The Prime Minister finally did what everyone knew had to be done and he removed Fantino from Veteran Affairs. It was long overdue.
Clearly he waited too long, the damage has been done. In politics perception is reality and most voters perceive the Conservatives as not caring enough or doing enough for our veterans. One can certainly argue that the Conservatives have gone out of their way to honour the sacrifices, deeds and events around our veterans, but what really counts for the public is how the government helps our vets in their time of need.
For most Canadians a vet is a vet, they all deserve the same type of treatment and the same level of assistance. The public does not distinguish between a World War Two vet, a Korean War vet or and Afghanistan vet. They don’t understand or accept the government explanation of the difference between how older vets are assisted and how we assist newer veterans under the Veterans Charter. A vet is a vet.
The Conservatives get bogged down in numbers, how much they have spent or reallocated (a fancy way of saying cut). The public doesn’t care about their numbers unless they see factual proof that our veterans are benefitting and that the government is doing all that is possible to take care of the health of our vets. The government can throw around all the numbers it wants, but all it takes is for a couple of vets to go on TV and disagree with those numbers and the amount of assistance that they are getting and the government has once again lost the argument. Any sense government numbers made went out the window when the public heard how much money the department returned to government coffers.
The government is in bean counter mode, it’s all about the dollars. The public see a defence based on dollars as a smokescreen; they don’t believe the numbers and frankly don’t care about them. They don’t see the proof that everything possible is being done to help our vets, their perception is the government isn’t doing enough. That is an argument the government can’t win.
A new minister will help in the short term. Fantino maybe a competent individual, but his public persona was wrong for the job. The lack of empathy shown was very damaging to him and the government and the Conservative brand as well.
Erin O’Toole may be a fine MP and he has the potential to be an excellent minister, but outside of personality, the biggest problem is that he is still administering the same policies with the same budget restraints. Unless the policies change the government will not win this fight. The government will never win an argument based on dollars and cents; they cannot win an argument that creates two classes of vets. Until they accept that a vet is a vet and bean counting be damned, they have lost this battle. Our vets (all of them) have stood up to far more that politicians, they won’t back down. It’s time for the government to make a strategic withdrawal and rethink the whole veteran’s issue. Perhaps that will be O’Toole’s greatest contribution, but to do that he has to first convince the Prime Minister.
This past week we have seen Prime Minister Harper keep with tradition and stand during Question Period to defend two of his embattled ministers. One has to wonder why?
The foul ups and bad optics that Veteran Affairs minister Fantino created for himself, should not require the Prime Minister to defend him. It is his department and the buck stops with Fantino. Ministers have to know their files. This includes knowing whether funding announcements are accurate and being prepared to answer all questions on their implications. Ministers require a lot of political sense too. How can one not understand the backlash that would come from shutting local Veteran Affairs offices or the political damage that would result in a pre-election year?
Ministers also have to understand that cameras and mics should always be treated as on. That is pretty basic stuff really. Fantino's highly publicized meetings and missteps with veterans and a veteran’s widow leave you shaking your head. The optics were horrible and the backlash predictable.
Speaking of poor optics, Leona Aglukkaq sitting in the House reading a newspaper while ignoring serious questions on the northern food program (which directly impacts her riding) is one of the worst examples I have seen in decades on the Hill. The arrogance and lack of concern it displayed was stunning for its stupidity. All by herself she created her own Marie Antoinette moment and it will haunt her for years to come. Over the last few years the only one that beats that is probably Pierre Trudeau giving people the “Salmon Arm salute”. Arrogance is costly and never wins votes for you or your party. Aglukkaq should be run into the House ASAP and stand and apologize, it is the least she can do.
Over the years the Conservatives have made it a habit of designating other ministers to take questions when someone is in trouble. However, it is much better to let the offender take the heat for their actions. Like his Liberal predecessors, it is unlikely that Harper will fire either one of them when they are under attack. That is a victory he will not give to the opposition parties. The ministers will be dealt with later.
For now the Prime Minister has done what is required, IE stood up once and defended them. Now it’s time for him to sit down and let the ministers swing on their own.
Watching the latest antics from Conservative Party operatives and I am thinking that we need to bring back “Truth Squads”. For those that don’t remember them, they were a Liberal Party invention back in the John Diefenbaker days. Liberal truth squads would shadow Dief in the hope of catching him in a lie or exaggeration.
Today of course the Conservatives are the ones out trying to catch Liberal candidates disagreeing with party policy or saying something they shouldn't. And this is before they are even nominated. I don’t quite see the point of all this skulking around with hidden tape recorders- pretty amateurish stuff.
I don’t recall ever meeting an MP from any party who blindly accepts 100% of a party’s platform. There are always disagreements, often minor, but never 100% acceptance and that includes on major issues. Why would a voter want to elect a bobble head doll that nods its head on all policy issues? You want someone to stand up for you and your riding.
Usually if you sandbag someone, the resulting controversy gets the victim a lot of sympathy from folks which at the very least, balances things out with those that might be upset with them.
In this case using a poor quality tape compounds the problem. Who assigned this staffer to carry out this activity? Who authorized it?
Who vets this stuff before deciding to use it? Why on earth would a minister and MPs take this at face value and go on the attack without vetting things themselves?
It looks like the short pants brigade have a serious need for some adult supervision and hopefully that will be in place before the next election.