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PBO finds benefits overhaul will shortchange recently and severely wounded vets

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The Liberal government’s incoming system of benefits for injured veterans will be slightly more generous than the one it replaces, but it will leave the most severely disabled in worse financial shape, Canada’s parliamentary budget officer said Thursday.

The report from Yves Giroux is likely to add fuel to the heated (and sometimes nasty) political, legal and social debate about how adequately former soldiers, sailors and aircrew are compensated when they are wounded in the line of duty.

The analysis compared the three separate benefit regimes — the one that existed prior to 2006, the New Veterans Charter that replaced it and the new system being introduced by the Liberal government — and found soldiers were being better compensated by far under the pre-2006 system.

“From the perspective of the veteran, virtually all clients would be better off if they received the benefits of the (pre-2006) Pension Act,” the report says.

The budget officer calculated the value of each benefits system in current dollars and found the old Pension Act system was the most costly for the federal government, at approximately $50 billion. The New Veterans Charter, operational under the Conservatives, came in at $29 billion, while the new Liberal regime is projected to cost $32 billion.

The findings are expected to vindicate critics who have long argued that the old system of lifetime pensions, instituted following the world wars, was more generous.

The difference between that regime and the New Veterans Charter — introduced in 2006 by the Liberal government of Prime Minister Paul Martin and championed by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives — was the subject a major court case involving veterans of the war in Afghanistan.

Pensions for the wounded were replaced with workman’s compensation-style lump sum payments under the charter.

In a politically-charged Federal Court case, ex-soldiers claimed the system introduced in 2006 was discriminatory under the Charter of Rights because it didn’t provide the same level of benefits and support as the old pension system. Federal lawyers argued Ottawa had no special legal obligation to injured veterans and their families.

Many say the case swayed the veterans’ vote toward the Liberals in the 2015 federal election, when Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau pledged to give veterans the option of a pension or a lump sum payment.

That new system is due to be implemented on April 1 and the budget officer said most former military members in the system will see an increase.

To create the new system, the Liberal government rolled together a series of different benefits. Giroux found that one particular stipend — known as the Career Impact Allowance — is being eliminated entirely.

He said that will have an enormous impact on the most severely disabled veterans who join the new system after it’s implemented.

“The five per cent that have the most severe impairment, they’ll be the only, the main losers of the transition to the pension-for-life regime,” said Giroux, who added he’s uncertain whether it was an oversight on the government’s part or an intentional part of the redesign.

He said the system, even in its simplified form under the Liberals, is extraordinarily complicated and he can’t imagine how veterans feel when they’re faced with it.

“The suite of benefits available to veterans is very, very complex,” he said. “Myself, having a tax background, I find this more difficult than the income tax system.

“So it may be oversight. It may be intentional. I have no idea.”

Sean Bruyea, a long-time veterans advocate and frequent critic of the changes made in 2006, was largely satisfied with the report and said it proves what he’s said all along.

“When we have agencies like this, it renews my faith that government can work for veterans and Canadians,” said Bruyea, who got into a nasty public spat and a court case with former veterans minister Seamus O’Regan over the benefits numbers.

In article published on Feb. 26, 2018 in the Ottawa-based publication The Hill Times, O’Regan accused Bruyea of “stating mistruths” about the Liberal pension-for-life plan.

“Let me be clear— NO veteran will receive less than what they are receiving today and most will be receiving more,” O’Regan wrote.

Bruyea suggested the budget officer’s distinction between those who are in the system now and those who will enter in the future is important to remember when parsing O’Regan’s words.

“This independent report verifies for veterans that, contrary to what politicians and bureaucrats have said, veterans are not greedy. They’re not entitled. They’re not angry,” he said. “And if they are feeling angry, it’s justified.”

Another important point, Bruyea said, is the comparison with the pre-2006 system of benefits, which is at least $18 billion more expensive than the more recent benefits systems.

The report demonstrates governments of both political stripes were focused on saving money, he said.

Veterans Affairs “wanted to prove to Treasury Board that they could reduce the costs of this future liability,” he said.

Giroux would not comment on whether he believed the federal government set out in the beginning to save money, but noted the benefits defined for veterans following the world wars were instituted at a time when Canada’s overall social safety net was not as generous.

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Ottawa sets monthly record for total COVID-19 cases with 99 new cases on Friday

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Sixteen days into October, Ottawa has already set the record for most cases of COVID-19 in a single month.

Ottawa Public Health reported 99 new cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa today, and three more deaths linked to novel coronavirus.

Ontario’s Ministry of Health had reported 108 new cases of COVID-19, but there is sometimes a lag in COVID-19 case reporting between Ontario and Ottawa Public Health. On Wednesday, Ontario reported 39 new cases in Ottawa, while Ottawa Public Health reported 45 new cases.

There have been 1,511 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa in October, surpassing the September record of 1,413 new cases.

Since the first case of COVID-19 on March 11, there have been 5,908 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa, including 301 deaths.

Across Ontario, there are 712 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. Health Minister Christine Elliott reported 213 new cases in Toronto, 135 in Peel Region and 62 in York Region.

HOSPITALIZATIONS IN OTTAWA

One more person was admitted to an Ottawa hospital with COVID-19 related illnesses on Friday.

Ottawa Public Health reports 47 people are currently in hospital with COVID-19, including eight in the intensive care unit.

ACTIVE CASES OF COVID-19 IN OTTAWA

The number of active cases of COVID-19 increased on Friday.

There are 792 active cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa, up from 777 active cases on Thursday.

A total of 4,806 people have recovered after testing positive for COVID-19.

The number of active cases is the number of total laboratory-confirmed cases minus the numbers of resolved cases and deaths. A case is considered resolved 14 days after known symptom onset or positive test result.

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Ottawa mayor rejects possible return of Ottawa-Gatineau border checkpoints, ‘I really don’t think they work’

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Mayor Jim Watson does not want to see police checkpoints return to the five interprovincial crossings between Ottawa and Gatineau, saying “I really don’t think they work.”

Earlier this week, Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin told the Ottawa Citizen that police checkpoints could return to the Ottawa-Gatineau border at “any time,” with the final decision in the hands of the Quebec Government. Earlier this month, Dr. Brigitte Pinard of the Centre Integre de sante et de services sociaux de l’Outaouais said border checkpoints were “possible,” adding “right now, our message is to limit large gatherings.”

When asked by CTV Morning Live host Leslie Roberts about the possibility of police checkpoints returning to the Ontario-Quebec border, Watson said he did not think they worked back in the spring.

“There were so many gaps when the police were not there, and people just figured out I’ll go at an earlier time or a later time. We saw police officers sticking their heads in the car with no masks, so that was not healthy for those individuals,” said Watson Friday morning.

“It’s a costly expense when our police are stretched already to the limit trying to do the work, to have them set up at five different bridge points potentially 24 hours a day would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars every month and I think the money is better spent.”

On April 1, Gatineau Police and the Surete du Quebec set up checkpoints along the Ottawa-Gatineau border to limit non-essential trips into Gatineau. Gatineau Police estimated the random police checkpoints between April 1 and May 17 cost the service more than $400,000.

Mayor Watson tells CTV Morning Live that the Quebec Government’s decision to move Gatineau into the “red zone” two days after Ontario moved Ottawa to a modified Stage 2 should help.

“We are a close relationship and when things happen in Gatineau there’s often a trickle effect over here and I think the fact that we’re both in the red zone, and Quebec of course is the worst hit province, at least levels the playing field for our restaurants and bars,” said Watson.

“I think in the past what had happened was our restaurants and bars would close and then the ones in Gatineau would stay open, and then people from Ottawa would go over there irresponsibly, in my opinion, and then come back potentially with the virus and spread it here.”

While border checkpoints would limit the non-essential travel across the Ottawa-Gatineau border, Watson says that’s not the way to beat COVID-19.

“The message is very clear, stick to your household. This is not the time to have an AirBNB party or a keg party in your backyard, or have 20 people or 30 people in for an engagement party. I know a lot of these get-togethers are important socially for people and emotionally, but we have to ask people to be reasonable and responsible, and this is not the year to do those kinds of things.”

Roberts asked the mayor if he would have a conversation about border checkpoints with Gatineau’s mayor.

“I had it the first go-around, but at the end of the day I also respect their jurisdiction and their autonomy. It is the province that would have to impose that, not the municipality,” said Watson.

“From our perspective, we don’t think it’s an effective use of resources. We want to continue to get the message across that we can win this battle against COVID-19 if we socially distance, we wear a mask, we actually follow the simple rules that are put forward.”

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Ottawa woman breaks 14-day quarantine rule to work at long-term care home: police

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OTTAWA — A 53-year-old Ottawa woman is facing charges under the federal Quarantine Act after Ottawa police say she failed to self-isolate for 14 days after travelling abroad and returned to work at a long-term care home.

Ottawa Police say information was received indicating that an Ottawa woman had travelled abroad. She returned to Canada on Sept. 26, so she was required under federal law to quarantine for 14 days, until Oct. 9

“The woman decided not to respect this order and went to work on Sept. 30 at a long-term health facility in Ottawa,” police said in a news release. “When management was apprised of the situation, she was immediately sent home. The facility immediately activated mitigating self-isolation and cleaning protocols and informed all persons that had been in contact with the subject.”

Police say none of the residents of the long-term care facility have tested positive for COVID-19 as a result of the woman attending work.

Ottawa police say this is the first person they have charged under the Quarantine Act during the pandemic.

The woman is charged with failing to comply with entry condition under section 58 of the Quarantine Act and cause risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm under section 67 of the Quarantine Act.

The maximum penalty for causing risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm is a $1 million fine and three years in prison. For failing to self-isolate for 14 days, she faces a $750,000 fine and up to six months in jail.

Police did not release the name of the woman, nor where she worked. The woman is due in court on Nov. 24.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson’s office issued a statement following the announcement of the charges.

“Mayor Watson was disturbed to learn about the alleged carelessness of the individual in question. This type of reckless behaviour could have harmed their colleagues, and more importantly, the residents of the long term care home. We must all do our part to limit the spread of COVID-19 in our community.”

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