Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino
Vets declare war on government following major fumble Tuesday
Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino made a real mess of things Tuesday. A group of veterans from across Canada was in Ottawa to make one final plea to keep eight district VAC offices open. Those offices, including one in Charlottetown, are scheduled to close Friday and veterans are fearful that services and response times will be severely adversely affected. One of the delegates was an elderly Second World War vet in a wheelchair.
The delegation was first kept waiting, then the minister skipped the start of the meeting, showed up late as enraged vets were about to hold a press conference, reaffirmed there was no change in government’s decision, got into a shouting match and left abruptly. Video from the meeting shows Mr. Fantino and veterans trading testy exchanges. His office later issued a press release which claimed the minister and the vets had met in some phantom roundtable discussion. It was a public relations disaster from start to finish for Minister Fantino.
It certainly didn’t help when Prime Minister Stephen Harper answered a question in the Commons that afternoon, supporting the office closures, saying they were not very busy, but without offering any numbers as proof that was indeed the case.
If there is any group the government should pay close attention to, it is our veterans. They are the ones who put their lives on the line for us and the nation has non-negotiable obligations to them. This was all supposedly enshrined in a veterans’ charter passed by this government which has built its brand on being pro-armed forces and supportive of veterans. Now, veterans have declared war on the government and vow to campaign across the country in the next election.
To no one’s surprise, visibly upset veterans called for the minister to resign or be fired. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair repeated that demand in the Commons on Wednesday where PM Harper was scrambling to deal with the crisis.
In a desperate move to save his job, Minister Fantino has issued a full apology, claiming he was tied up in a meeting of cabinet. Meanwhile, his promise of open dialogue with vets lay shattered on the floors of the Parliament Building.
Province should close loophole
We have solid assurances our senior citizens are living in a safe environment in community care and nursing home facilities in this province. Sprinkler systems have been mandatory in such facilities – both provincially and privately operated - for the past 15 years. Provincial Fire Marshal Dave Rossiter is confident our seniors are well protected from fire.
But it would be a good idea, in view of the recent tragedy where more than 30 seniors died in a Quebec fire, to immediately inspect every such facility on the Island to check that those sprinkler systems are in proper working order.
It’s one thing to have them installed, as per regulations, but let’s ensure they will work in the event of a fire. Mr. Rossiter says P.E.I. leads the nation in this safety area and that inspections are done annually. But it’s best to be extra cautious.
In the meantime, the province must make sure that safety measures, like smoke and fire alarms, evacuation drills and sufficient overnight staffing, are in place. Sprinklers are not required in P.E.I. seniors’ apartments or buildings that don’t involve care. While these residents may not need nursing care, they are still elderly and would have some mobility issues. Could they escape a fire in the middle of a bitterly cold night? This is a loophole that needs closing.