PEI

'Here we go again': Union frustrated by veterans affairs minister's resignation

The union that represents veterans affairs employees says while it "respects" Jody Wilson-Raybould's decision to resign from cabinet this week, it only adds to the ongoing instability and uncertainty in the federal department.

With Jody Wilson-Raybould out, department's onto fifth minister in five years

Jody Wilson-Raybould, seen here at Charlottetown's veterans affairs headquarters earlier this month, had just taken over as minister in January. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

The union that represents veterans affairs employees says while it "respects" Jody Wilson-Raybould's decision to resign from cabinet this week, it only adds to the ongoing instability and uncertainty in the federal department. 

Wilson-Raybould quit the Liberal cabinet Tuesday amidst the SNC-Lavalin controversy, just weeks after moving from justice to veterans affairs — and stopping at the department's Charlottetown headquarters to meet with P.E.I. employees. 

The prime minister appointed Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to take over as interim veterans affairs minister, making him the fifth person in the job over the past five years. 

"My initial reaction was 'here we go again'," said Virginia Vaillancourt, president of the Union of Veterans' Affairs Employees. 

"If we look at other departments and agencies, no other department has seen such a turnover of ministers. And the veterans portfolio is in my opinion a large portfolio. It should be provided with more care and stability."

'Just a chip in a much bigger pile' 

Wilson-Raybould resigned after reports surfaced that — while serving as justice minister — she was pressured by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) to help Quebec-based engineering firm SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution on bribery and fraud.

At this point, Wilson-Raybould hasn't spoken about her reasons for quitting.  But Vaillancourt said her union has "absolute respect for somebody who stands up for their integrity."

Jody Wilson-Raybould addressed a crowd of 600 VAC employees in Charlottetown on Feb. 1 during her time as the veterans affairs minister. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

The union president maintains her frustration is with the Trudeau government. 

"It's almost like we're just a chip in a much bigger pile," she said.  "It gives to me the opinion that the government doesn't fully value the sacrifices our veterans gave."

Vaillancourt said she had been planning to meet with Wilson-Raybould in the next few weeks to raise issues affecting both employees and veterans. 

"Now that we have an interim minister, we're not sure how long he's going to be in place. So is it really beneficial to reach out to someone who may be there two weeks, or it may be a month. We have no idea, because the federal government hasn't mentioned anything as of yet."

Acting minister responds 

In a written statement to the CBC, Sajjan, the acting minister of veterans affairs, said the change of ministers will not affect the services that veterans receive.

"This does not affect or deter the department, and our government, from continuing the incredible work that has been taking place over the last three-and-a-half years,' the statement said.

Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan was appointed interim veterans affairs minister after Wilson-Raybould's resignation. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Sajjan said the government places veterans and their families first and are committed to providing them with the care and support they need.

He said he looks forward to visiting the veterans affairs office in Charlottetown very soon.

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