Erin O'Toole criticized for tweeting veterans benefits report details
'Can you imagine if other ministers and departments tweeted government responses?' asks Liberal MP
The new veterans minister is under fire for posting some details of a highly anticipated progress report on improving the treatment of ex-soldiers on Twitter and Facebook even before MPs and the wider veterans community had a chance to see it.
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The update is seen as the first significant political test for Erin O'Toole, who replaced the embattled Julian Fantino last month, but the report did not arrive well after the close of business Friday night, missing a deadline imposed by a parliamentary committee.
The six-page letter was tabled Monday, but is in limbo because the Commons veterans affairs committee does not have a chairman to receive it.
O'Toole posted an info graphic on social media over the weekend, which apparently tracks the government's progress in implementing changes to legislation and benefits proposed by the veterans committee.
<a href="https://twitter.com/RCL_DC">@RCL_DC</a> Progress Report on NVC did come today & is online too - I hope to help the RCL join the online conversation <a href="http://t.co/IKS1jLKHpW">pic.twitter.com/IKS1jLKHpW</a>—@ErinOTooleMP
He defended releasing the information to his 3,300 followers, telling the Royal Canadian Legion in a tweet that young vets are online and that he had shared details with veterans and serving members in Hamilton over the weekend.
<a href="https://twitter.com/RCL_DC">@RCL_DC</a> Attached to my tweet & on my Facebook. Young vets are online & I want to help DC remain part of the conversation—@ErinOTooleMP
Liberal veterans affairs critic Frank Valeriote said O'Toole seems more interested in posting to social media than in being accountable to Parliament and the wider veterans community.
"Can you imagine if other ministers and departments tweeted government responses?" he said.
"Tweets are not a response to a rather serious document that came out of the veterans affairs committee. It is contempt."
'They've had months and months': NDP
New Democrat MP Peter Stoffer, his party's veterans affairs critic, said it was a strange way of handling it because it was O'Toole's predecessor who originally asked the committee to study the new veterans charter and make recommendations for improvement.
"This means they are not taking it very seriously because they've had months and months,"Stoffer said.
"They could have done this weeks ago, or months ago if they wanted to."
The minister's office did not respond to the opposition complaints directly, but instead released a copy of the progress report sent to the committee.
It highlighted much of what was covered in the government's initial response to the committee last fall.
The absence of detail about long-standing funding questions frustrated the Legion.
The organization said the latest report "does nothing substantial in addressing the recommendations."
The committee and veterans groups have demanded:
- improvements to the disability awards system for lost limbs and injuries so that it matches civilian courts
- an extension of an income-replacement program so older veterans are not left in poverty
- improved access to a permanent impairment allowance for the most seriously wounded
The government response said it is still consulting with other departments.
Tom Eagles, the Legion's dominion president, said the government has had plenty of time to consider the issues, but isn't willing to implement the significant changes necessary.
Stoffer said the government might be holding back because it wants to make a big splash with the spring budget.
But Valeriote said people are hurting now.