Julian Fantino would prefer that you refrain from pointing at him

A cabinet minister is confronted
Associate Minister of National Defence Julian Fantino stands in the House of Commons during Question Period, Friday March 16, 2012 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

The dispute—between veterans, one of the major public sector unions and the federal government—over the planned closure of several Veterans Affairs offices and the future delivery of services to veterans has been building for some time, but now the news networks have video of Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino in a rather contentious meeting with several unimpressed veterans.

Here is what the CBC aired and here is what CTV has shown. And now Thomas Mulcair wants Mr. Fantino to remove himself (or be removed) from cabinet.

Whatever the merits of each side’s argument (and setting aside the issues around the scheduling of this meeting and a debate we might have about what amount and kind of pointing a cabinet minister should have to accept) it’s at least interesting to see a politician captured on film in such a relatively unregulated encounter with the public. I’m reminded of Conservative MP David Wilks’ semi-famous encounter with constituents in May 2012. The most interesting moment of Justin Trudeau’s leadership so far (at least before this morning) might’ve been this exchange with a woman last September.

How often does this even happen any more? Possibly not enough. For four years after the Liberals formed government in 1993, the CBC broadcast an annual town hall meeting with Jean Chretien, during which Canadians could put questions to the Prime Minister. He had a bit of a rough go in 1996 and the exercise was never again repeated, but it’d be lovely to see it brought back.

Update 1:42pm. Mr. Fantino’s office has now sent out a statement from the minister.

“Yesterday, due to Cabinet meeting that ran long, I was very late in meeting a group of Veterans that had come to Ottawa to discuss their concerns. I sincerely apologize for how this was handled. Today, I am reaching out to those Veterans to reiterate that apology personally.

“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. Veterans across Canada should know that I remain deeply committed to meeting with them and listening to the issues that matter to them and their families, and to continue to do what’s right to support those who have stood up for Canada. Our country’s Veterans deserve no less.”