Sean Casey
Sean Casey
Member of Parliament for Charlottetown
Protecting Jobs in Charlottetown - Veterans Affairs Canada
November 30, 2020

After the last election, I was asked to serve on the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. I jumped at the opportunity for obvious reasons.

In the 1980’s a decision was made to locate the National Headquarters of the Ministry of Veterans Affairs in Charlottetown. When we consider the fact that no other Department is headquartered outside The National Capital Region, this was, in retrospect, a remarkable feat. During the Harper years, there were drastic staffing cuts, and a migration of senior positions from Charlottetown to Ottawa. This, understandably, caused an immense degree of angst at The National Headquarters, and within our community, that this major employer would also be repatriated to Ottawa.

Since 2015, our Government has confirmed its commitment to Charlottetown, has increased staffing levels, and moved The Associate Deputy Minister’s position to PEI. However, there are still proponents in Ottawa to pulling jobs away from The National Headquarters. 

Cathay Wagantall, a Conservative MP from Saskatchewan, posed the following question to Minister MacAulay when he appeared before the Committee on November 12: 

“From what I understand about the hiring process, and what I’ve read about getting people hired for this role, is that we need to move it across Canada and set up a department in a place where it can work outside of the Charlottetown site”.

Minister MacAulay attempted to answer but was repeatedly interrupted. To his credit, his final comment to Ms. Wagantall was; “It is also vitally important, Mr. Chair, that I indicate to everybody that the employees in Charlottetown at Veterans Affairs Canada are the best in the country. I stand behind them 100%”.

The second, and arguably more influential, threat to VAC’s presence in Charlottetown is the Ottawa based President of The Union of Veterans Affairs Employees, Virginia Vaillancourt. 

When she appeared before the Committee on March 12, 2020, I asked her for her advice on getting a more appropriate complement of disability adjudicators. Her reply was:

“That’s a good question. Plain and simple, they need more staff on the ground. Unfortunately, a lot of the adjudicators are based in Charlottetown. There is nothing wrong with Charlottetown, but the pool of employment is limiting there. I think that some of those adjudication positions could be moved to Ottawa or other locations across the country that have a larger pool of employable people to be able to bring more staff in”.

This uninformed opinion, understandably, does not take account of the many Come-From-Aways who come for a job at VAC, fall in love with this place, and settle here. We all know some of them. As someone based in Ottawa, and living in BC, she could not have enough contact here to know better.

After her appearance, she repeatedly refused to respond to my written requests that she substantiate this opinion. She appeared again at Committee last week and did not mention the topic in her opening remarks, so I asked how many people had been screened into the pool as disability adjudicators, and what the unemployment rate was in PEI. She did not know. 

 When I asked her to publicly apologize to the disability adjudicators who she indicated were “unfortunately in Charlottetown”, she offered a qualified apology to me.

 After her testimony, she submitted a written brief to the Committee recommending “an outside review of the service structure of VAC that looks specifically at how and where Human Resources are located and if they are geographically situated to provide the service to Veterans”.

I have written to her requesting further information.

Bottom line is that the Ottawa based leadership of the Union that represents the largest number of employees at VAC has clearly demonstrated an anti-Charlottetown bias. Voices like these need to to be called out and challenged. I will continue to do that and am grateful that Minister MacAulay is on the same page.

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