POLITICS

Veterans Fight Office Closures Across Canada

01/31/2014 12:29 EST | Updated 04/02/2014 05:59 EDT
CP
Veterans are holding "memorial services" over the loss of eight more Veterans Affairs offices across Canada today, just as the Conservative government prepares to shut them down. 

It's a last-ditch attempt to voice their opposition to the closures, after failed efforts to convince the government to reverse its decision. 

Solidarity events are taking place in Windsor, Ont., Corner Brook, Nfld., Sydney, N.S., Thunder Bay, Ont., Brandon, Man., and Saskatoon.

A group of veterans had travelled to Ottawa and joined up with union officials to lobby the government this week. Their meeting with Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino made national headlines when the minister showed up 70 minutes late and then engaged in testy exchanges with the veterans.

That caused a wave of anger on Parliament Hill, with veterans and opposition members alike calling for Fantino's resignation.

The minister ultimately apologized, but refused to step down.

Government rapped by ombudsman

Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent is taking a more nuanced approach to the office closures.

"Certainly, I'm disappointed with the way that things actually developed," he told the CBC's Susan Bonner. 

Parent said the government should have been up front in communicating its reasons for closing offices, as well as indicate how the lost services would be replaced.

"I think they would have saved a lot of anger and angst on the part of the people," Parent said. 

But at the same time, the ombudsman said the closing of offices does not necessarily mean the "deterioration of services."

Parent is urging people to contact the office of the Veterans Ombudsman, which he says can help in two ways.

One, with their personal circumstances and two, to allow him to "gather evidence" if there is "indeed a real need to have an office" in certain areas.

The ombudsman said he understand the veterans' frustrations because it's "a matter of habit."

"You go across the street to get information," he said. "Now you have to dial a 1-800 number to get that same information and maybe it'll take a bit of time." 

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