O'Toole Breaks Ranks With Veterans' Advocacy Group

New Veterans' Affairs minister tells group they're no longer stakeholders: Hill Times.

By Jeremy J. Nuttall 5 Jan 2015 |

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee's Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

This coverage of Canadian national issues is made possible because of generous financial support from our Tyee Builders.  

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Julian Fantino was replaced by Erin O'Toole as Veterans Affairs minister today.

[Editor's note: The Hill Times in Ottawa is reporting that newly appointed Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O'Toole has cut ties to Canadian Veterans Advocacy, a group that advocates for wounded and psychologically injured veterans.

The news organization quotes the group's founder, Mike Blais, saying O'Toole left a message on Blais' voicemail Jan. 7 saying it was no longer a stakeholder advisor to the Veterans Affairs department.

Last week, Blais told the Tyee that he didn't believe O'Toole's appointment would make a difference in how the ministry is run. O'Toole replaced Julian Fantino, who was shuffled to another cabinet post. Blais said he thought O'Toole will continue in the same direction as Fantino, arguing that he believed the agenda is set by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Is cutting links to the advocacy group payback to Blais for his outspoken comments? Here's the original article from the Tyee's Jeremy Nuttall.]

A veterans' advocate said he thinks Julian Fantino's removal from his post as Veterans Affairs minister won't make a bit of difference to how the ministry is run.

Mike Blais, of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, said he thinks Fantino's replacement -- former Parliamentary Secretary to the minister of trade Erin O'Toole -- was appointed because he "does well on television." But Blais said he thought O'Toole will continue in the same direction as Fantino, alleging the agenda is set by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Fantino was given the position of associate minister of National Defence.

As Veterans' Affairs minister, Fantino was under constant scrutiny for his handling of the portfolio, namely the closing of Veterans Affairs offices across Canada. Blais said he doubts O'Toole will change direction.

"It's one thing to change the messenger; it's another thing to change the message," Blais said. "He has already stood by the message this government already has presented, so I don't think there's going to be effective changes."

Blais said the change he's referring to -- and would like to see occur -- is the government's "obligation" to ensure wounded veterans are given pensions, not one-time payouts.

How veterans are aided has been a source of controversy since new regulations came into play in 2005 that reduced disability payments and brought in lump-sum compensation instead of lifetime payments to wounded vets.

Blais said Fantino had been under pressure for months as veterans and the public criticized his handling of the portfolio. He said Fantino could not withstand that pressure.

Last December, the Opposition demanded Fantino's resignation over a report that slammed the way that the government treats mentally ill veterans. The report cited long waits for professional help.

On Monday, the veterans advocacy group put out a release suggesting New Year's resolutions for Fantino. The group suggested he learn French and spend more time in Canada. Fantino has travelled abroad to visit Canadian war memorials.

Blais said he may do a similar list for O'Toole.  [Tyee]

Read more: Federal Politics,

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