Prime Minister Harper: Thank you for Julian Fantino

Dear Prime Minister Harper:

Gosh, the Veterans Affairs portfolio has been difficult hasn’t it? I don’t think you have received enough credit however for appointing Julian Fantino as the Department’s Minster. He has been a blessing in disguise to Canada’s disabled veterans and their families.

Canadians, particularly veterans, may be widely repulsed by the constant shenanigans of Minister Fantino. I suspect that being the veteran and military champion you claim to be, you had a hidden plan to bring substantive change to that poorly managed department. Our senior public servants and their policies are largely integrity, compassion, transparency and innovation challenged.  Those at Veterans Affairs (VAC) are arguably the worst of the lot.

Back to Minister Fantino. Many believe you appointed the highly controversial ex-police chief because he could somehow command order amongst those ungratefully vocal veterans who dared exercise the very rights for which they sacrificed in uniform. You know, I am referring to those pesky fundamental freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly and the press.

Just as Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn noted following the widespread breaches in my privacy in 2010, VAC all alone in Charlottetown needed a change in culture. Rightly bringing the department back to Ottawa would be a rather large budget line. Firing all those questionably performing senior bureaucrats could face resistance in the public service.

I suspect you knew that such big change would require widespread public support. But most Canadians didn’t know or care about veterans. Disabled veterans were supposed to wither away quietly with meagre handouts. Meanwhile society benefits from veterans’ sacrifice without society sacrificing much in return to care for them.  Fantino’s arrival helped change that.

Although the Prime Minister’s Office so adroitly worked on the Senate scandal to bring much needed attention to Senate reform, appointing Julian Fantino was your magnum opus.

He acutely offended aging veterans who travelled a thousand miles to meet with him in Ottawa during one of Canada’s coldest winters on record. Rather than apologize for standing them up, Fantino accused the veterans of being “duped” by the public service union doing the job the Minister should have been doing, i.e., protecting services for veterans.

During the altercation which left one veteran in tears, Fantino declared he was late because he was at a Cabinet meeting to “champion some issues on behalf of veterans”.  Surely, those veterans suffering psychological injuries have been the hardest hit and the least cared-for in the tangle of VAC bureaucracy. The budget released two weeks later had nothing for living veterans such as those he offended. The much-respected late Jim Flaherty told Lisa LaFlamme on budget night that “I haven’t been asked for money for post-traumatic stress disorder specifically”.

Instead, Minister Fantino has been busy signing his name to all manner of letters to the editor and opinion pieces in which he (read VAC senior bureaucrat script writers) makes fascinatingly spurious claims. In the Huffington Post, Fantino wrote, “The Disability Award forms only a small percentage of the total financial benefits available to injured Veteran” under the New Veterans Charter (NVC). In 2013, more than three times more or $419 million was given to veterans as a lump sum disability award than the $124.7 million paid out by all the other “financial benefits” of the NVC combined.

During Parliamentary testimony, Fantino alleged veterans could receive the impossible amount of $10,000 per month in financial benefits from VAC under the NVC.  The Minister and his department have repeatedly failed to back up this assertion. It was a master stroke to have Minister Fantino accuse veterans of misinformation when Fantino and his senior bureaucrats are the greatest purveyors of misleading half-truths. And we can’t forget how brilliant was the plan to have Minister Fantino along with three political staffers, Deputy Minister Chaput and General Semianiw all run away on national news from the lone spouse of a veteran, Jenny Migneault. She was clearly not a threat or a union ‘dupe’. But Canadians needed to see that if Fantino has little respect for veterans, he and senior bureaucrats have little more than disdain for veteran spouses.

What veterans don’t understand about your Machiavellian plan is why the senior VAC bureaucracy which needs deep cultural change is allowed to run rampant. In spite of multiple Executive positions designated for cutbacks, VAC has reportedly yet to make those individuals ‘redundant’. Furthermore, Deputy Minister Chaput continues to rake in her annual bonus while she has increased her staff by 500% to ostensibly generate much of the Department’s “misinformation”.

Whereas Fantino can’t quite match the buffoonery of Rob Ford, it was a nice touch that the Minister felt “sorry” for Toronto’s mayor. Fantino then hit a home run when he insensitively compared Ford’s drug and alcohol addiction to sufferers of PTSD, like veterans from the war in Afghanistan.

I know there is much pressure to shuffle Minister Fantino out of Cabinet this summer. I urge you to resist this. Julian Fantino is the gift that keeps on giving to all Canadians.

Never in modern memory has a Minister by his own poor example brought so much attention to the profound cultural problems infecting Veterans Affairs. His antics will continue to highlight the indignity and humiliation to which far too many veterans and their families are subjected by Canada’s federal government. Then you will be able to bring about the deep transformation needed at VAC.

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