Canada’s veterans: collateral damage in Harper’s war on unions

What are we to make of delicate-flower Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino?

Last week, after missing a meeting in Ottawa with a delegation of Canadian veterans — including Ron Clarke, a 73-year-old, 36-year career military man from Sydney — Fantino breezed into the room an hour late without so much as an apology as the vets prepared to hold a news conference.

But then one grizzled veteran called the minister’s hogwash-explanation of how closing eight specialized veterans’ offices and forcing aged, injured or mentally troubled veterans to navigate the Internet or Service Canada’s please-hold-your-call-is-important-to-us telephone jungle would actually mean better service for veterans… “hogwash.”

Another elderly veteran wagged his finger in the general direction of the minister.

Fantino walked out.

Soon after, his office issued a bland statement about the “roundtable” with veterans, during which Fantino had been “pleased to reassure” veterans about the glorious new world his government was creating.

The next day — after the TV cameras documented Fantino’s actual “roundtable” — the minister issued a semi-full apology. He’d been “very late” because of a cabinet meeting, he acknowledged. “I sincerely apologize.”

Sincerely? In the next breath, Fantino was bitching to his stenographers at the Toronto Sun that the multi-medalled, wheel-chaired vets had been “duped… jacked up” by the union representing public servants who will lose their jobs and who had paid the veterans’ airfare to Ottawa.

When those mindless-dupe vets failed to show Fantino the due deference he required, he told the Sun, “I wasn’t just going to play dead.”

Uh… In November, 3,000 people turned out in Sydney to protest the planned veterans’ offices closure there. Hundreds more attended a “wake” Friday to mark its final shutdown.

Despite such broad-based public support, Fantino — and the prime minister — see the closures as yet another excuse to attack public sector unions.

That is what this is all about: slashing services to vets to balance the books before the next election. Veterans are collateral damage.

Instead of scapegoating, Fantino might want to ask why 238-and-counting Canadian servicemen and women have killed themselves since 1995, including four Afghan vets in the space of a few recent days, and why one in seven Afghan veterans suffer from service-related post-traumatic stress disorder or depression.

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