PAUL McLEOD OTTAWA BUREAU
Published August 11, 2014 - 9:31pm
A network of veterans across Canada is planning a co-ordinated campaign against the Conservative government during next year's election.
The plan was sparked in January by a disastrous meeting in Ottawa with Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino. In interviews, half a dozen organizers across four provinces say thousands of veterans will take part in the movement.
The plan is similar to the ABC campaign — urging people to vote Anything But Conservative — waged by former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams.
"When the election is called, you're going to see some large fallout, believe me," said Sydney veteran Ron Clarke.
"As soon as the writ is dropped, we are in action."
The two main issues driving the movement are the closure of nine regional Veterans Affairs Canada offices and the government's new veterans charter.
The charter gives veterans who are wounded in combat a lump-sum payment instead of regular payments to support them throughout their lives.
About a dozen regional organizers have been in regular contact through conference calls.
The tactics vary. Newfoundland and Labrador organizer Paul Davis said veterans will be specifically targeting Conservative ridings to tell voters about how they have been mistreated by the government.
One group is even mulling getting a bus to take the cross-country campaign on the road.
Others say their protests will be more informal but nonetheless vocal.
"We have no co-ordinated thing planned, but I know that every veteran in the area is pissed," said John Scott, a former peacekeeper in Cyprus who lives in Prince George, B.C.
The ball started rolling in January when a group of veterans gathered in Ottawa to meet Fantino. The minister was 70 minutes late and things only got worse when he did show up.
Fantino chastised one veteran for pointing his finger, and
the minister walked away, seemingly exasperated, a few minutes later. News cameras caught
Afterwards, several angry veterans who were present started to make plans.
"Up until he screwed up, it would have probably been a fairly quiet thing," said Scott. "But he made the big mistake of mouthing off to the veterans, and a couple of them, of course, didn't take it very well."
Some veterans are also angry that the department spends money on advertising campaigns after cutting the regional offices to save costs.
New tendering documents show the federal government will spend $678,000 this year on "advertising and creative services" to mark Remembrance Day. Target Communications of Halifax, which operates as
Compass Communications, won the contract.
That ad budget is the same or more than the annual costs of running several of the regional front-line offices closed earlier this year. The total costs of running eight regional offices came to $5 million per year (the annual costs of the ninth closed office, in Prince George, are not known.)
Veterans who spoke to The Chronicle Herald said the department has its priorities wrong and has been regularly spending on advertising while cutting front-line services.
But the department said the Remembrance Day campaign is well within its mandate.
"It is part of the mandate of Veterans Affairs to keep the memory of the achievement and sacrifices of veterans alive for all Canadians," said an emailed statement from the department.
"It is important to note (Veterans Affairs) advertising expenditures will not impact the department's budget for veterans' services and benefits."
The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.