QP Live: Julian Fantino plays defence, again

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38-year-old homeless tour guide Karim stands at the Prague’s main railway station during his tour in Prague November 20, 2012. Karim works for a student-run tour agency Pragulic as a tour guide that shows tourists the sides of Prague that sightseers would normally avoid. Picture taken November 20, 2012. To match CZECH-HOMELESS/TOUR REUTERS/Petr Josek (CZECH REPUBLIC - Tags: SOCIETY POVERTY TRAVEL)

Julian Fantino, who’s facing repeated calls for his resignation from veterans and the opposition, could use some good press. Christie Blatchford, at the National Post, won’t give it to him. She can’t stand the veterans affairs minister. Fantino’s attempting to sell cost-cutting measures that change the way veterans interact with his department. It’s a tough sell.

The feds are shuttering nine veterans’ affairs services offices (one’s already closed, and eight more are on the block). The government says the offices are underused, and is redistributing services to your local Service Canada office. That’s more than 600 points of service, says Fantino, which are closer to vets everywhere. Plus, he adds, federal officials will still make house calls, even mowing vets’ lawns. Sweet deal, right?

Veterans aren’t buying it. They liked the specialized offices, and they don’t like the idea of frail colleagues waiting in long lineups. In her column, Blatchford frames the argument, and its importance to the government, appropriately.

It’s an immensely sensitive issue for the government, of course, because veterans and the military are so central to the Conservative brand, and because the government is so bent on portraying itself as the soldiers’ friend. Cutting local offices that deal solely with veterans, aged and young, in favour of big general-purposes Service Canada, however the economies of scale may play out, doesn’t square well with that pretty picture.

Fantino is entrenched. But he’s finding no sympathy in the papers, and he’s lost the confidence of the vets who speak for their peers. They’re calling for Fantino’s head, displeased with the minister’s attempt at a meeting with veterans’ groups earlier this week—an off-the-rails rendez vous for which he’s sort of apologized. Yesterday, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair called on the Prime Minister to fire Fantino (and played fast and loose with the facts, as Aaron Wherry notes), and he’ll no doubt continue this afternoon.

Fantino will have to come up with something new to placate his foes. Alternatively, he could be stubborn and stick to his guns, a strategy that will almost guarantee his enemies’ continued wrath.

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Julian Fantino. The opposition is not finished calling for the veterans affairs minister’s resignation. He’ll be forced to defend himself, once again, and don’t expect this to end any time soon.