Calling in the spin doctors

Yup, we've got a big problem so let's throw a commercial at it so people think something is being done.

Carolyn Grant

The people have had enough. They have demanded action, by golly, and the Canadian government is taking action. Fast, decisive action.

The issue? Treatment of veterans.

The action? $4 million worth of commercials.

That’s right. In response to the truly tragic deaths of five Canadian veterans by suicide thus far in 2014, the federal government — no wait, they insist on being called the Harper government, so that’s what we’ll call them — the Harper government has come up with commercials that proudly proclaim how much is being done to assist soldiers in the transition back to civilian life.

Yup, we’ve got a big problem so let’s throw a commercial at it so people think something is being done.

Surely you have seen the ads. The Harper government bought time during the hockey playoffs for maximum coverage, so as best inform the public of their heroic efforts on behalf of the real heroes.

Of course critics say that the Harper government leaves it to private agencies such as the Veterans Transition Network and Canada Command to do the real work and that far more funding needs to be provided for soldiers returning from Afghanistan with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The funding needs to go to programs, critics say. Not commercials.

The Harper government has not helped itself with its own Minister for Veterans Affairs Julian Fantino. Fantino has a remarkable ability to come across as completely unfeeling towards veterans. As recently as last week, the wife of a soldier with PTSD tried to approach Fantino as he left the House of Commons. She wanted to talk about providing assistance for caregivers dealing with loved ones with PTSD. She has had trouble getting MPs or the Minister to return her phone calls so she decided to approach Minister Fantino in person.

And right there in front of the TV cameras, Fantino refused to speak to her.

Jenifer Migneault later told CBC News, “I’m offended. A man like that is supposed to be so proud of my husband’s service? C’mon, that’s a joke. … We’re the ones who live 24 hours a day with their heroes.”

Last year, Fantino ran afoul of Veteran groups when, attempting to meet with them to explain the closing of some Veterans Affairs office, he arrived more than an hour late to the meeting. And in fact he blamed the unrest among veterans on “fear-mongering” by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), one of the largest unions in the country which represents Veterans Affairs staffers affected by the closures. Oh, and he also got huffy when an elderly veteran had the audacity to shake a finger at him.

“This finger-pointing stuff doesn’t work very well with me,” he was quoted as saying.

So as much as the Harper government likes to tell us, through commercials paid for with our money, what a great job they are doing assisting veterans, they leave in place a Minister who can’t take a finger-shaking from an outraged vet. By the way, after the finger-shaking, Minister Fantino stormed out of the meeting, apparently outraged and insulted by the whole thing.

This is not to say the Harper government does nothing for veterans. There are programs that assist veterans, but five suicides just this year indicate that more needs to be done. Much more.

Five suicides in returning veterans is an outrage. It should not be happening. These people made it out of a situation in which they risked death. Surely, when they get home that risk shouldn’t be there.

More needs to be done. And I don’t mean more commercials telling us what a great job the Harper government is doing.

Carolyn Grant is Editor of the Kimberley Daily Bulletin