By Michael Nickerson
Bureaucracies everywhere have a favourite expression: We’re looking into it. Never has a better phrase been created. It buys time, saves face, makes one sound thoughtful if perhaps not quite intellectual, but more to the point, it conveys to one and all that the people involved are busy; doing things.
So let’s parse that. There’s the “we” aspect of the phrase, which can refer to any group or organization from your local cable provider to the Department of National Defence (as an example). There’s the “into it” which could involve diving and swimming pools, or possibly horse jumping and doing a face plant into manure. But it’s the “looking” that should get everyone’s spidey senses tingling. As verbs go, it’s one of the most useless.
Yet it should come as no surprise that it’s the verb of choice for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan. In an interview on Remembrance Day with Omar Sachedina of CTV News, the well-spoken-if-somewhat-ineffectual minister responded to the thorny public relations problem concerning special duty allowance cuts and clawbacks for Canadian Armed Forces members injured for more than 180 days with that time-honoured “looking into it” response.
Just in case you missed it, the good folks at National Defence decided in September to change the rules concerning the special monthly allowance paid to those involved in high-risk operations, including special forces, submariners, search-and-rescue, and the like. In short, if you’re injured for more than 180 days, you lose your allowance. That you were injured doing your high-risk duty is neither here nor there. Thanks for your dedication, and for extra giggles, let’s make it retroactive!
Now, as reported by Mercedes Stephenson of CTV News (busy folks over there, round of applause) not only can this lead to a sudden decrease during recuperation of anywhere between $3,700 to $23,000 in a six-month period (depending on level of risk assessment), but personnel will understandably be compelled and expected to hide injuries, or return to service not fully ready. To add insult to injury (pun sadly intended), elite special forces are under a security gag order to prevent them from discussing this or any other issue.
This comes on the heels of another report concerning homeless veterans (never thought those last two words would sit together like that, but there you are). Specifically, some 770 veterans are homeless in this country (at least that’s the number who self-identify). And the current government’s response to the problem is to allocate $4-million over four years, starting in April 2018 after a good cold Canadian winter, assuming they don’t take another look at it first.
But looking is so much easier than doing, don’t cha think? Just ask the many First Nations in Canada who are waiting for the basic right to clean water. It was a cornerstone of the Team Justin™ election platform of 2015, yet today there are still over 100 boil-water advisories amongst First Nation communities after two years in government (down from 139). How much does it take to produce clean water? They’re looking into it, more to follow; keep that water boiling.
And keep those offshore bank accounts pouring in (or rather, out). That’s something else Team Justin™ has promised to look into: tax evasion. Yet when it comes to offshore tax havens, since 2009 $55-billion has been shipped off shore in legal tax avoidance measures that the Trudeau government has done nothing remotely substantial to deal with, Paradise Papers be damned.
Of course, they’re looking into it. So rest assured. It’s just that doing bit that’s a little shaky. Too many First Nations still do not have clean drinking water as one example. More close to the military home, too many veterans have been let down and looked over, and too many active members forced to face the fiscal constraints not of their own making. There have been promises made but not kept, while too many people seem to escape through loopholes and leave it to the rest to pay the price.
I dare say it’s time to start looking into that. I dare say it’s time to do more than just look.