A Nova Scotia legislative committee held an emergency meeting on the closure of Sydney's Veterans Affairs office Monday, more than two weeks after the federal government shut them down.
'All cries are falling upon deaf ears.' - Ron Clarke, veteran
The nine members of the provincial Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs issued an invitation to federal Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino on Thursday, requesting the minister and his deputy to appear in Sydney for Monday’s meeting — he declined.
Despite the nine offices having already been closed, veterans like Ron Clarke say the battle is far from over.
The veterans say they relied on the offices for one-on-one support with their financial, medical, emotional and mental health problems.
“All cries are falling upon deaf ears,” said Clarke.
Nine MLAs from Canada’s three main political parties heard from veterans, who explained why the office was so important.
“Well I hope they're able to convince the Conservative government to change their mind — that's what I hope they're able to do. Not just them, the other provinces have to jump on board for us, you know we have veterans all across Canada,” said Clarke.
Vince Rigby spent 22 years in the military and he suffers from many post-war conditions, including PTSD. He also spoke to the committee about his concerns.
“What we're hoping will come from here is that our own provincial side will give us what we need, help us in what we need to carry on our fight and give us an advocate or something to mediate between the provincial and federal government,” said Rigby.
The committee's Liberal chairperson, Pam Eyking, said she hopes there will be a solution.
“So we learned a lot today and we're going to take that information back, put our heads together as a committee. All committee members are concerned about the veterans — I feel that they are. Hopefully we'll be able to come up with some solutions for their problems,” she said.
The government has cited a drop in demand as the reason for the office closures and said it is still offering assistance via Service Canada centres in affected areas. Veterans Affairs Canada will also continue to provide services online.
But veterans like Clarke and opposition members say those are insufficient replacements and that Service Canada officials cannot provide the same level of assistance as case managers. Veterans Affairs case managers provide one-on-one support for veterans.
The committee tabled a motion to reconsider having a provincial advocate for veterans.
They also passed a motion to extend another invitation to Fantino and his deputy minister to attend the next provincial meeting, scheduled for before the end of March.
Fantino's office later emailed the CBC, reiterating its message that it is supporting veterans. A spokesperson said case managers will continue to travel for home visits and service standards remain the same.
The email from the Minister's office did not address the invitation to attend the meeting in March.