|Philippine President Benigno Aquino (R) chats with visiting Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper before the start of a joint statement at the presidential palace in Manila November 10, 2012. Harper arrived in Manila on Friday for a three-day visit. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
MANILA - On the eve of Remembrance Day, Prime Minister Stephen Harper refused to say how he feels about the fact that the families of nearly 2,000 veterans a year are being turned away from a special federal fund set up to help them with funeral expenses.
The Last Post Fund -- a 103-year-old, $10.2-million federal program for dignified funerals and burials of former soldiers fallen on hard times -- is so restrictive that two-thirds of applicants are turned away.
Harper will mark Remembrance Day Sunday at a Second World War cemetery in Hong Kong, but in Manila on Saturday, he was asked how he feels about the fact that last year only 1,326 of 3,125 applications for federal assistance by families of veterans were approved.
"The government of Canada puts a very high priority on care for our veterans," Harper said. "This government has made enormous -- billions of dollars -- in investments particularly for the most needy veterans."
"Obviously, these programs are under constant review and we will continue to assess their suitability going forward."
Canadian reporters travelling with the PM this week were not able to press him on what he might mean by "constant review" as Harper's aides allowed just two questions Saturday.
Harper also answered a question from Canadian reporters on changing Canada-China relations.
Last Post Fund Executive Director Jean-Pierre Goyer said last week that most applicants either failed the means test -- the cut-off is $12,015 annual income -- or were modern day vets turned away based on stricter criteria set for them by the feds.
Goyer estimated $5 million a year would be enough to meet current needs, including opening up the program to more soldiers who served after the Korean War.
- With files from Jessica Murphy