans is that we have governments that have—we have the federal government that killed two pipelines: Northern Gateway and Energy East;that bungled Trans Mountain, surrendered to a veto on Keystone XL; brought in the No More Pipelines law; the tanker ban that is prejudicially attacking Alberta exports; a prime minister who said in the election that we need a federal government to stand up to Alberta energy companies so—and we have a couple of provincial governments threatening to block pipelines too. So all we’re asking for is fairness in the federation.

Story continues below advertisement

Mercedes Stephenson: Now, you are looking at developing your own provincial pension plan as one way to deal with that. What would be the point of pulling out of the Canada Pension Plan? What’s in that for Albertans?

Premier Jason Kenney: Well, we will be consulting with Albertans on a whole range of ideas, about how we can get a fair deal in the federation. I mentioned that we pay higher than we otherwise—higher premiums than we would in our own provincially managed pension plan because we have more younger workers. Now Quebec has never been in the Canada Pension Plan. Provinces have the right to create their own pension funds, and so we’ll be consulting with Albertans to see if we should do so. It would allow us to reduce premiums in Alberta that would help to create jobs here. It would also allow us to manage those assets here helping to expand our own financial services sector.

Mercedes Stephenson: Are there other options on the table that the province is considering as well to make their point to Ottawa?

Premier Jason Kenney: Sure, there’s a whole range of things that we’ll be consulting on that we are pushing for. I’ll give you one example. There’s a program called the Fiscal Stabilization Plan, which is supposed to be a kind of immigration—sorry, excuse me—an equalization rebate for have provinces when they have a sudden dramatic decline in their revenues. Well that happened to Alberta five years ago but the rebate was capped. We should have received billions of dollars from Ottawa to account for the basically four or five years of economic decline in this province, but instead it was capped and we’ve only received a couple of hundred million. So that’s one simple way that Ottawa could demonstrate that it understands the deep adversity through which Albertans are going. We could take some of those funds, by the way, and invest them in job creation programs that also help the environment like we’re claiming abandoned wells. We’re investing in environmental technology, but we’re going to look at everything that Quebec does to exercise its own powers within the federation and see if it makes sense to replicate those here in Alberta.

Mercedes Stephenson: So does Alberta want to become the new Quebec?

Premier Jason Kenney: Well, we’re different provinces. But I tell you, I did say the night of our provincial election in April, in French in my victory speech that we want to renew the traditional alliance between Quebec and Alberta. We believe—we Albertans, I think, are big Canadians. We believe in the original vision of the federation as an economic union. And by the way, that means, you know, we are going to disagree with Quebec on some things, but we certainly agree that provinces have the right to, for example, control their own resources, which is why I’m so pleased that Premier Legault is supporting us and our opposition to the federal No More Pipelines law, bill C-69. He’ll also—the Quebec government will be supporting us in the appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada against the federal imposition of a carbon tax. One area where we disagree is on the federal power to regulate interprovincial infrastructure like pipelines. That’s an area which is clearly in the Constitution, a matter of exclusive federal jurisdiction. So we’re not telling Ottawa to get out of its own affairs, but rather to exercise its authority as envisioned in the Constitution and let the provinces do the same. Let’s come back to the original founding vision as an economic union.

Mercedes Stephenson: Premier Kenney, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was asked this week if he believed it’s a sin to be gay. He wouldn’t answer that question. Do you think that we have a right to expect our political leaders to answer those kinds of questions clearly in 2019?

Premier Jason Kenney: Well I don’t think Canadians want a religious test to be applied to people in public life. We have—we’re a pluralistic society and there are folks of many faiths and no faiths who run for public life and I don’t think we want to get into a kind of doctrinal debate about what their faith traditions are. I think what leaders and legislators owe to the public is a focus on the common good on a belief in human dignity for all and equality of all before the law. Those are values that I think we share across all and no faith traditions that we should stay focused on in our pluralistic democracy.

Mercedes Stephenson: But should you be able to clearly articulate what your personal beliefs are because he wouldn’t even say that?

Premier Jason Kenney: Again, I don’t think we want to get into a situation where we start—you knowwhere does that end? We start asking folks of all different faiths about—to start getting into reflection of their faith traditions, you know, I—we’ve done pretty well as a country building a pluralistic and diverse democracy, respecting people’s different beliefs and faith traditions without creating religious tests for people to serve in public life. And I think the common ground is a belief in human dignity and a belief in equality before the law. That, I think, those are pretty universal Canadian values.

Mercedes Stephenson: Premier Kenney, thank you for your time.

Premier Jason Kenney: My pleasure. Thanks for your time.

Story continues below advertisement

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. The toll of war on Canada’s veterans and their families is high, from physical scars to invisible mental wounds the men and women of our armed forces have sacrificed for their country with some paying the ultimate price.

Past government and the current one have come under fire for making and breaking promises over and over again to veterans, despite the constant commitments to do better.

Joining me now to discuss Canada’s track record and what needs to be done to help veterans is retired sergeant Alannah Gilmore, who is a frontline medic in Afghanistan, and retired Master Corporal Jeff Depatie who was a JTF2 Special Forces sniper. Thank you both very much for joining us. We really are looking forward to hearing from you, especially as we head towards Remembrance Day tomorrow.

Alannah, you saw the worst of the worst injuries in Afghanistan. You saved lives. That takes a toll too and you’ve talked very publicly about suffering from PTSD. What are some of the challenges for a veteran like yourself as you’ve transitioned out and into the civilian world trying to deal with these physical and mental scars?

Retired Sergeant Alannah Gilmore: I feel for a lot of us. We don’t quite know how to navigate the health system once we leave the military. When you’re a soldier and you’re serving, you’re well taken care of. You have to be because you could be deployed at any time. So you need to have a medical service that is ensuring that you are healthy, that you have your immunizations, that if you have any illness that it’s looked after, injury, the same thing. So when we get let go, all of a sudden, we are now cast out and we’re expected to figure out how to navigate a system that we’ve not been part of probably for the majority of our adult years. So I think for a lot of people, it’s almost overwhelming. There’s huge delay, I find, at least it was for me, when I got out in 2015, and I know there’s been some improvements, but there was a lull. There was a big gap of time from release to when you, say, got, you know, your doctor on the civilian side, or you got your prescriptions, or you got your disability claim through the Veterans Affairs of Canada and the only way to get those pension claims in is by submitting umpteen numbers of paperwork plus supporting documents, and then you have a waiting game. And as you can tell, again, and what’s happened before in the past, huge delays in these people getting their paperwork looked at. And what that does is it actually means that the person is not getting looked after.

Retired Master Corporal Jeff Depatie: I agree that a serving member, once they leave based on time served, something along that kind of metrics, should be entitled to a medical package right out of service. That transition time is extremely difficult, so like I say, I agree 100 per cent with Alannah. I also think that that transition time when a soldier is searching for their new identity, the military is great at creating soldiers, it’s great at taking care of soldiers, but once that stops and an individual has to now find a new identity, that layered on top of any medical issue, I think that’s where vets will start to see most of their issues arise from.

Mercedes Stephenson: Jeff, what was that experience like for you because you’re pretty unique? We don’t often hear from somebody who served in a Tier 1 Special Forces unit. I imagine it must be an even more jarring transition to go into civilian society.

Retired Master Corporal Jeff Depatie: Yes, that’s right, extremely high pace environment and then as soon as you sign on the dotted line that it’s all done, it kind of just ends. And I don’t want to throw the cap under the bus totally. There are programs there: Veterans Affairs, the Legions; CFMWS, the Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services to help with the transitions. It’s just not nailed down yet. As soon as you are done signing your paperwork saying you’re leaving and all your kits packed and handed in, there should be a more robust program there to help soldiers move into the next portion that doesn’t have such a government feel to it, not such a medical feel because some people are leaving the military and they don’t want to be part of a government feeling organization. Some kind of third-party organization would be great.

Mercedes Stephenson: Alannah, why do you think the governments have struggled with this so much because it’s not just a part of an issue, the Conservatives took a lot of heat from veterans. The Liberals disappointed a lot of veterans with the pension and other programs. Why is it that politicians can’t seem to get this right?

Retired Sergeant Alannah Gilmore: I don’t know. I don’t understand it. You know, we’ve now created three tiers of—three divisions of veterans, you know, every time they come out with a new package that’s different from the package that was there before, you know, some veterans now fall under the New Veterans Charter. Now we have veterans falling under the Pension for Life, and then we have the old pensioners that fell under a different system before. So there’s three that I’ve mentioned, all just since 2019, this year, and April 1st it rolled out from a Pension for Life. I don’t quite understand why we get nickeled and dimed so hard. The amount of money they must put in to try and fight everything that we’re looking for just for quality of life, just to make sure, you know, whatever ailments we have based on our service are looked after for life. I feel like that’s the least that can be done for our veterans and for their families, because the families are just as much involved and the member themselves. The struggle is real. It’s 24/7.

Mercedes Stephenson: There were a lot of promises made by different parties, including the now governing party, the Liberals that they were going to reach out to every veteran, ensure they weren’t homeless, inject more money into the system. Do you believe that there will finally be change for veterans?

Retired Master Corporal Jeff Depatie: I don’t hold my breath. I don’t want to be cynical, but I don’t hold my breath. The thing is, I agree with Alannah. They can streamline all this, save money and still have solutions to the problems, getting out that funding to the vets and as Alannah said, to their families. Their families are going to be that first line of defence for any of the long term mental illness, any of the wellbeing in the longitudinal area.

Mercedes Stephenson: Jeff, I want to ask you about a tough topic, but I think you’re an important person to speak about this, especially given what you did in the forces and the additional sort of cultural barriers around a Tier 1 unit, and talking about mental health and talking about the issue of suicide among serving members and our veterans. It is still an epidemic, both in those in uniform and those after they retire. Why do you think it is that we are struggling to help veterans who are facing suicidal feelings and to be able to reduce these numbers more significantly?

Retired Master Corporal Jeff Depatie: There’s probably lots of stigma attached to it, a lot of negative press, I would imagine. It’s just I don’t think it’s all that difficult. I think the governments are overcomplicating it. I think if they start bringing—like referring back to the CAF does an excellent job of taking care of their soldiers. If there’s just something to bridge that gap between Veterans Affairs, the CAF, governments can save some money. They could reach into something that’s taboo. I, personally, also agree with Alannah saying that, you know, PTSD gets a bad rap. We can empower things like post traumatic growth, which is a big brother to PTSD and remove those stigmas so that people’s egos don’t get in the way. And once we start talking about it, that’s when those flood gates open up, showing people how to talk about it.

Mercedes Stephenson: We don’t just want to focus on the negative because there are lots of veterans like both you and Jeff who have done incredibly well, Alannah, despite the challenges. What are some of the things that have helped you that you would recommend to fellow veterans who are out there that are looking for a life line?

Retired Sergeant Alannah Gilmore: So I released in 2015—I’m going to be very honest when I say I had a very difficult transition. I had amazing difficulty figuring out how to re-identify myself, but in the civilian world. I had depression. The PTSD was elevated. For me, as soon as I got back into something military, I actually found myself. I found a purpose again that even though I wasn’t wearing the uniform, that I was still good for service. I was still good to serve veterans. Maybe not the service men and women, but I could still advocate. I spent 10 years advocating for significantly injured, catastrophic wounds and stuff from my ex-spouse. So now I’m navigating a new system from a veteran’s angle and it’s inclusive. It’s everybody: female, male, it doesn’t matter. But the point is—the fact is that we served—you know now we have people who truly need us that have done—put themselves at risk. They need our help. Why can’t we just do that?

Mercedes Stephenson: And that is absolutely a fair question, and one we will continue to ask. Unfortunately, that’s all the time we have today, but thank you both, Alannah and Jeff for your service to our country. And thank you for coming on to talk about this issue with us.

Up next, laying them to rest with dignity, a military program that identifies the remains of Canadian service men lost to the tides of time.

Story continues below advertisement

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Canada has lost hundreds of thousands of men and women in service to their country. Thousands of Canada’s war dead are yet to be found and identified; however, a special military program looks to do just that, to find those who have been lost, to name them and to lay them to rest with honour.

Here’s a look at that program.

In early January 2017, a father and son with a metal detector found the partial skeletal remains of an allied soldier in a farmer’s field south of Cannes in Frances. Nothing clearly indicated the nationality of the remains, but a helmet, the canteen and a pipeprovided clues that it might be a Canadian soldier. There was also a ring with the initials J. A.C. With those clues, the Department of National Defence’s Casualty Identification program kicks into high gear.

Sarah Lockyer, Canadian Armed Forces Casualty ID Coordinator: We’ll use all the artifacts that are found to give us some clues as to any personal or unit identifiers that can help us narrow down the list of who this could be.

Mercedes Stephenson: First, the Casualty Identification program has to find out if the remains actually belonged to a Canadian service member. Next, a member of the team flies overseas for anthropological analysis.

Sarah Lockyer, Canadian Armed Forces Casualty ID Coordinator: Based on the age and the height range that I’m able to derive from the remains, we then look at the list of potential candidates that the historian has put together and we can eliminate everybody who’s too young, too old, too short, too tall.

Mercedes Stephenson: Genealogical research is the next step, with the ultimate goal of finding a DNA donor, a daunting task. In some cases, remains can be identified with just historical analysis and anthropological research. But in the case of J.A.C, that was not enough. So the team had to turn to dental science to help identify the remains.

Lt. Col. Luc Langevin, Canadian Armed Forces Forensic Odontology: We were able to reduce the number of possible dental profiles that would match to actually four files. But for one of the files, actually, we had a strong correlation between the dental remains that they found.

Mercedes Stephenson: That file belonged to a sergeant, John Albert Collis, a soldier who already had a marked grave. Now that the list had been narrowed down, it was time for DNA analysis. Matching the teeth found in the farmer’s field with Collis’ descendants.

Maj. Genevieve Poitras, Canadian Armed Forces Forensic Odontology: Waiting for those answers, it was like waiting on Christmas morning. Like you just can’t wait to hear what the answer is.

Mercedes Stephenson: It was a match. J.A.C. was in fact, Sergeant John Albert Collis from the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry. Finally, it was time to reach out to the family.

Meghan Gallagher, Sgt. John Albert Collis’ Great Granddaughter: Knowing that I am related to someone who was brave enough to go and fight for our country and it really has kind of made me feel like our family has learned so much about where we’ve come from.

Story continues below advertisement

Mercedes Stephenson: Now after 75 years, Sergeant Collis has finally been laid to rest with his family and comrades present. What started with a ring, helmet, pipe and unidentified remains, turned into an opportunity for a family to be reunited with someone who they had never had the chance to meet.

In 12 years, the Casualty Identification program has positively identified 31 Canadian soldiers and 19 foreign soldiers, but there are still over 27,000 Canadian war dead with unknown graves from the First World War, the Second World War and the Korean War.

Maj. Greg Miller, Canadian Armed Forces Dress and Ceremonial Expert: I don’t think we’ll ever be able to put a name to a grave for the 26+ thousands that are still listed as unknown, but we’ll sure continue to do what we can until—at least until I’m finished my service.

Mercedes Stephenson: That’s all the time we have for today. I’m Mercedes Stephenson for The West Block. Thank you for joining us. And a special thank you today, and every day that goes to those men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces both past and present, for their service and sacrifice for this country.

We leave you now with the words from this year’s Silver Cross Mother, Mrs. Reine Samson Dawe.

Reine Samson Dawe, Silver Cross Mother: I think it is important that Canadians remember what a war costs. But I don’t want them to have pity on soldiers. I think they deserve a whole lot more than that. They deserve respect and recognition and maybe help, you know, help for the people who return. The ones who came back with the mental and physical ailments, severe ones, and they need that constant support. It’s not something that you think about on the 11th and then that’s over. So it should be more permanent.