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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Julian Fantino: from hero to zero

Veterans Affairs was supposed to be a strong point for the pro-military Harper Conservatives. It has, instead, become somewhat of a weak link under Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino.

Fantino was supposed to be a star candidate when first recruited by PM Stephen Harper, and he proved himself by getting elected to Parliament in November 2010 after a tight race. The Globe and Mail noted at the time that Fantino had “beat the Liberals [candidate Tony Genco] out of one of their safest seats in Ontario, one they had held for 22 years.”

In early January 2011, Fantino was appointed minister of state for seniors. At that time, I wrote, “It is too early to assess Fantino’s parliamentary abilities and a cabinet post of any kind seems premature.”

Back then, I was concerned that Fantino’s inept performance as Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner during the Caledonia land dispute in the mid-2000s, which I saw as a stain on his public record that should have precluded him from receiving any position higher than parliamentary secretary for, at least, a couple of years while he proved himself worthy of a full seat at the cabinet table.

In fairness to Fantino, though, he seemed to do a decent job in the seniors portfolio and later as Associate Minister of National Defence after the 2011 federal election and as Minister for International Cooperation in 2012.

It was in his current position that Fantino seemed to become especially politically tone deaf and gaffe prone. Fantino did little to endear himself to veterans when he showed up “very late” for a scheduled appointment with a group of them who had gone to Ottawa to discuss their concerns with the minister. And when he did show up, his attitude was one of take-it-or-leave-it.

The minister also botched and clumsily handled an attempt by a veteran’s spouse to speak with him following his appearance at the House committee on veterans’ affairs in May 2014. By early June 2014, Tim Harper of thestar.com was moved to note that Fantino “appears to have had his empathy surgically removed.” And there were calls for his resignation from the opposition and some in the media.

The hapless minister has lost what credibility he may have once had. He has been unable to adequately explain why his department was unable to spend its appropriation within the budget year, which meant Veterans Affairs was required to return $1.1-billion dollars in unused funding to the treasury. There is a reasonable explanation, of course, but he seems incapable of getting his point across.

This seeming lack of critical communication skill comes at a time when critics blame inadequate funding for many of the challenges facing our veterans. And especially when auditor general Michael Ferguson has just released a damaging report of the hurdles many veterans face while trying to access mental health services.

The federal government’s other recently botched and confusing announcement of $200-million over six years—or is it 50 years—to support mental health needs of military members, veterans and their families has done little to ease the pressure on Fantino.

All this is like chumming shark infested waters as, smelling blood, opposition party members and political pundits now harass Fantino daily with demands for his resignation.

As reported in the National Post, “Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair called Fantino’s recent absence from the Commons an act of “cowardice,” and wondered aloud why he continues to have the confidence of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.” (For the record, Fantino had been in Italy to help mark the 70th anniversary of the Second World War’s Italian campaign. He was not hiding from anyone. Had he missed this symbolic event, he’d have been equally criticised.)

I have zero confidence in this minister, however. As far as I’m concerned he has shown neither an once of respect to veterans—men more worthy than he, I suspect—nor compassion for those who served their country and proved they were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Apparently, there have been recent changes to Veteran Affairs, with its chief of staff leaving, and retired general Walter Natynczyk becoming the department’s top bureaucrat. Fantino’s parliamentary secretary, Parm Gill, has also been taking more of a role in question period.

Fantino, though, is clearly the wrong man for this particular job. Harper’s Conservatives talk the talk when it comes to veteran affairs, it’s high time they walk the walk. And, for this to be clear to all, this minister should be replaced.

7 comments — This is a moderated blog and comments will appear when approved. Please don’t resubmit if your comment doesn’t appear immediately, and please do not post material that is obscene, harassing, defamatory, or otherwise objectionable.

  1. Harper gutted Veteran Affairs. The new Veterans Charter is criminal. It's not all Fantino. Harper has sent a new Chief and the retired CDS to dress it up. Fantino and Harper have avoided veterans. When veterans show up they are mistreated and called NDP shills (even though they are card carrying conservatives). I can forgive all of that.

    What irks me is Harper/McKay instructing Justice counsel in the New Veterans Charter litigation to deny that the people of Canada have no obligation to soldiers. Since 1919 the Pensions Act has said so and almost 100 years lter Harper has removed it. Here is what the Act used to say:
    The provisions of this Act shall be liberally construed and interpreted to the end that the recognized obligation of the people and Government of Canada to provide compensation to those members of the forces who have been disabled or have died as a result of military service, and to their dependants, may be fulfilled.

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    1. The New Veteran's Charter was brought in by Paul Martin's government, was passed by unanimous vote in the house and received Royal assent in May 2005. The NVC replaced the provisions of the Pensions Act you speak of; not Harper. He voted for it along with the remaining 307 members of parliament; including the NDP and Liberals who now oppose it. It is extremely disingenuous of the Liberals and NDP to make political hay over legislation and regulations they voted for.

      Secondly VAC has it's own lawyers and they are not from the Justice department, which doesn't get involved in civil litigation. Thirdly, while I agree with the principal of what the Equitas lawsuit is trying to do, I think it is an abuse of process, because Parliament should be able to introduce and amend legislation as it sees fit. That is what happens in a parliamentary democracy.

      Lastly, Harper did not gut VAC but he should. VAC is run by bureaucrats that have no clue what it is like to serve and run it like an insurance company. One only has to look at the way Harold Leduc was treated by his co-workers on the VAC Appeal board.

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  2. Harper has a habit of sticking by his people long past their best before date. Remember Helena Guergis? Bev Oda? Harper will pay a price for sticking with Fantino. Not good with an election on the horizon.

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  3. Agree entirely. As you said, Fantino was questionable at best for any appointment after his complete no-show (in concert with McGuinty) at Caledonia. And his work with VA has been just as inept. Time to shuffle Fantino to the back benches.

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  4. old white guy asks???? do veterans get the same medical care as the average citizen? do veterans who reach pensionable age get their pensions? do veterans get special assistance when required for snow shoveling, grass cutting, cleaning their homes? well, the answer is of course they do. I have many veterans who are close friends and they receive all of those benefits. now if we as a country are not giving a disabled soldier benefits as a result of a combat injury, or a serious injury while on duty, then that has to change. I do not see how spending millions to have bureaucrats sit in offices around the country in any way improves the life of a veteran. spend the money on the veterans themselves.

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  5. this is the real meeting veterans with Fantino
    please watch
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w21_GNWYzlQ
    fhl

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  6. The Conservatives are disgraceful in their treatment of veterans. Harper deuces the staff of Veterans affairs so that the adjudication of claims would be slow and frustrating. Harper will do anything and damage any one for his personal power.

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