I've noticed that there has been a subtle shift in the language of politics in Canada. Cabinet ministers used to be called "the Minister responsible for..." That has been supplanted with "Minister of..." Admittedly, the longer version doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but it does serve a critical purpose: it reminds everyone that holding a portfolio is more than carrying a leather folder -- it is a position of responsibility. It means the buck-stops-there. Ministers don't just wield power, they take charge and fix problems.
That's something that Minister Blaney needs reminding of.
In June 2011, shortly after Blaney was appointed minister, a veteran of the Royal 22nd Regiment took a seat in front of the national headquarters of Veterans Affairs. Cpl Fabien Melanson had stopped eating, protesting years of neglect by VAC. True to form, VAC ignored the hunger-striking veteran for 10 days. When contact was finally made, it was in the form of an Assistant Deputy Minister.
The issue involved VAC -- Melanson is a veteran, and a hunger-strike is definitely an affair. But the Minister, it seems, felt no responsibility. He did not speak to the veteran. And he still hasn't.
Melanson's situation is -- one hopes -- unique. For five consecutive months starting in September 2004, Melanson's disability pension went to the wrong bank account. The lack of income ruined the veteran's finances, his house and his mental health.
The VAC paid the back-pension and, after two years, eventually coughed up the related bank fees. As for the damages the deprivation caused, VAC denied all responsibility. It took seven years and three hunger strikes for VAC to provide a letter admitting their mistake.
The letter admits to the missing pension, that the cause was an administrative error, and that Fabien suffered because of it. But Melanson was told that Veterans Affairs has "no mechanism" for making reparations.
This is the point where the minister is supposed to step in. Ministers have the ability to redress issues which fall outside of policy; it's one of the reasons that we have ministers. When it takes executive authority to fix something, you need to have an executive ready to do the job.
Blaney is not doing it.
Rightfully, the Minister should have spoke with the veteran during the hunger strike, to see that his problem was solved. Certainly the minister should have followed up on VAC's letter and provide the missing mechanism.
Blaney didn't do that either.
He did not attempt to seek out the veteran. When Melanson's advocate began contacting the Ministry, Blaney ignored him as well.
It's a simple issue: VAC deprived the veteran of his income for almost five months. Their error should have been fixed when Melanson first reported it and it wasn't. The lack of income caused a cascading series of events which ruined the Corporal's house and fuelled his suicide attempt. VAC admits the error was their fault and they admit Melanson suffered because of it. The Minister Responsible for Veterans Affairs can issue payment to cover the damages. Problem solved, duty executed, wrong righted -- next, please.
Steven Blaney hasn't done it.
For a full year, attempts have been made to contact the minister, to arrange a settlement so that Cpl Fabien Melanson of the Royal 22nd Regiment, veteran of Croatia and Bosnia, could repair his home and resume the life that has been on hold for eight years. Every contact attempt has been ignored.
Well, except for the aide that returned a call once, months ago, to say they were looking into it.
As the anniversary of the hunger strike approached, Melanson's situation grew increasingly desperate. His house and property were about to be repossessed if he couldn't provide a way to fix the house. Frantic messages were sent to the Ministry -- by email, phone, fax, other MPs, by Senators, through the media -- all saying the same thing: make this right. Do your duty. Before the end of the month, before it is too late, wield your mighty power, oh minister of the people, and fix this problem created by your department!
Or at least, give us a call, eh?
Blaney kept shut. Nada. Not a word. Not so much as a misspelled text message from an intern.
And Melanson lost his house.
Not because someone hit the wrong button in 2004. Not because of circumstances beyond VAC's control. No, Melanson loses his property because the Minister of Veterans Affairs is not being responsible.
Why should Blaney resign?
Because when he stands in the Commons, he affirms that he cares about all of Canada's veterans. He doesn't care about this one. He won't speak to him. He won't even talk about him. He won't use his authority to correct the trouble VAC caused.
In the Canadian Forces, willful neglect of one's duties can result in punishments from fines to jail time. Under certain conditions, it could get one imprisoned for life. Neglect of duty is something taken very seriously by Canada's veterans.
Minister Blaney has a duty to care for Cpl Melanson. He has a responsibility to know what his Department did to Melanson. He has an obligation to address that wrong. And, as a servant of the people, he is required to speak to any citizen who asks that of him.
Steven Blaney has willfully neglected all of these duties. If he will not rectify that, then he should resign.