National Column: Kent Hehr making a target of himself

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by Tim Harper

For weeks, the opposition Conservatives have been aiming high, trying to take down a sitting finance minister.

It won’t work. The Conservatives may be scoring points in the Commons, if not byelections, but Bill Morneau isn’t going anywhere.

While it is natural to go hunting for the big game, the Conservatives should aim a little lower because one has to wonder how many lives Kent Hehr could possibly have left.

The minister for sports and people with disabilities is becoming the Trudeau government’s chief victim-blamer.

We often call for more candour in politicians, but no one calls for less empathy.

Three times this month Hehr has been accused of insensitivity when dealing with those seeking action from his government, ranging from thalidomide victims to a woman whose war veteran husband is suffering from chronic post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.

This week, Hehr faced allegations from a Nova Scotia woman who met with him in 2016.

He clearly has a history with Kim Davis. He blocked her from his official Facebook page and Davis is an activist who is not shy when it comes to holding politicians to account.

Davis said she pressed Hehr when he was minister of veterans affairs in 2016 about extending benefits to family members. She had to quit her job to look after her husband and she was worried about paying for her children’s education.

The alleged response from the minister without empathy? A lot of kids don’t have their education paid for, so why should hers?

When pressed about her husband’s condition, Davis said Hehr responded: “You married him. It’s your responsibility.”

It is important to note Hehr denied the story, calling the meeting with Davis “cordial” even as his boss, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, rose in the Commons Tuesday to mistakenly tell opposition leader Andrew Scheer that Hehr had apologized.

Trudeau later corrected the record, but perhaps he was just losing track since Hehr had apologized for two previous transgressions.

He has been accused of telling thalidomide victims that “everyone has a sob story.”

When Jennifer McCrea, a Calgary woman who is fighting on behalf of mothers who say they were denied benefits while on maternity leave asked why the government was fighting sick women, she said the minister replied it was a “loaded question,” adding: “Well, Ms. McCrea, that is the old question, like asking … When did you stop beating your wife?”

According to McCrea, Hehr managed to do all this in a two-minute meeting which indicates the minister starts in combat mode, he is not goaded into making inappropriate comments.

It cannot be lost on Trudeau, the country’s feminist prime minister, that all three instances cited are cases of Hehr putting down women or being overly combative with them.

No prime minister relishes standing in the Commons defending ministers bleeding from self-inflicted wounds. No government will want these charges hanging over its head, certainly not in the political climate of late 2017.

Hehr has suggested some remarks have been misconstrued, but he has admitted to sometimes being brash and inappropriate and he has to work on getting better. He admits he needs improvement in
“personal interactions,” and is taking steps to better himself as a representative of Calgary and Canada.

A cabinet minister who says he needs to get better at dealing with people is problematic. Put him first in veterans affairs then move him to deal with people with disabilities, people who are all hurting, physically or mentally, and it becomes combustible.

The Conservatives have not been aggressive in going after Hehr – at least not by Morneau standards.

Trudeau gave Hehr a ringing endorsement Wednesday. Such endorsements are often not worth the bandwidth needed to publish it in Hansard. Wait a couple weeks.

Hehr’s lack of empathy brings to mind the shambolic tenure in veterans affairs of Julian Fantino in Stephen Harper’s government. The former top cop turned marijuana entrepreneur was another minister whose empathy tank had run dry.

He infamously dressed down elderly war veterans and walked away from the wife of a veteran who wanted to talk to him.

When Parliament rose for the Christmas break in 2014, Harper professed confidence in Fantino.

On Jan. 5, 2015, he quietly shuffled him to an associate minister’s job.

Hehr has already been shuffled to what was supposed to be a lower profile portfolio.

He is hosting his Christmas party in his Calgary riding Saturday. It might be the last time he hosts a festive event as a federal minister.

Tim Harper writes on national affairs. tjharper77@gmail.com, Twitter: @nutgraf1
Copyright 2017-Torstar Syndication Services

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