Black Friday rally protests VAC district office closure.
Caseworker in Saint John exposes federal guarantees as meaningless
It was a Black Friday indeed in Charlottetown as the district office for Veterans Affairs Canada closed, despite a determined campaign by veterans, a federal union and various civic, provincial and federal politicians to save it. It was a decision made a year ago by the federal government as a cost cutting measure, but with firm assurances that veterans would be well-served by the nearest district office in Saint John, N.B.
The campaign to save the office resulted in one small concession later last year - a caseworker would be stationed at the Service Canada office in Charlottetown to handle veterans’ issues. That concession was announced by Federal Fisheries Gail Shea as a sign Ottawa was responding to vets’ concerns.
This week, a brave VAC employee effectively exposed those federal assurances as meaningless. Saint John caseworker Michelle Bradley, who had accompanied a delegation of veterans to Ottawa on Tuesday, said she is ashamed she can’t do more to help Island veterans because she and one other worker now have the responsibility of looking after 2,200 P.E.I. veterans. She is overwhelmed and cannot help veterans in need of assistance because of the sheer workload. Files were already moved out of the Charlottetown office to Saint John well before Tuesday’s meeting in Ottawa.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood in the Commons Wednesday and said the Charlottetown office wasn’t very busy and defended the decision to close. Obviously he didn’t have very good information. Ms. Bradley has provided the correct data as she actually handles the files.
She said there has been an immediate impact as wait times are increasing for veterans, who sometimes wait for weeks for return phone calls. “We just don’t have the time to service them the way the Charlottetown office did.”
Mr. Fantino inherited the portfolio last July after the decision to close was made. But he has defended it from day one and must assume much of the responsibility. The fiasco in Ottawa on Tuesday where veterans were snubbed is bad enough. But to finally hear the truth of what is about to happen to our veterans is shocking. Thus, the beleaguered minister doesn’t know, doesn’t care or has his orders from a higher authority.
As for the one VAC employee assigned to the Service Canada site in Charlottetown, Ms. Bradley suggests the feds have failed to explain one key fact it’s a temporary measure and the employee doesn’t have the necessary training to really help veterans. Vets say they don’t know how to reach the caseworker here because there is no phone number and all requests for help have to go through Saint John.
Ms. Bradley’s comments are a devastating indictment of this ill thought-out decision. She deserves credit for taking this brave stance.
Friday, Jan. 31, 2014 is a date veterans will remember for a long, long time.
Marijuana drops to No. 3
Let’s see, what do you think would be the most controversial topic at a public meeting Wednesday night in Charlottetown: a) rezoning for a parking lot; b) a new horse barn at the racetrack; or c) medical marijuana facility?
It should be a no-brainer.
So when more than 100 people jammed into the meeting room, it was to wage war on drugs, right? Wrong. Once the parking issue at Mel’s was discussed, and the new barn was settled, more than 70 people left, leaving just 30 citizens remaining for the marijuana debate. When Mayor Clifford Lee noted he had a family member suffering from cancer who found pain relief by smoking marijuana, it took a lot of the steam out of the debate.
Next issue please.