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Rob Oliphant talks about his veterans roundtable

I caught up with Liberal MP Rob Oliphant today to talk about his roundtable on veterans' issues during the Liberals' three-week "working" prorogation. (I wasn't able to catch up with him last week, as he was doing a week of French immersion in Quebec). Oliphant also mentioned that he's asked to be taken off the Public Safety committee in order to focus more on his critic portfolio, but he's also been asked to take on a bigger role in terms of multicultural issues within the party.

Q: How did your Veteran’s roundtable go a couple weeks ago?
A: It was great – January 28th. We had a very large crowd, which I was really glad about. We had about 40 MPs there, plus Senators, and then another 70 or 80 veterans and representatives of veterans’ organisations. Two basic panel discussions – one on the implementation of the New Veterans’ Charter, and the other on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and then [Senator] Romeo Dallaire gave a keynote address on both issues, on the issues of modern veterans and on our need for more investments and understanding of PTSD.

Q: What’s it like having a figure like Romeo Dallaire in your caucus, and being able to access him for these kinds of issues?
A: He’s fantastic. He’s a mentor to me now, when I need to understand something about the Department of National Defence, about a veterans’ experience, about the culture of the military, as well as the culture of the post-military experience. He’s extremely generous in his availability to me; he’s direct – he’s a general. He has strong opinions that are every word is worthwhile – he doesn’t waste words. He’s interesting. And he’s a hero. And I find it quite invigorating having him in our caucus.

It was a very emotional day. There were a lot of tears in the room that day from the stories. My style is to come at a policy issue from a very human element, and to start with the person and the story, and move to policy as opposed to starting with policy ideas and seeing how it affects the people. Everything about the day was starting with individuals and their stories, and their experiences of the system, war, PTSD, frustration with the bureaucracy, with red tape – all that stuff. That’s the way I start with an issue, and that of course affects people. I had many members of caucus approach me afterwards, very clearly moved by what happened. Stories they had not heard, or had read about but became a much more real experience for them.

Since then, I was in Montreal last week and I went to an event held by the Veterans’ Ombudsman, and it was interesting that I encountered some of the same people who had been at my event, and in one speech they were referring to January 28th as being a “landmark day,” and this was at a public gathering. And I though “Oh, isn’t that incidental – that was the day of my roundtable,” and then I realised they were talking about my roundtable as being a landmark day in the veterans’ movement, in understanding the changes we need to make to helping our veterans. So I was pretty proud of that, that if I can keep that discussion going, it’ll be very good.

Q: Over the Gallery newsfeed this morning, Senator Downe has asked the Auditor General to look at the New Veterans’ Charter – can you tell me what that’s about?
A: I can’t because I just read it at the same time you did. Senator Percy Downe is on the Senate Veteran Affairs Committee, and they have been examining the New Veterans Charter, as has the House of Commons Standing Committee. Both committees have been looking at it. I have not followed it probably as closely as I should have, the Senate committee’s work, but I saw that release go out, and immediately have asked my staff to dig into what particular issues he wants the Auditor General to look at.
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