Michael Taube, Special to QMI Agency
First posted: Wednesday, July 30, 2014 07:42 PM EDT | Updated: Wednesday, July 30, 2014 07:49 PM EDT
There's no doubt the federal Tories strongly support Canada's military. Prime Minister Stephen Harper's commitment to our troops, which includes a more robust and confident organization to take the lead in international missions such as Afghanistan, has made many Canadians proud.
When it comes to supporting our military veterans, the government's record has been much, much dicier.
In my view, the problem rests squarely on the shoulders of Julian Fantino, the minister of veterans affairs.
Fantino, as many Canadians know, had an excellent record on the police force. He was well-respected during his tenure as Toronto's chief of police (2000-2005), and as Ontario Provincial Police commissioner (2006-2010).
Alas, his career in federal politics has been anything but. His notoriously crusty demeanor, and poor relations with veterans' groups, has likely caused the PMO's communications department their fair share of grief.
In one notable example, Fantino had a few choice words with some military veterans earlier this year. The minister had arrived late for a meeting to discuss the closing of several veterans' offices, and the language got - shall we say - a bit testy.
While this was a difficult topic to deal with, and frustrating for all those involved, the Tories could have lived without video of this meeting appearing on our TV screens.
Now we have word that two recent Statistics Canada reports show some of the problems our military veterans have had in readjusting to civilian life. Some have faced difficulties in obtaining proper medical services, and suffered from chronic physical and mental health problems. Meanwhile, while a regular force veteran's average income "in the year prior to release was $70,900 (in 2011 constant dollars)," a wounded soldier released for medical reasons could witness a potential 20% drop in overall income.
From my standpoint, there's nothing to discuss.
The Tories must ensure that our brave men and women in uniform are always taken care of - even after they give back those uniforms. They are heroes, and it's the least we can do for all they've done to protect democracy, freedom and our way of life.
Harper and his senior advisers would be fundamentally aware of this. (They should be, anyway.) I would be very surprised if the PMO hadn't already instructed Fantino and his staff to handle this particular issue with the utmost of care and respect for our military veterans.
Closing veterans' offices was a bad political decision, but can at least be attributed to reducing wasteful spending and increasing efficiency. It would be political suicide for the Tories to ignore growing concerns about decreased income levels and inadequate medical services for military veterans.
Unfortunately, a big problem remains for the Tory government. If Fantino handles this new veterans' issue like he previously did with the veterans' offices, I wouldn't want to be Harper's director of communications for all the tea in China.
No, scratch that. If this issue explodes, I wouldn't want to be within earshot or eye level of the PM.
Ottawa, therefore, needs to ensure the Canadian military is behind its efforts in every way, shape and form. This includes our brave active soldiers and our heroic veterans.
Here's what I would suggest. The PM should either shuffle, demote or remove the sore spot, Fantino, from his current cabinet post.
While it won't completely resolve this issue, a fresh new face would show that Ottawa is always willing to listen to the concerns of Canada's military.
* Michael Taube is a Washington Times columnist and a former speechwriter for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.