Veterans minister rebuffs calls to resign amid assisted dying discussion scrutiny

Click to play video: 'Veterans Affairs Minister says he won’t resign, changes coming in 2023'
Veterans Affairs Minister says he won’t resign, changes coming in 2023
WATCH: Veterans Affairs Minister says he won’t resign, changes coming in 2023 – Nov 13, 2022

Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay is pushing back on calls for him to resign following scrutiny over a departmental employee discussing medical assistance in dying with a veteran.

Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) is investigating the issue, MacAulay said, and “at this time” has only found “one, isolated case” of such a conversation occurring.

However, even that one incident is “totally and completely unacceptable,” MacAulay told The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson in an interview, aired Sunday.

Sources told Global News a VAC service agent brought up medical assistance in dying (MAID), unprompted, in a conversation with the combat veteran, who was seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury. Global News is not identifying the veteran who was seeking treatment.

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Multiple sources told Global News the combat veteran never raised the issue, nor was he looking for MAID, and that he was deeply disturbed by the suggestion. Those sources and VAC have told Global News the discussion took place, with VAC confirming it is investigating the incident.

Click to play video: 'Veterans affairs minister should resign: O’Toole and advocates'
Veterans affairs minister should resign: O’Toole and advocates

Sources close to the veteran say he and his family were disgusted by the conversation, and feel betrayed by the department mandated to assist veterans. The sources said the veteran was seeking services to recover from injuries suffered in the line of duty, and had been experiencing positive improvements in his mental and physical health. They say the unprompted offer of MAID disrupted his progress and has been harmful to the veteran’s progress and his family’s well-being.

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“A veteran can bring up what they wish. But…if some veteran brings (MAID) up, (VAC employees) are instructed to bring it to their supervisor,” MacAulay told Stephenson.

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“That’s what the situation is and will continue to be. But the staff needs to know that, and they will.”

The added scrutiny comes amid an already tense relationship between veterans and the minister responsible for the programs intended to assist them.

Click to play video: 'Veterans affairs minister should resign: O’Toole and advocates'
Veterans affairs minister should resign: O’Toole and advocates

MacAulay has come under fire due to continued benefits backlogs, forcing veterans to wait an average of 43 weeks for disability claim decisions during the last fiscal year that ended in March.

That’s 27 weeks longer than the 16-week standard set by VAC, which the Liberal government has repeatedly promised to meet.

The union representing thousands of VAC employees has called for MacAulay to resign or be fired, accusing him of repeatedly refusing to meet with members to discuss their concerns.

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The NDP has also called for the minister to step down if he can’t resolve the situation with the union.

“With calls for the minister to be removed from his position from the Union of Veterans Affairs Employees, the situation has become untenable,” wrote NDP MP Rachel Blaney in a tweet earlier this month.

Conservative MP and former party leader Erin O’Toole has also called on MacAulay to resign.

Speaking to Stephenson in the interview aired on The West Block Sunday, MacAulay pushed back on calls for his resignation.

“My job is to make sure we provide the services for veterans and the employees be in place to provide that service,” he said. “And that’s what I am doing and that’s what I want to continue to do.”

The backlog, MacAulay added, “was totally unacceptable.”

Today, he said the backlog has been brought down to 25 weeks, which he added is “not good enough at all,” particularly given his government’s promise to get that figure down to 16 weeks within two years of him becoming minister.

That deadline came and passed in March of 2021.

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“We’re going to be a little bit delayed on that, but we hope to have it down to 16 weeks by next spring or summer,” MacAulay said. “That would be 80 per cent of the applications processed by 16 weeks.”

The government, MacAulay added, is “on the right track.”

— With files from Global News’ Mercedes Stephenson, Sean Boynton

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