Charlottetown had 2 big snow jobs this weekend: one from Mother Nature, the other from The Minister of Veterans Affairs. Prior to the last federal budget, the Minster and his Conservative colleagues defeated a motion to have VAC exempted from the cuts to be imposed across Government. Gail Shea did not run out of the Chamber for that vote.
The Conservative mantra at that time was that veterans benefits would be maintained. The cuts were deep and disproportionate. VAC announced it would be closing District Offices, leaving PEI as the only province without one and as the only province without any case managers. The Minister then wrote to the Auditor General that ALL case managed veterans would have access to case managers, something that is, at best, disingenuous.
When I challenged him on this, he said that VAC's "expanding partnership" with Service Canada would provide vets with more points of access than before and that case managers would drive from Saint John and do house calls.
When I explained to him that Service Canada was reducing their staff by 46% over the next 2 years on PEI, he seemed completely unaware. Not much of a partnership, in my view.
So the brain trust within The Minister's Office hatched a plan. It has all the makings of a spy novel. He would come to PEI,schedule no public appearances, not notify the local MP, do a series of media interviews under an embargo until 5 pm, thereby ensuring that only the Minister's spin would be in the public domain, and he would be long gone before the media knew what they had been fed.
So here's what he announced:
There will be a new "access office" in PEI when the district office is closed next year, and 3 new Director General positions would be located in Charlottetown.
His strategy of coming to PEI under the cover of night and making a 5 pm Friday afternoon announcement succeeded in unnerving employees, justifiably concerned for their jobs.
He did not say whether the new access office would include case managers, or resemble another Service Canada wicket.
Of the 3 DG positions, none of them are new. 2 of them have always been in Charlottetown. The 3rd one, DG of Communications, was moved out of PEI by the previous Minister. Last May, the current Minister said he was convinced to move it back to PEI by Gail Shea. That still hasn't happened. So much for Gail's influence.
There are only 2 conclusions to be drawn from this escapade:
1. The Minister has no idea what is happening in his Department, or
2. He thinks Islanders are stupid.
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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.