The sketch: Julian Fantino and the veterans

From one contentious meeting to another

Thomas Mulcair pointed at Julian Fantino, but the Veterans Affairs Minister did not object. Possibly because the rules of polite conversation do not apply in this august chamber.

“Will the Prime Minister do the right thing,” the NDP leader loudly wondered, “apologize himself and fire that incompetent?”

The leader of the opposition did not even add the word “minister” to that sentence.

The NDP leader had at that point just finished misquoting Mr. Fantino. “Mr. Speaker, when the veterans complained that the minister had missed their meeting, he said, ‘I’m not going to stand here and listen to that,’ and he stormed out,” Mr. Mulcair reported.

In actual fact—the full eight-minute video of the minister’s meeting with unimpressed veterans is viewable here—Mr. Fantino had been trying to state his case when the veteran to whom he was stating said case exclaimed, “Hogwash.” It was at that point that Mr. Fantino said, “Okay, fine, thank you” and turned to leave, though he lingered for awhile to discuss matters further before making it out the door. And before that Mr. Fantino had expressed some discomfort with the fact that one of the veterans, in registering a complaint, had pointed a finger at him. There is, as well, an allegation that the meeting did not go off as planned. And, of course, both the meeting and the displeased reaction of the veterans in attendance were captured on tape and broadcast on the evening news.

Other than that, the minister did not perform too terribly in those eight minutes, but today he sat in the House as both Mr. Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau demanded he exit, voluntarily or otherwise, from the cabinet.

“Mr. Speaker, the minister has apologized for the events of yesterday, but the fact of the matter is that this government and this minister have increased services for our veterans without precedent,” Mr. Harper explained to Mr. Mulcair. “It is important for our government, it always has been, to protect those who wear the uniform and who once wore the uniform, which is why we have overwhelming support for veterans and we will continue to serve them.”

Now Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Harper exchanged words over the case of a bill sent to husband of a veteran who had committed suicide—with Mr. Mulcair rather audaciously accusing the minister of sending the bill—and the Conservatives howled. Mr. Mulcair then erroneously accused the Conservatives of shutting down veterans’ “hospitals”—conceivably he meant veterans affairs “offices”— while spending more on ministerial offices and the Conservatives howled again.

The NDP leader jabbed his finger into the ground and Mr. Harper stood and pumped his fist and jabbed his finger. A voice from the government side suggested Mr. Mulcair’s pants had caught fire.

“When we have a small number of duplicated veterans offices that have a very small case load, it makes a lot more sense,” Mr. Harper explained, “I know the unions do not like it, to have 600 points of service for veterans who live closer to that—”

“Ahhh!” mocked the New Democrats at this mention of “unions.”

“Actually, Mr. Speaker,” Mr. Mulcair shot back when the Speaker had restored order, “the veterans do not like it either.”

Mr. Mulcair proceeded en francais and Mr. Harper responded in kind and then the Prime Minister switched back to English to finish. “It is important that we state the facts and ensure veterans get these facts,” Mr. Harper ventured. “This government is increasing points of service for veterans from a very few number of offices: the 600 points of service across the country. I know why the unions and the NDP oppose that, but this is in the best interests of veterans. They can play politics; we are going to keep delivering services to veterans.”

Awhile later, Mr. Fantino had the opportunity to defend himself. In response to the NDP’s Sylvain Chicoine, the Veterans Affairs Minister declared that “the NDP and the Liberals voted against increased investments for Canadian veterans.” (To which votes the minister was referring was not immediately clear.) “Veterans have told us that they want less paperwork and fewer trips downtown, which begs the question, ‘Who is the member actually working for?’ ” Mr. Fantino continued. “The record will show that they have consistently voted against our initiatives to increase benefits and services to veterans.”

The NDP’s Peter Stoffer now stood and mused that he had seen ten different veterans affairs ministers from two different parties in his sixteen-and-a-half years in Parliament and yesterday “lowest of the low in my advocacy for veterans, RCMP members and their families across this country.” And then he mocked Rob Anders over previous allegations of sleepiness and then Mr. Stoffer asked if the Prime Minister would demand Mr. Fantino’s resignation.

“Mr. Speaker, I absolutely regret yesterday’s events. As I did last evening when I apologized directly to the veterans, I again apologize now,” Mr. Fantino told the House in response. “I wanted to meet with them to hear their case, their stories and to explain to them the changes we are making that will in fact look after their, and their families, interest in the long term. I reached out to veterans from yesterday to reiterate that apology.”

There would be more questions and then, out in the foyer afterwards, two veterans, flanked by Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis, would stand against the wall, under the grand portrait of Alexander Mackenzie, and explain their concerns for the microphones and cameras.

Amid all of this remains the question—at least in the minds of the concerned—of how well veterans’ services will be delivered, but not much was to be settled in this forum, at least not on this day. The Royal Canadian Legion is asking for further clarity. and possibly this dispute will ultimately require the scrutiny and judgment of the veterans ombudsman. But in the interests of avoiding (or at least limiting) political games it is actually tempting to wonder if this might be better hashed out in another public meeting of Mr. Fantino and the complainants.




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The sketch: Julian Fantino and the veterans

  1. Good for you for writing about this; it deserves to stay in the news. I don’t know where they can go from here though, the vets are shutting down and the cons aren’t budging on their closures. What a shame.

  2. Harper says:

    “but the fact of the matter is that this government and this minister have increased services for our veterans without precedent….which is why we have overwhelming support for veterans and we will continue to serve them.”… “

    But if you watch the actual video, you can see that it’s the veterans themselves who completely disagree that they have increased services. Which leads one to question how the government has overwhelming support for them.

    The two statements just don’t square.

    • The only truthful comment Harper has ever said is, ‘You won’t recognize Canada when I’m through with it’.

  3. The Cons courted Fantino as a prized candidate after his generally lackluster career in policing. I’m glad they got him. They deserve each other. Unfortunately, veterans don’t.

    • Made a mess at Ontario Provincial level now in the Federal scene a bigger mess stretching from coast to coast to coast, and the ‘bully’ adjective remains. Stoffer is the NDP spokesman for this and been on the Veterans file for many years and he just ‘hangs his head in shame’ on the antics of the government.

  4. As a TO police chief Fantino got used to people sucking up to him and fearing repercussions if they teed him off. Now that he’s a so-called minister, he expects the same behaviour. The nerve of those people to question, the great Fantino. 2015 can’t come soon enough.

  5. The 600 points of service across the country will have “trained” agents who steer veterans to either a telephone for them call a toll free number, or to a computer to allow them access to a website.

    • Didn’t you know? They made an App for veterans affairs. I’m not even kidding.

      • That’s actually a good thing. A lot of veterans have smartphones.

        Closing down all of those offices, while lying about increased services? Not such a good thing.

        • A lot of veterans have smartphones, huh? Maybe from Afghanistan – but the elderly veterans…?

        • and a point was also made that with all the new wars there are more veterans coming home so the budget is up its not only that they have increased their monies – they had to for the numbers now bigger than ever. As the world war 11 veteran said we wish there were no more wars then you won’t need all these services for them who gave their lives and their minds for us.

  6. I wish more Canadians understood the life path of a seriously wounded soldier. A soldier carries his wounds to his grave and they often make the years nearing the end of life far more difficult. Imagine a surgeon, undertaking a routine gall bladder surgery, finding that shrapnel 50 or 60-years earlier had done its work and fused the gall bladder and the liver, for example. That happened to my father and what was supposed to be a quick operation turned into an extra eight hours on the table as the surgeons worked to safely section his liver without causing him to bleed out.
    My dad was lucky. He dealt with Veterans Affairs before the Harper government got at it. When he needed help there were VA professionals who understood his ordeal and were there to meet his needs as they progressed. He didn’t have to go to Service Canada and deal with some drone behind a computer.
    Let’s face it. Harper squeezed every drop of political capital he could from the bodies of our dead and broken soldiers during our Afghan War only to turn his back on them when they had outlived their political utility. His Veterans Charter where they measure you up, run some numbers, hand you a cheque and say “on your way” is an affront, not only to our veterans but to every decent Canadian.

  7. JF represents everything that is wrong with politics and particularly the Conservative Party. He turned the OPP into a paramilitary operation and continues to use stormtrooper tactics as a bureaucrat. His contempt for vets is a proxy for Harper in response to the Rob Anders affronts in case anyone wasn’t clear how he feels about that portfolio.

    This is just more evidence that Harper and his Reform Party of Alberta are circling the drain.

    • They’re in self-destruct mode and it’s a joy to watch.

    • As OPP Commissioner, he once waved (saluted) from the turret of a tank as it rumbled down the main street in a local Santa Claus parade.

  8. News reports state that Fantino refused to meet with the veterans if any union reps were there, and the veterans agreed to meet with Fantino on Fantino’s terms – the meeting was set for 5:00 to 5:40. Fantino comes across as a complete (_;_)hole in the video – does not show up for the meeting, sends 3 flunkies instead, comes along 70 minutes late as the veterans are heading off to a news conference, then does a great job of getting huffy when the veterans question his wisdom voiced from high. That should be enough to get him consigned to the back benches forever. Then, Fantino’s office puts out a press release “apology” which is so full of political spin that it should be seen as an embarrassment for Fantino to be associated with it. The optics of it all were truly appalling for the Conservatives.

    Then Mulcair makes such a mess of his questions and allegations during Question Period that the government has no trouble defending Fantino and the government position. And Mulcair is alleged to be a great performer in the Commons!

    Fantino has ignited a firestorm of comments on the video, many of which state that the Conservatives must ditch Fantino or kiss a lot of loyal Conservative voters goodbye. Unfortunately, the fumbling performance of Mulcair may leave the government with the impression that the whole thing has blown over. Such is the divide between the atmosphere in Ottawa and the ROC.

  9. Has Harper ever – unannounced – visited a “point of service – and stood in line for ten to fifteen minutes before meeting a worker who then asked the nature of one’s problem because there would be a further wait until the appropriate staff member was available?
    Older or disabled veterans apparently can look forward to such “service” thanks to the Harper regime – except in many cases none of the workers will be trained in the special nature of veteran issues.
    Tom Mulcair did a great job in illuminating the problems faced with a PM who either does not understand or care about the needs of elderly or injured veterans.

  10. He didn’t show up to any debates during his run for the Harper Party, why would anyone expect him to show up now?

  11. Personally, I love this guy Fantino.
    While he was always a good argument against voting conservative, he’s finally found his footing and has become a super star for the opposition parties.
    I especially enjoyed it when the veteran said not to vote for Conservatives. I guess there is more to supporting the military than getting lifts in helicopters.

  12. There was a time not long ago when a gaff like this would have been quickly crushed by the Conservative machine.
    The media, fearful of losing access, MP’s fearing the threat of vicious attack for little gain, no holds barred attack dogs like Pollievre, endless angry talking points and spin, would have have forced the Ottawa establishment into “move on nothing to see here” mode.
    The bubble of invincibility, and unassailable power in the PMO and Conservative Party, and its media advertising machine has been burst.
    And despite all the laughs from the caucus sheep, the PM looked totally lost in the face of the Trudeau Senate gambit.

    • Trudeau’s announcement was the tipping point we’ve been waiting for.

      • The CP/PMO are like a glacier that has suddenly started a massive melt after years of megalithic inactivity. Each one of these “episodes” is like a chunk of the glacier calving into the ocean.

        The Trudeau Senate move and Steve’s slack jawed reaction was like an CP iceberg the size of Newfoundland tumbling into the sea. I predict his little bar band will make an appearance as its the only party trick he gets any action out of these days.

        • Best writing on this page here in that first paragraph. Bravo!

          • Perfect!! :D

  13. Re: the veteran that said, “don’t vote conservative”. I am very confused by his comment. Anyone with a memory knows the ‘armed forces’ were practically decimated in the 70′s under the fed. liberal government. The NDP would have done even more , given the chance. p.s. I actually voted lib. @ that time. Not now, but I’m not stuck & try to decipher all the ‘hype’.

    • Old men crying on TV is not hype: it is heart breaking. We cannot ask men and women to go risk their lives fighting in foreign countries and then when they get back pretend they were never in any danger and never faced anything that would have longterm negative impact on their lives. Even though they may be killed or forced to kill others.

  14. They just don’t get it. Veterans never signed up to be used and then thrown under the bus. That’s a reformer self-immolation thing.

    Veterans signed up to serve the country, not Master Harper. They actually thought he was sincere when he said he supported them. To find out now that in reality, they are amongst his lowest priorities ($1.2 billion to build a new CSEC building to spy on Canadians and millions to fly the rich and powerful to Israel, millions even for a couple of signs, gazebo and a fake lake) and he cannot afford to provide them with the dignity and respect they are due.

    Fantino is a fail. Harper is even worse. 2015 is a long way away.

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