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Updated: Wed, 29 Jan 2014 13:11:36 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Tom Mulcair calls on Harper to apologize to veterans, fire Fantino



Opposition and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair stands in the House of Commons during question period Monday Jan. 27, 2014 in Ottawa. Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press

Opposition and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair stands in the House of Commons during question period Monday Jan. 27, 2014 in Ottawa. Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to apologize to veterans and fire Julian Fantino, following a fractious meeting between the Veterans Affairs minister and veterans.

"Stephen Harper has to do two things: apologize to our veterans and in order to prove the sincerity of that apology, he has to immediately fire his Minister Julian Fantino," Mulcair told reporters near the foyer of the House of Commons Wednesday.

Mulcair's comments come in response to a bitter meeting between veterans and the minister on Tuesday night, with veterans leaving visibly frustrated and saying they were disrespected.

The veterans who were in Ottawa with union officials to lobby against the closing of their regional offices had set up a meeting with Fantino, only for him to show up very late. 

The minister released a statement Wednesday afternoon to apologize for that delay, which was due to a "cabinet meeting that ran long."

"I have been committed to having an open dialogue with the men and women who served Canada in uniform, but I realize that yesterday’s regrettable delay has brought that into question," the statement read.

In a news conference held afterwards, the veterans said their Tuesday meeting did not go well. Video from the meeting shows Fantino and veterans trading testy exchanges over the closing of nine Veterans Affairs offices across Canada. 

"There have been eight military suicides in two months," Mulcair said. "This is the last moment where we should be cutting back on services to our veterans."

Ron Clarke, a 36-year veteran of the Canadian Forces, said the meeting was "unbelievable, unacceptable and shameful. The way we were treated is just not kosher." He demanded that Fantino resign and said he would campaign "across Canada" against the Conservatives during the next election.

The NDP leader said these are huge issues for the Canadian military and the Conservatives are "simply not there." 

"The reality requires attention, it requires care and requires making mental-health services and other services to our veterans a priority," he said. 

Fantino released a statement Tuesday saying he and the veterans had a "candid conversation" during a "roundtable" and that meeting with veterans is one of the most important parts of his job.

"I am always willing to hear from veterans face-to-face on any issue," he said in the release.

"It is extraordinary to watch the body language and the behaviour on the other side — the robotic answers, delivering talking points," Mulcair said. "As if a talking point could replace the fact that they're closing offices."

'Way to deal with Senate is to eliminate it,' Mulcair says

Mulcair also raised an eyebrow in response to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's surprise announcement to remove senators from the Liberal caucus on Wednesday morning.

"It's quite interesting to see today that Justin Trudeau sees the merits of something we put on the table on Oct. 23," Mulcair said.

Last fall, the New Democrats had put forth a motion to end partisan activities in the Senate, including participation in caucus meetings. Trudeau had voted against it. 

Mulcair suggested Trudeau's "about-face" could be related to the impending release of the auditor-\ general's report into Senate expenses.

"I think that we might be seeing interesting things coming from the auditor-general," he said.

Ultimately, the NDP leader returned to the party's long-held position that the Upper Chamber should be abolished. 

"The way to deal with the Senate is to eliminate it," he said.

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