Navel-gazing politics are bad politics

“In a controversy the instant we feel anger we have already ceased striving for the truth and have begun striving for ourselves.”

This quote, commonly attributed to the Buddha, was the first thing that came to mind upon reading the news of Julian Fantino’s response to a meeting with Veterans in Ottawa, who had gathered there in protest toward the closure of eight Veteran’s Affairs regional offices across Canada.
If a refresher is necessary: Fantino showed up 70 minutes late for his scheduled meeting with a group of veterans on Tuesday, January 28 in Ottawa.

The meeting was to address the closure of the eight district offices, which veterans are worried will make getting assistance more difficult.

With the mounting presence of the story in the news media; numerous veterans speaking out about their experiences and knowledge that this issue was becoming broadly known by Canadians, there was a lot of pressure on the outcome of this discussion. Calls for a meeting had become more frequent as it was becoming plain that veterans’ words were not being heard to their satisfaction: veterans recognized that the tactic being employed by government was ‘close now, explain later.’

When Fantino arrived for the meeting, there was an understandable antagonism afoot and it was mutual, though Fantino did his best to look democratically unenthused. The Veterans – numerous – were eager to be heard and brimming with words. Fantino, outnumbered, had a countenance about him of indifference, a rhetoric of pre-programed buzzwords and a swiftness to take personal offense to the anger of the veterans.

Some words were exchanged but there was no neutral ground to be found; questions weren’t being answered, answers weren’t satisfying questions; finally a finger was pointed, Fantino was quoted (“You know, this finger pointing stuff doesn’t work very well with me”) and ultimately the meeting was ended, with Fantino walking out unceremoniously.

Even with emotions high, Fantino took the easy way out – he used an immature understanding of conflict to remove himself from a testy situation, demonstrating a complete lack of empathy for Veterans he is mandated by Canadian tax dollars to represent.

Fantino took personally what he should have taken professionally: he chose to gaze down at his navel in anger over a single veteran’s finger point – which was more gestural, less interrogative – when he should have been listening, recording views and either developing a discussion and exchange of ideas or setting up further meetings to do so when emotions weren’t so high. He was doing his job, so he should have done his job.

But alas, when you have power, it’s much easier to avoid accountability. And alas, this is not the first time the Harper Conservatives have pushed through agendas under the guise of fiscal responsibility or some such money saving scheme that were counterintuitive to the concerns of those affected.

If readers have followed the closing of seven (of 11) Fisheries and Oceans research libraries against the wishes of prominent scientists in the field, they would begin to see disturbing parallels. Scientists wrote open letters and campaigned tirelessly against the consolidation, outlining the damage to research and archival credibility by closing those libraries. Theirs was a campaign of frustration, falling on disinterested ears.

The government claimed the closures would save over $443,000.

With $22,000 going into the closures themselves, the number is truthfully $421,000.

These closures were approximately the same time the Conservative government spent $2.5 million dollars on Job Grant ads for programs that never manifested and are still on hold. This, as part of a $11 million dollar publicity push set aside for Employment and Social Development Canada to promote the government’s role as a job creator (for emphasis: not $11 million to create jobs, but $11 million to propagate the idea of job creation).

Ultimately, it’s difficult to justify $421,000 in the wake of $2.5 million dollars blown on partisan advertisements without any viable product.

What Fantino, in his steaming childlike anger, and the government more broadly don’t seem to understand is that when you cut funding, you cut it from services that are not necessary to people. You cut from the bloated pockets of your party members, you cut from levels of unnecessary layers of bureaucracy, you cut from pro-Conservative propaganda, you cut from your elevated selves. Where you don’t cut funds is from social services, you don’t cut from the people who depend on you, you don’t cut it from health care, you don’t cut it from seniors care, you don’t cut from education, you don’t cut from the scientists (you’re trying to muzzle) or the Veterans (you’re trying to brush aside).

What Fantino’s actions demonstrated to Veterans and Canadians more broadly is that when it comes right down to it the Government works for itself, it does not work for the people. People are excluded from the democratic process as soon as the ballots are cast. What it also showed is that serving one’s country in extremely difficult and traumatic combat situations does not guarantee anything, even respect, as sadly according to the Conservative government, money is the only thing worth saving in a Country full of humanity.

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