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Julian Fantino apologizes to veterans after showing up late for meeting
Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino has apologized for being “very late” for a meeting Tuesday with a group of veterans who later called for his resignation.
The meeting had been scheduled to discuss the closure of eight Veterans Affairs regional offices, but veterans said they “waited and waited,” only to have Fantino show up late, answer a few questions and then leave.
“Yesterday, due to cabinet meeting that ran long, I was very late in meeting a group of veterans that had come to Ottawa to discuss their concerns,” Fantino said in a statement Wednesday.
“I sincerely apologize for how this was handled. Today, I am reaching out to those veterans to reiterate that apology personally.”
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said Wednesday that Prime Minister Stephen Harper needs to fire Fantino for treating veterans “callously.”
“Will the prime minister do the right thing, apologize himself and fire that incompetent?” he asked during question period.
Mulcair’s question was later echoed by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
Harper replied by saying that Fantino has already apologized.
“We have said very clearly that we have provided unprecedented levels of service to our veterans and we will continue to do so,” the prime minister said.
In his statement, Fantino said he has been “committed to having an open dialogue with the men and women who served Canada in uniform, but I realize that yesterday’s regrettable delay has brought that into question.
“Veterans across Canada should know that I remain deeply committed to meeting with them and listening to the issues that matter to them and their families, and to continue to do what’s right to support those who have stood up for Canada.”
In the House of Commons Wednesday, Fantino said that the Conservative government has made “record investments” to veterans’ services since 2006.
Tuesday’sdelegation included veterans of the Second World War who travelled to Ottawa to tell Fantino that regional office closures will force them to travel long distances in order to obtain services and benefits.
Offices in Kelowna, B.C., Saskatoon, Brandon, Man., Thunder Bay, Ont., Windsor, Ont., Sydney N.S., Charlottetown and Corner Brooke, N.L., are scheduled to close Friday as the government moves to more online services.
Some veterans also say the inability to access services could have dire consequences for former soldiers suffering from mental health issues.
The Conservative government has said that veterans will still be able to get everything they need from the 584 Service Canada offices across the country.
Harper reiterated that on Wednesday.
But Mulcair said that, starting Monday, “some (veterans) who are over 90 years of age will have to go to Service Canada offices and stand in line to then be sent to a computer.”