Veterans Affairs remains a dumping ground

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has continued the longstanding tradition of using Veterans Affairs as a dumping ground for the ineffectual (or, in the case of Jody Wilson-Raybould, the incorruptible).

Forced to name a new minister due to Wilson-Raybould’s resignation, Trudeau called upon one of his government’s dimmest lights, Lawrence MacAulay, to take over at Veterans Affairs.

The retired farmer from PEI has been a Member of Parliament for more than three decades. Owing mostly to geographical considerations, he has held a number of cabinet posts over the years, including agriculture minister, labour minister, solicitor general and secretary of state for veterans.

MacAulay has impressed in none of these roles, but convention demands PEI have a minister in cabinet, so the loyal yet ineffective Islander continues to serve on the government’s front benches.

Of course, MacAulay is not the first dud to darken the revolving door at Veterans Affairs.

Seamus O’Regan — an intellectual lightweight who farcically compared life after morning television to life after the military — was a disaster in the portfolio and should never have been named to cabinet by his friend and travel partner. The same is true of Kent Hehr, whose continued presence in Liberal caucus seems remarkably off-brand for the Trudeau government.

Looking back to the Stephen Harper regime, who can forget Julian Fantino’s reign of terror as Veterans Affairs minister? And who can remember his lacklustre predecessors Steven Blaney and Jean-Pierre Blackburn?

I understand and accept that Veterans Affairs is a relatively junior cabinet post. (By way of disclosure: I am a Canadian Armed Forces veteran and a client of Veterans Affairs Canada.) The government’s most talented ministers should be — and usually are — assigned to files such as finance, justice and foreign affairs.

That being said, it’s both insulting and alarming to see how the Veterans Affairs portfolio has become an unremitting cavalcade of incompetent and uninspiring ministers.

The prime minister had better candidates to choose from. (Karen McCrimmon, a veteran with an impressive military and civilian resume, stands out as an obvious contender.)

But going with a reliable hack like MacAulay maintains gender and geographical balance. It also kept today’s cabinet shuffle as small as possible and ensures Trudeau gets a low-key loyalist who will be seen but not heard.

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