When it comes to veterans issues, the Harper government is badly losing the battle of public opinion.
For months we’ve heard stories about “angry veterans” — frustrated over a lack of support and services — who are vowing to do whatever they can to defeat the Harper government in 2015.
Some have said they’ll stop doing photo-ops with Minister of Veterans Affairs Julian Fantino; some have gone as far as to launch an “Anyone But Conservative” campaign.
There’s at least one veteran, however, who is going against what seems to be the new anti-Conservative norm.
Tim Laidler, who served in Afghanistan in 2008 before leaving the military, still believes that the Conservatives are the best ally of veterans.
He’s actually putting his hat into the ring and is now the Tory candidate — for the 2015 election — in the suburban Vancouver riding of Port Moody-Coquitlam.
So — given all the recent strife — why is a veteran choosing to run for the Conservatives of all parties?
"My choice really started when I was in Afghanistan," Laidler told Yahoo Canada News in an interview.
"The Conservatives were the party that brought in the equipment necessary to keep us safe in Afghanistan," he said, referring to trucks that helped to keep Canadian soldiers safe from landmines and suicide bombers.
"Basically, looking back, looking at the history of how the Conservative Party has supported military and supported veterans, the choice was clear for me."
Upon returning from Afghanistan, Laidler took part in the Veterans Transition Program – a University of British Columbia group which helped ex-military members deal with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Laidler serves as executive director of the group, now called the Veterans Transition Network, which is national in scope and has helped over 500 veterans from coast to coast. He lauds the Ministry of Veteran Affairs for funding the program since 2012.
Laidler, however — like everyone else — has seen the disdain that some of his veteran colleagues have for Fantino and his office.
This media savvy group has complained about feeling jilted over the shuttering of nine veterans’ service centres; it has derided the controversial veterans charter; the group is upset the government spent $4 million on an ad campaign to defend itself over complaints about a lack of veterans services; and it’s confused over recent reports that suggest that the Ministry didn’t spend $1.1 billion allocated to them for veterans support.
Laidler argues those complaints are coming from a vocal minority and, in some cases, from partisan groups.
"There is absolutely, in the national discourse, there is this [negative] perception.
"But when I speak to veterans…I’ll ask them: ‘Are you happy with your benefits, are you happy with what you’re getting?’ And most of the time they say: ‘Oh yeah I’m good, but what I hear on TV is that there are other veterans that aren’t getting the good deal.’"
Laidler does contend that the New Veterans Charter — which offers a wide range of programs, services and benefits for veterans — does need some improvements.
He claims a lot of veterans are not getting the message about what services and support is available to them. Laidler blames that, partially at least, on what he calls the military’s hyper masculine culture.
"I haven’t seen the most up to date [numbers], but as of about two years ago..only 14 per cent of veterans actually returned to Veterans Affairs for funding and support.
"They don’t want to ask for help. They don’t want to step up and go through an assessment to get a diagnosis that ultimately entitles them to a lump sum payment, monthly benefits and counselling."
For their part, the Tories continue to try and set their record straight and continue to offer more in terms of services and support.
On Sunday, for example, they announced an additional $200 million — over 6 years — in funding to address veterans’ mental health issues.
Despite their collective efforts, Team Conservative and candidates like Laidler face an uphill battle in convincing the Canadian public that that the Tories are the best party for veterans.
But it might be too late.
According to The Canadian Press, a recently released internal National Defence poll suggested 42 per cent of those surveyed mentioned the “problems that veterans face” as a top-of-mind issue when asked what they recalled about the Canadian Armed Forces.
Moreover, 67 per cent of those surveyed said that they “recalled recently seeing, reading, or hearing about issues faced by returning soldiers or their families.”