Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino
Julian Fantino has already met with Charlottetown officials, it’s not his fault if that doesn’t satisfy every last councillor
A couple of Charlottetown councillors are demanding a meeting with Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino on the topic of job cuts and office closures within his department. The job losses disproportionately affect Charlottetown since the department’s headquarters are located here.
Good, full-time, year-round jobs are harder to come by for laid off public servants here than they are where other government departments are handing around pink slips.
As well as the job cuts, Veterans Affairs Canada has also implemented some scaling back of district offices, which includes the one servicing P.E.I. — also located in Charlottetown. The closure of this office means veterans will either have to access their files online or see a Services Canada rep, who may not be well-versed in their cases.
There has been a lot of rhetoric and hyperbole on both sides of this story. Unions and opposition members say government is mistreating veterans, while government spokespeople say those groups are whipping veterans up into a frenzy for their own political gains.
So, it is reasonable that city officials would want to have a discussion with the minister responsible for these changes and hammer out exactly what is happening to these good, government jobs and these files belonging to good, tax-paying voters. Voters who also happened to have served this country.
City council passed a unanimous resolution last month calling on Minister Fantino and P.E.I. MP Gail Shea to meet with council and explain the decisions.
The thing is, that meeting has happened.
Minister Fantino held two days of meetings in the city beginning Jan. 15 with Veterans Affairs staff. On Jan. 14, his office contacted the Charlottetown Legion, asking them to arrange a meeting with interested veterans for the next day. Despite the short notice and the wintery weather, 20 people attended. Among them, Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee, administrative services chairman Cecil Villard and chief administrative officer Roy Main.
Minister Fantino called the tête-à-tête a "frank discussion".
“Mayor Lee is the elected representative of the City of Charlottetown, which is why it was appropriate for me to meet with him,’’ Minister Fantino said in a letter emailed to The Guardian. “But, if other councillors don’t believe he is able to effectively represent the city, that is an issue for Charlottetown council to resolve.’’
Not good enough, counter Councillors Mitchell Tweel and Danny Redmond. They say the meeting wasn’t documented and they didn’t get the answers they were looking for.
We suggest the only answer that would have satisfied the two disgruntled councillors would have been if the minister changed his mind, reinstated the jobs and district office. But we don’t believe there is anything Tweel or Redmond could say that would make that astonishing about-face happen.
The criticism of the handling of veterans and Veterans Affairs employees directed at the federal government in general, and the ministry in particular — including in the editorial pages of this newspaper — has been well-documented.
Furthermore, Opposition MPs have voiced their opinion on the district offices closures and even presented a motion in the House of Commons calling on them to be reinstated. Arguments for restoring the offices were documented during those proceedings and in the media coverage of them.
There is no reason to doubt Messrs Lee, Villard and Main articulated the reasons for reinstating the office and the jobs again Jan. 15. If certain city councillors do hold those doubts, that is not Minister Fantino’s problem.