Maclean’s is your home for the daily political theatre that is question period. If you’ve never watched, check out our primer. Today, QP runs from 2:15 p.m. until just past 3. We livestream and liveblog all the action.
This afternoon, NDP MP Peter Stoffer hammered away at the government’s funding of veterans’ services. Stoffer referenced a number of files on his desk from across Canada that reveal denied claims for veterans in need. You got the impression he could have drawn upon countless other examples. Few MPs, especially those in opposition, have the reach into the vets’ community of Stoffer, a well-known advocate for years. He recently told Paul Wells that a huge amount of his casework with Canadians is, in fact, outside of his riding. Watch him talk about that work here.
The seasoned New Democrat said those claims were denied due to lack of funding, but wondered why, if that were true, the Vets’ Affairs department has sent $1.1 billion back into the federal treasury over the past eight years. Julian Fantino, the responsible minister, did not respond. His parliamentary secretary, Parm Gill, said he respected Stoffer—but politely urged him to please not play politics with veterans.
Veterans are supposed to be a slam dunk for Conservatives looking for votes. Julian Fantino, the veterans affairs minister meant to serve that constituency and secure their support, has instead managed to anger some vocal vets who say he won’t meet with them and doesn’t listen to their concerns about his budgetary priorities.
Fantino never gives his critics the time of day in question period. On Nov. 18, the minister boasted to NDP MP Peter Stoffer that his department has spent $30 billion on veterans since 2006. Fantino hoped that impressive number—a three followed by eight zeroes!—would satisfy Stoffer. It didn’t, and here’s why.
The seasoned New Democrat had discovered, via a written question on the order paper, that Veterans Affairs Canada neglected to spend $1.13 billion duly budgeted over the past eight years. Murray Brewster, a Canadian Press reporter, wrote yesterday that “roughly one-third of the so-called lapsed funds were handed back between the 2011 and 2013 budget years when the government was engaged in a massive deficit-cutting drive.” Is the government balancing its books on the back of veterans, hoping to take their support for granted as they unveil tax cuts for one and all? That’s the opposition’s conclusion and, in a recent interview with Paul Wells, Stoffer sounded quietly confident about his party’s chances in the next election.
We’ll see if Fantino, not the most compelling performer in question period, can muster a competent defence.