Veterans Affairs Firestorm Not Slowing

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Government MPs and Opposition MPs jousted in Parliament over the issue of Veterans Services offices.
Government MPs and Opposition MPs jousted in Parliament over the issue of Veterans Services offices.

Government MPs and Opposition MPs jousted in Parliament over the issue of Veterans Services offices.
Government MPs and Opposition MPs jousted in Parliament over the issue of Veterans Services offices.

Political Firestorm Could Impact Conservatives

THUNDER BAY – The federal Conservatives are being accused of being driven only by ideology.

Dan Harris, an Ontario NDP MP states, “This week’s unfortunate events involving the Minister of Veterans Affairs and tomorrow’s closing of veterans’ centres exposes the soft underbelly of this government beast, a government ruled by uncaring ideology instead of good public policy”.

The closure today of Veterans Affairs offices, including the office in Thunder Bay will, unless their is a last-minute change of heart from the Conservatives will be in effect by the end of the day.

The move has generated anger and frustration both inside the House of Commons, and with veterans. It also has had the Conservatives blaming veterans and accusing them of being driven by political ideology as well.

Politically for the Conservatives, in effect, this week has worked on a potential erosion of their core support with seniors, and with veterans.

For the Government, coming on the heels of the ‘Senate Scandal’ to have the issue of ignoring the needs of veterans, it is almost as if the Conservatives can’t get a break.

Green Party MP Bruce Hyer states, “The office in Thunder Bay will be closed on Friday, and 10 jobs will be lost. Thunder Bay has already experienced drastic cuts to Service Canada. With the huge overload of people who have been cut off EI, my staff is doing the work of Service Canada.

“Veterans from World War II, the Korean War, Bosnia and Afghanistan, many of whom have post-traumatic stress disorder, will not have any services unless they drive a full day to North Bay or Winnipeg, go on the Internet, albeit many do not have a computer, or get stuck on a 1-800 number for hours or more”.

Service Now Flute Music

Thunder Bay Rainy River MP John Rafferty speaking in debate said, “Last week I tried the 1-866-522-2122 number. Although I did not get anyone, it seemed as if the message I got was, “Well just hold on and enjoy 40 minutes of flute music and we’ll see if we can get back to you”. It is just not a suitable situation”.

Rafferty continued, “I first want to talk about the offices closing. Veterans this week came to Ottawa hoping to meet with the Minister of Veterans Affairs about the impending closures. They were joined by some concerned staff and members of PSAC. Unfortunately, they were snubbed by the minister, if I can put it that way. He kept them waiting, failed to show up at the scheduled meeting, and then disrespectfully dismissed their concerns. Those are not my words, but the words of the veterans who came to Ottawa, including Roy Lamore, a Second World War veteran from Thunder Bay. They were rightly upset, which people saw on the news last night, and a number of them have called for his resignation”.

“The thing that sticks out in my mind and perhaps in many people’s minds was indeed Roy Lamore, who has been a activist for veterans for over 70 years in this country. It was he who said “hogwash” just before the minister walked out of the meeting. We are probably going to hear more of that kind of terminology later, as time goes on”.

“Just before I stood to speak, there was a conversation going on back and forth about the number of veterans. I remind people that these offices also deal with 25,000 RCMP veterans and their families. That is often forgotten in this discussion. There are 25,000 RCMP veterans and their families. When Conservatives talk about investing $4.7 billion in Veterans Affairs, consider this: when Ste. Anne’s Hospital is transferred and all the other cuts happen, there will be approximately 2,000 people cut from Veterans Affairs”.

“If we look at the Conservative cuts across all of the departments on a percentage basis, Veterans Affairs has the largest personnel cut of any department and the staff involved will all be gone by 2015, some time in the next year. All of those 2,000 people will be gone. That is the first point. It is a little counterintuitive for the government to say it is increasing service but cutting 2,000 people. How does it rationalize that? It says it is transferring the offices to 620 Service Canada points,” continued Rafferty.

NDP MP Peter Stouffer stated, “Yesterday I spoke to a veteran who went to a Service Canada office the other day. He said to the young man who was working there, ‘I understand that as a veteran I have to come here to get help’. The response was, ‘Well, I have a bit of training, but I can give you a 1-800 number, if you’d like’ ”.

“That is the government’s improved services. Then it will say, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll come to your house’. That is not true. Veterans have to be case managed or severely injured before someone will come to their home. Who determines what a severe injury is? The reality is this. Before they get case managed, it could take two to five business days before someone will get back to them, and it is an “if” as to whether or not someone may show up at their home. Not every veteran will get that service. That is what I find completely unacceptable”.

Conservative Minister of Veterans Affairs, Julian Fantino states, “Our continued commitment remains. We will ensure that veterans and their families have the support they need, where and when they need it”.

“The shift in where we are placing our resources reflects the very real and changing demographics within our veterans community and where veterans choose to live. We are ensuring that Veterans Affairs’ employees are located where they are needed the most, where they can provide the fastest and most effective service to the greatest number of veterans and their families. No government has done more on this front. As of February, we will have increased the number of points of service for veterans sixteenfold since 2006. Veterans now have access to service and information at our government’s nearly 600 Service Canada offices. For the first time in our history, Veterans Affairs Canada has a presence in every region of this country, from coast to coast to coast”.

“In the eight communities where we are transferring an area office, we will continue to provide additional support to local veterans by posting one of our specially trained employees in the nearest Service Canada location, and in some cases within the same building or the same area,” commented Minister Fantino.

The Minister remained in the sights of the Opposition – Mrs. Sadia Groguhé charged straight at Minister Fantino, “Betraying those who loyally served this country was not enough for the government; through the hon. member for Edmonton Centre, the government suggested that these veterans, including some who fought during the Second World War, were being manipulated by the media and the Public Service Alliance of Canada. This is absolutely ludicrous”.

“Who could reasonably believe that soldiers who survived the Normandy invasion, the Korean War or the mission in Afghanistan could be so easily manipulated? The reality is that this government has an unfair policy of taking away more and more from the weak and the disadvantaged,” said Groguhé.

Drawing in poetry, the NDP MP shared:

They shall grow not old,
as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
And in the morning
We shall remember them.

Conservative Accuses NDP

Cheryl Gallant, the Conservative MP and long serving member of the Veterans Affairs Committee stated, “On behalf of all Canadians, the current official opposition, regardless of what it says, does not believe that Canada should have an armed military, and pardon me if I sound cynical every time the Leader of the Opposition invokes the name of our soldiers and veterans and tries to embarrass our government. I am prepared to accept at face value the motion of the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant to work with all members of Parliament to improve the lives of our soldiers and veterans, as long as the politics are taken out of the discussion and facts are allowed to guide the way to our decision-making. I recognize that government is not perfect and there is always room for improvement”.