"Harper, by allowing Fantino to stay in the position for so long, shows that the Minister was only carrying out the bigger agenda of the federal Conservatives." — James Clancy, NUPGE National President.
Ottawa (07 Jan. 2015) — After months of mounting pressure on the Conservative government over the mistreatment of Canadian veterans, Prime Minister Stephen Harper summoned Julian Fantino, Minister of Veterans Affairs, to Rideau Hall on January 5 to give him a new job.
Harper replaced teh struggling Fantino with Erin O'Toole, former parliamentary secretary to the minister of international trade, and a former member of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Fantino goes on to assume his former position of associate minister of National Defence, where he will support lead Minister Rob Nicholson in areas of Arctic sovereignty, information technology, security and foreign intelligence.
Fantino replaced by Erin O'Toole as Minister of Veterans Affairs
Over his 18-month tenure in the position, Fantino repeatedly inflamed the already high tension with veterans and their families by walking out of meetings and refusing to address people's concerns. Fantino became a scapegoat and a face for the Conservative government's austerity agenda defending the closure of veterans affairs offices, reduced services and support in communities across Canada.
"Unfortunately, this isn't just the work of one minister over a short period of time," said James Clancy, National President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), "this is an on-going project of the Conservatives — reduce support and services for those who need them the most. The handling of this file mimics how other cuts have been made, but on this one, the Conservatives picked the wrong group to tangle with."
Conservatives' consistent record of dishonouring the military and veterans
Clancy points out the pattern of disrespect shown by the Conservative government that has had a negative impact on Canada's military and veterans:
- cutting almost a quarter of a billion dollars from the Department of Veterans Affairs
- cutting veterans’ disability benefits by between 30 and 90 per cent
- deciding to tax veterans’ pension benefits, and cutting off those benefits at age 65
- closing Veterans Affairs Service Centres across the country
- ignoring medical evidence about the ravages of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and refusing to offer medical and financial support to those suffering from it
- slandering individual veterans and veterans groups that express displeasure at the way in which they are treated in meetings by Conservative cabinet ministers
- systematically violating the privacy of veterans who exercise their right to free speech
- censoring photographs of ramp ceremonies and banning half-masting for individual soldiers
O'Toole will likely toe party line
"Many suspect that the appointment of Minister O'Toole is a shallow attempt to make up for the poor relationship and public relations fiasco with veterans rather than a sincere move forward to improve the lives of those women and men who have served and are still serving our country" said Clancy. "Unfortunately, Harper, by allowing Fantino to stay in the position for so long, shows that the Minister was only carrying out the bigger agenda of the federal Conservatives."
And as the Ottawa Citizen reported on January 6, that while the Royal Canadian Legion said it welcomed the announcement of a new Veterans Affairs minister, they called the shuffle a "political move." The Citizen has reported that retired Canadian Forces colonel Pat Stogran said that "veterans flooded him with messages Monday stating that they were unhappy with O'Toole's appointment."
"This is just window dressing," Stogran said. "There's a reason why (O'Toole) just received the post — it's because he has no qualms going public with the party line, which I would say is hugely disingenous."
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE