How Julian Fantino's meeting with veterans went off the rails
A meeting between Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino and a group of veterans got off to a rocky start Tuesday evening when Fantino was 70 minutes late.
The veterans were in Ottawa with officials from the Public Service Alliance of Canada to lobby with union officials against the closure of several veterans service offices, and had arranged to meet with Fantino.
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After Fantino arrived, the meeting featured several sharp exchanges between the veterans and the cabinet minister, before he was called away. Veterans said at a press conference later that they felt Fantino was "disrespectful."
Fantino issued an apology on Wednesday for his delayed appearance, but it didn't seem to mollify veterans – nor did it forestall NDP Leader Tom Mulcair's demands that he be fired.
Here's a timeline of events surrounding the meeting:
January 2013: Union officials are told that eight district offices across the country would be closed by Jan. 31, 2014, as part of budget cuts announced in the 2012 federal budget. That news came after months of notices on staff reductions across the country.
Jan. 22, 2014: The Public Service Alliance of Canada writes to Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino to request that he meet with a delegation of veterans concerned over proposed office closures.
Jan. 23: Fantino's office responds with a counter-offer: He'll meet with the veterans, and the veterans alone — no union representatives or front-line workers.
Jan. 24: PSAC agrees to the terms.
Jan. 27: Fantino's office confirms that the minister would meet with the veterans on Jan. 28 between 5 and 5:40 p.m.
Jan. 28, 5 p.m.: The veterans arrive at the minister's office at the scheduled time, only to discover the minister has been called to a cabinet meeting. Instead, they're greeted by a trio of Conservative MPs — Laurie Hawn, Erin O'Toole, both veterans themselves, and Parm Gill — as well as Fantino's chief of staff, Jacques Fauteux, himself a former Canadian Forces member, and are informed that the minister won't be attending the meeting.
6:12 p.m.: Moments before the veterans are scheduled to hold a press conference in the Charles Lynch room, a press gallery media room on Parliament Hill, Fantino shows up in an adjoining waiting room. There, according to PSAC representative Chris Alward, who had rejoined the veterans after the failed meeting at the minister's office, Fantino "got rude with one veteran," which the group found "unacceptable." After repeated efforts to do so, the minister's staff manage to take Fantino from the room, saying he had an evening meeting at Treasury Board.
6:20 p.m.: During the ensuing press conference, two veterans publicly call for Fantino's resignation.
7:02 p.m.: Under the headline "Minister Fantino holds roundtable with Canadian veterans," Fantino's office issues a press release that claims he "met with Canadian veterans on Parliament Hill to discuss services offered by the federal government," which also refers to a "separate meeting" with Hawn, O'Toole and Gill.
"Both the ministers and the MPs were pleased to reassure the group that despite the upcoming closure of eight underused district offices, the Government of Canada has increased the points of service for veterans by over 620 locations since 2006," the release said.
"One of the most important parts of the job is to meet with veterans and hear their concerns firsthand. We had a candid conversation today. I am always willing to hear from veterans face-to-face on any issue."
Jan. 29, 11:20 a.m.: NDP Leader Tom Mulcair repeats his call earlier in the morning for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to apologize to veterans and to fire Fantino, in a press scrum following his caucus meeting.
12:54 p.m.: Fantino's office issues an apology for being late for the initial meeting, saying it was "due to a cabinet meeting that ran long."
"I have been committed to having an open dialogue with the men and women who served Canada in uniform, but I realize that yesterday’s regrettable delay has brought that into question," the statement read.
1:10 p.m.: Veterans from the delegation, who were still in Ottawa, tell CBC News they hadn't heard directly from the minister or his office. A spokesman for Fantino said the minister called all six members of the veterans' delegation at 12:20 p.m. in an attempt to personally apologize before the release of the statement. Nick Bergamini said Fantino left voice messages or spoke to family members at five of the six numbers, which were home numbers. There was no answer at the sixth number, he said.