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Don't Blame the Unions For Your Behaviour, Mr. Fantino

02/04/2014 09:13 EST | Updated 04/06/2014 05:59 EDT

When one of Canada's most senior politicians -- a federal cabinet minister -- disgraces himself and by extension, all of us by acting with disrespect for a our country's veterans, it's time to speak up.

Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino's behaviour towards a group of veterans last week disgusted me. And, when he blamed his behaviour on the actions of a union I became outraged.

If you've read anything I've written, listened to anything I've said, or read much about me in the press -- you may know a few things about me. Some of them might even be true. One thing, though, that's no secret, is that I'm no great fan of unions.

Now, the Public Service Alliance of Canada may very well have paid for a group of Canadian veterans to travel to Ottawa to meet with the minister. The union may very well have told the veterans a one-sided story about how their poor members are being hard done-by by the big, bad government. The union may very well have acted in a loathsome manner by playing our veterans as pawns in their game of "gimme more" with the federal government. But, you know what? I don't care.

None of that excuses the minister's behaviour.

When a veteran is angry with you for being late, you say, "I'm sorry." You say, "Thank you for your service to our country."

As a free public service for cabinet ministers and others in leadership roles, I'm going to offer up some completely unsolicited advice, right here, right now, at no charge. Here it is.

When you're an hour late for a meeting with a group of Canada's veterans, stop for a moment before you walk through that door. Remember that you're about to meet with some of our nation's most cherished citizens.

Veterans are men and women who have answered our nation's call to service. Unique among all Canadians, they, alone, have volunteered to waive their Charter-protected right to security of the person.

Only members of our military can be ordered into danger. Only members of our military can be tried, convicted and jailed for life for refusing an order that will get them killed.

Our police and firefighters are very brave men and women but they have the right to say "no" when the situation is just too dangerous. Canada's soldiers cannot. Soldiers are legally required to enter the fray, even when they know, with certainty, that they will likely be killed or grievously wounded.

Soldiers call this the "unlimited liability" clause in their terms of service. They know about it when they volunteer to serve. And, they volunteer anyway.

Veterans knew about their unlimited liability when they volunteered to answer our call. They agreed to sign away their right to safety. Even if they were never called on that clause -- even, if they never served in danger -- they all knew they could be ordered to die for our country. That takes guts. And, we owe them something for it.

The group of veterans that waited to meet with the minister last week wore medals that tell me most of them were called upon to put themselves at risk.

They served at our pleasure. They went where we sent them. They fought who we told them to fight. Because they trusted us -- their nation, our Canada -- to send them only where they were needed and to ask of them only that which was necessary.

Our veterans walked willingly into danger when we asked them to because they trusted us to care for them if they survived. If they were wounded. If they were maimed. If they were psychologically scarred.

So, Mr. Minister, before you open that door next time and meet with those veterans, remember this: they have done what you have not. They deserve your respect.

Even if they're wrong. Even if they have been misled about the facts. Even if a union is using them as pawns that's no excuse for you to do the same.

And when a veteran is angry with you for being late, when a veteran points his finger at you and accuses you, I don't care if he's right or wrong. You say, "I'm sorry." You say, "Thank you for your service to our country." You say, "Please come in and sit with me." You say, "I'm here to listen."

Then you sit with them. And you listen. And you promise to do whatever you can to make the situation right. And then you do it.

And, in case you think this is me blaming the poor treatment of Veterans on the Conservatives -- think again. I am a Conservative. This is not a partisan issue. Canadian soldiers and Canadian veterans are not being mistreated by the Conservative Party. They are being mistreated by the Government of Canada. This government happens to be Conservative, but the plight of our veterans is not a new thing.

When that government was run by Liberals, the mistreatment of veterans and soldiers was just as bad -- maybe worse. And, don't get me started on the NDP. It's nice to hear the NDP stand up these days to criticize the government's treatment of veterans. But, make no mistake. The NDP has never lifted a single solitary finger -- ever -- to help Canada's soldiers, our military, or our veterans.

The government of Canada -- no matter who's in power -- has a long history of treating Canadian soldiers and veterans as an after thought. Every party, every union, has a history of thinking of veterans only as pawns in their political games. It's time for that to stop.

If we don't, we may find that next time we call for help -- no one answers.

This post was originally broadcast Feb. 2, 2014 as a 5 minute editorial segment at the end of the author's weekly radio program on CFRB Newstalk1010 in Toronto. It is also posted on the author's website.

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