Harper government, unions spar over veteran office closures as protests continue

·Politics Reporter

The Harper government and the unions have had some epic battles over the years.

But this latest exchange seems a little wacky.

The government and Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino specifically is accusing the Public Service Alliance of Canada of 'manipulating' the emotions of veterans with regard to their reaction to the closure of eight veterans service centres.

The issue hit a climax this week, with a testy exchange, caught on tape, between Fantino and several veterans who flew to Ottawa in a last minute plea to save the offices. The meeting concluded with the disgruntled veterans calling the minister disrespectful and asking him to resign.

"There are a few things [Fantino] should be told," WWII veteran Roy Lamore according to CBC News.

"Taught manners is number 1, number 2 to respect the veterans, and number 3, it's time that he better wake up and give us a break on these things."

[ Related: Stephen Harper defends Julian Fantino amid calls for his resignation ]

In an interview with Sun News, Fantino alleges that those veterans were being "jacked up" by PSAC officials.

"[The union] manipulated them. It was taking advantage of people who have served the country and in some cases are getting older. It's scurrilous," Fantino was quoted as saying.

"Earlier in the day, the union leaders were also overheard briefing the vets on their strategy and questions and lines they were to use.

"It was a setup," he continued.

"The union exploited these folks and that to me is reprehensible."

For their part, the union admits that PSAC paid for the veterans to fly to Ottawa. But they say that there was nothing wrong with that.

"We're proud to have supported veterans by paying for their flights and hotel rooms because veterans were finally heard in Ottawa," Yvan Thauvette, the president of the Union of Veterans Affairs Employees, told Yahoo Canada News in a telephone interview.

"We've asked for months and months and months that the minister fly into those communities where the offices are set for closure to talk to veterans and their families and listen to their concerns. And he didn't do it.

"So now it's our fault? It's kind of weird."

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Thauvette claims that PSAC wasn't doing any 'manipulating' on Friday either when hundreds of veterans gathered to protest each of the eight closures.

Protesters have also launched a black ribbon campaign.

"Canada’s veterans are seeing their supports slashed and their benefits cut. Put a black ribbon on your FB profile, twitter avatar and - oh yeah … your clothing - to show you care," notes their 'Twibbon' website.

Despite the backlash, the Tories say they won't reverse course and that the closures will not affect the level of service for veterans.

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