Last Thursday I wrote about the Minister of Veterans Affairs Julian Fantino’s behaviour (see Fantino disses veterans) in the recent dust-up between him and veterans who were protesting the closure of eight Veteran Affairs service offices.
My criticism then was of Mr. Fantino’s personal behaviour and not of the job the Conservative government has done regarding veteran affairs in general.
There are some very smart people running our country. That is pretty obvious to any fair-minded person who spends more than a few days in Canada. On the other hand, no Canadian government in recent history—and I’ve been in Canada since 1955—has been as ham-fisted when it comes to selling its agenda to the Canadian people.
Apparently, the form of public communication the Conservatives prefer are expensive (multi-million dollar) media ads that over-sell the pet project of the day, and are little more than cheesy public relations campaigns trying to boost popularity of the government.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his team has actually done a terrific job on the veterans affairs’ file. Tory MP Erin O’Toole made and excellent speech on the subject with facts and figures to support what he had to say (see here). Unfortunately, his attempt to set the record straight and educate his fellow MPs was a case of too little, too late.
O’Toole said in his speech to the House of Commons he was “disappointed with the low level of knowledge” on the part of MPs and members of the public on how veterans have been served. And whose fault is that, I ask you? With the hundreds of millions of dollars the Tory government has spent on communications, it’s a disgrace that they have not got this story out earlier.
So, much, perhaps all, of the goodwill that might otherwise have been earned from this good-news story is lost because a haughty Minister Fantino didn’t like a veteran’s finger being pointed his way. And when the minister was shouted down by a veteran who called out “hogwash,” the minister walked away.
Later Fantino apologized. But he seemed to spend more time telling the media how the public service union had “exploited” the veterans than he did mending fences where it counts. Apparently, the minister was more concerned about his media image than with his image with the veterans.
To be sure, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) set up the confrontation. It has been reliable reported that:
Seven veterans and one co-ordinator were flown in and put up in a hotel to rail against the Government of Canada's decision to close eight veterans affairs offices in favour of having the veterans receive help at Service Canada locations.
“‘They did have their expenses paid for,’ confirmed a PSAC spokesman named Carrie, who said she could not provide her last name. ‘But they are all on fixed incomes’.”
The point is, though, a minister of the crown does not arrive “very late” (his words) for a scheduled meeting with already agitated veterans and then get huffy and miffed when there’s some finger pointing and insults thrown his way.
Is it time for the government to give a time-out to some of the communications staff? And perhaps PM Harper could place Erin O’Toole in charge of educating the public and the House, he seems to have a knack for it. At least, the public now knows more than it ever did about the veterans affairs file, complete with facts and figures.
So the Harper Government suffers yet another black-eye, this one self inflicted by a haughty minister who seems to have grown too big for his britches. Time, perhaps, for a time-out on the back benches.