They don't want to lose their bureaus
Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino is caught up in a big fight with a group of angry war veterans who want him fired for the way he’s been treating them.
The Harper government wants to close eight health care offices this week for 650,000 veterans across Canada.
The battle began Tuesday in Ottawa when Fantino, a former police chief, cancelled a last minute meeting with them to discuss the closure of offices.
He finally showed up 70 minutes late, and said he had been at an important cabinet meeting. They were not amused.
The Harper government is short several billion dollars on its budget and to save money where it can wants to replace the veterans affairs offices with online computer services located in Service Canada offices that are already providing passport, visa, and employment insurance card services to thousands of Canadians.
That’s not what the war vets want. Many of them, especially the older fellas from the Second World War are not all in good shape. They want the one-on-one personal case handling they’ve been getting from Veterans Affairs employees
Many veterans are elderly and not in good health, especially those who made it through the Second World War or the Korean War and are not very good with computers .
The group was all riled up and about to leave when Fantino arrived.
The meeting quickly degenerated into an unpleasant verbal exchange and harsh words were exchanged.
Fantino denied their accusation that closing the offices is a government plan to save money by reducing services to them.
Fantino told a former soldier he did not like him pointing his finger at him and then walked out of the meeting room. That only made the vets angrier.
Actually the ill-feeling goes back a few years earlier when Fantino told a group of vets that the danger Canadian soldiers faced in Afghanistan was comparable to the danger he had faced as a police officer in Ontario.
They didn’t think so, and there’s been bad blood between them ever since.
The battle could not have come at a worse time for the Harper government which sees itself as the great defender of the military. Stephen Harper is working hard to befriend the military hoping to get the military vote at election-time.
The fight spilled over into the Commons on Wednesday and Thursday with Opposition parties hammering Fantino and the Conservative government over the fight. The Opposition demanded the outright dismissal of Fantino. Harper refused.
Fantino finally apologized in writing and in person: "I want to convey my sincere apologies for the way this situation was handled."
But there is no way the government will reopen those eight bureaus scheduled to close Friday, Jan. 31.
In the House of Commons Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair said that when there are eight suicides in the last two months in our military, "it is not the time to close the service centres that serve brave soldiers who went to war for us. "
"The decision has been taken,” Fantino later told reporters. “We found other ways to meet veterans’ needs.”