Apology not accepted, Cape Breton veteran tells minister

Staff ~ The Cape Breton Post
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SYDNEY — A Cape Breton veteran says he will not accept an apology of Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino unless it comes with a change of heart.

Veteran Ron Clarke of Georges River joins fellow veterans and Public Service Alliance of Canada members as they hold a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday.

Ron Clarke of Georges River travelled to Ottawa on Tuesday to meet with the former Ontario police chief along with several other ex-soldiers.

Upon arrival a meeting was arranged with Fantino as a final plea in the delegation's campaign to stop the closure of eight military service offices across the country.

A ninth office in Prince George, B.C., has already closed.

But when the group arrived at Fantino's office they were told the minister was called away on business.

However, Fantino arrived just as a press conference was to be held. According to Clarke, he offered a testy exchange with one veteran and left rather quickly.

On Wednesday, Fantino issued an apology to the delegation.

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"Yesterday, due to (a) cabinet meeting that ran long, I was very late in meeting a group of veterans that had come to Ottawa to discuss their concerns. I sincerely apologize for how this was handled. Today, I am reaching out to those veterans to reiterate that apology personally."

Clarke, who remained in Ottawa to field media requests Wednesday, said Fantino's chief of staff left a message at his Cape Breton home apologizing for what happened.

"I don't accept that apology," said Clarke, who joined the military in 1956. "The only apology I'll accept from him is ... if he keeps the offices open. Then him and I will get along just fine."

Clarke retired from military life in 1992. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder about 10 years later, largely due to his service in Vietnam.

A longtime Conservative, Clarke has asked for Fantino's resignation. He also said if changes aren't made he'll be launching a full campaign to see a new government take over in the next election.

"He has no compassion for the veterans, so why in the hell should he be the minister of Veterans Affairs," said Clarke. "I have asked for his resignation on several occassions now and if he doesn't want to resign, I ask the prime minister to fire him."

Both the NDP and the Liberal parties demanded Prime Minister Stephen Harper fire Fantino as minister on Wednesday.

Liberal MP and representative for Cape Breton-Canso, Rodger Cuzner, brought the issue back to the House of Commons for a second day.

"Now, in their time of need, when they can march no more, what does this government do, they shut down nine veteran service centres and turned their back on them," said Cuzner. "Will the minister reconsider this wrong-minded decision?"

Harper stood by Fantino and dismissed the growing public outcry as having been manufactured by the union that represents Veteran Affairs staff, which helped facilitate the meeting with the minister.

As part of Fantino's apology, the minister said he's committed to having an open dialogue, but realized that Tuesday's "regrettable delay" has brought that into question.

Meanwhile, a small group of veterans continued to stage a sit-in Wednesday at the Veterans Affairs office in Sydney.

The service office provides support and benefit services to approximately 2,900 ex-military members.

On Friday, the day of the expected closures, there will be a wreath-laying or black ribbon ceremony at the building.

"It's a symbol of the closing of the office, that there's a death in our family, so to speak," said Clarke.

Clarke said naval veteran Mel Birmingham is organizing the event.

The ceremony is expected to take place at noon.

Organizations: Veterans Affairs, NDP, House of Commons

Geographic location: Ottawa, Cape Breton, Georges River Ontario Prince George Vietnam Sydney

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  • 1XArmy2
    January 30, 2014 - 07:13

    Obviously the man has never have to deal with the issues and hurdles that veterans have to in order to get any help. He is not the man for the job.