© Guardian photo by Heather Taweel
Stratford veteran Brian Hills thanks Michelle Bradley for speaking out against the federal government’s decision to close nine Veterans Affairs district offices across the country. Bradley is also one of two case workers in Saint John now responsible for 2,200 veterans’ case files from P.E.I.
Opposition motion expected to be defeated later today
OTTAWA — An opposition motion calling on the Conservative government to keep Veterans Affairs district offices open is expected to split along party lines and be defeated in a House of Commons vote later today.
The motion by the New Democrats responds to the closure last Friday of eight regional offices, and draws on public concern over a recent rash of military suicides.
Veterans advocate Barry Westholm was so outraged by MP Cheryl Gallant’s comments during last week’s debate on the issue that he gave up his membership in the Conservative party.
Westholm, a former sergeant major, said he was dismayed when he heard Gallant say that ex-soldiers with post traumatic stress have to overcome the “stigma within themselves” and seek treatment.
A spokesman for Gallant told the ex-soldier the longtime Ontario MP’s remarks were taken out of context by the news media.
But Westholm said he was sitting in the public gallery of the House of Commons and heard the remarks himself.
The comments were a shirking of “responsibilities and a certain callousness I find alarming,” he said.
Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino, who faced calls for his resignation last week, said a public-sector union has been mounting a campaign to try to stop the shut downs, which went ahead as scheduled on Friday.
“They (union officials) have spread so much misinformation and out-and-out false information that clearly has agitated the veterans community,” Fantino told Toronto radio station Talk 1010.
“I would be agitated, too, if I heard some of these lies that they’ve been putting out.”
Fantino has been at the centre of public outrage since a disastrous meeting with seven veterans, all brought to Ottawa by the Public Service Alliance of Canada to help plead the case for keeping the centres in Kelowna, B.C., Saskatoon, Sask., Brandon, Man., Thunder Bay, Ont., Windsor, Ont., Sydney, N.S., Charlottetown and Corner Brook, N.L.
A ninth office had closed earlier in Prince George, B.C.
The minister showed up for the meeting 70 minutes late and left in a huff when one of the veterans described his explanations as “hogwash.” An angry, sometimes tearful, denunciation of the Conservatives by the veterans followed the meeting.
The Conservative government is also under fire for not ensuring that National Defence filled out its ranks of psychiatrists and social workers, as promised.
Defence Minister Rob Nicholson told the House of Commons that further mental-health improvements are being reviewed.
The government also promised action on the 75 unfinished technical investigations into suicide cases.