Minister stops at Wellington legion
© Guardian file photo
Department of Veterans Affairs
WELLINGTON — Julian Fantino has a job few would want.
As minister of Veterans Affairs, Fantino is in charge of an area of policy where his party has doubled down on its political chips, a portfolio where even the slightest hint of cutbacks or misspending shenanigans, perceived or otherwise, can send veterans and their supporters into fits of apoplexy.
But Fantino told a group of Island veterans Tuesday he welcomes the challenge and looks forward to working with them.
“I feel I have the best job in government. Helping those and trying to make a difference for those who have brought us such a great quality of life in this country, that have sacrificed so much — our veterans,” said Fantino, who made a quick and informal stop at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #17 in Wellington while he was in the province for meetings.
Fantino, a career police officer and former top cop in Toronto and Ontario, was first elected in 2006.
He was named minister of Veterans Affairs in June in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s most recent cabinet shuffle.
He’s still learning the ropes, he told the veterans — but he’s glad for the opportunity to serve in what is a priority for his government.
“There’s some critical issues, obviously, and some difficult issues — but I feel there is a huge focus in these areas,” he said.
Fantino has also inherited a portfolio that has been plagued by staffing level cuts in recent years.
This past May, it was announced that a total of 232 positions will be eliminated from the department by March 31, 2015, 154 of them from Charlottetown. The federal government has stressed that those cuts will be made via attrition only.
About 1,000 federal employees work in Veterans Affairs in Charlottetown.
That’s still the plan as far as Fantino is concerned.
“We have no plans to affect reductions here,” he said.
”But as things stand now, there are no plans to reduce the employment that is now very much part of the Island here, especially in Charlottetown. So we’re not looking to do any of that, there are no agendas in that regard.”
But Fantino added that in today’s economic climate, maintaining current service levels will be a challenge but one he feels is worth the effort.
“I find that veterans are very reasonable people. I find that they are absolutely understanding of the economic realities of the day,” he said.
“We’re trying to do what we can to keep pace with veteran’s needs and their families. We know about the shortfalls in some areas, and all I can promise you is that as time goes on we’ll be more in tune with what needs to be done. We will work hard to address those issues.
“You know with the economy being what it is, we can’t be all things, to all people, all the time. But to the extent that we can make some reasonable improvements, we will be doing that wherever we can.”