Fantino’s mockery of veterans hits the last straw

Julian Wolfe
January 5th, 2015

PMO sources confirm Veteran Affairs Minister Julian Fantino is out, only after a year of mocking Canada’s veterans.

After the Conservative government closed 8 veterans offices last year, a meeting between Fantino and a group of disgruntled veterans ended with disrespect and a country-wide movement to oust the current government.

Despite calls for his resignation, the government stood behind Fantino as veterans country-wide began to rally against the Conservatives.

In November, in an attempt to shift public attention away from the cuts the Conservatives made to injured veterans, Fantino announced a $200-million investment in veterans’ mental health over six years, but later admitted the money will flow over decades. While veterans complained they weren’t getting the services they needed, it was found that $1.13-billion had been returned to the Treasury from Veterans Affairs since 2006.

In a recent internal report on a Veterans Affairs rehabilitation program created in 2006 designed to help injured ex-soldiers transition to civilian life, the department alleged veterans are exaggerating their injuries to avoid joining the work force and continue receiving financial aid. The allegation was made after the report showed that thousands of veterans weren’t finishing the program or leaving later than anticipated. The program was supposed to ease in demand but after 1,000 veterans enrolled the first year, the number increased to 5,800 by 2013 and is expected to jump to 9,100 in 2018.

When Fantino was confronted on the allegations found in the report, his spokesperson Ashlee Smith said “Our government makes no apologies for ensuring that veterans receive urgent rehabilitation care when they need it, and that they receive this support for as long as they and their medical practitioner deem appropriate.”

The comments, expected to open a fresh wound in the Conservatives’ reputation on veterans on an election year, may have been the final straw for Fantino who has been a controversial MP to date. His former post will now be occupied by Erin O’Toole, a lawyer and former member of the Canadian Forces. Fantino has been demoted to Associate Minister of Defense.

“Mr. Fantino and Mr. O’Toole have been asked to draw on their considerable knowledge and experience to take on important portfolios,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a press release today. “I am confident that they will deliver results and provide strong leadership as they go about addressing their duties and responsibilities.”

Despite hopes of quelling opposition within traditional Conservative support, it appears not all veterans are convinced the ministerial switch will make much of a difference.

“Erin O’Toole has been speaking in defence of the government over the last three months on many issues,” said Michael Blais, the president of Canadian Veterans Advocacy. “He’s not standing with the wounded, even though he served with them.”

The Conservatives have made a mockery of our veterans and will do whatever it takes to mask the wounds with a coming election year. If Stephen Harper was serious about Veterans Affairs, Fantino would have been replaced last February.

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