|Canada's Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa December 9, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Wattie|
Murray Brewster, The Canadian Press
On the night of last year's infamous televised showdown between Julian Fantino and angry veterans, one of those sent in ahead of time to smooth the way was Erin O'Toole, the man who on Monday took over the troubled portfolio.
Prior to the confrontation, O'Toole, two other Conservative MPs and Fantino's chief of staff met with the group of ex-soldiers, but failed to ease the concerns of the veterans, who were upset over planned office closures.
As recounted by some who were in the room, the encounter is instructive for the veterans community, which is wondering whether O'Toole's fresh face will actually mean a fresh approach in a department that has become a political liability for the Conservatives in the run-up to this year's election.
In a quiet ceremony Monday at Rideau Hall, Prime Minister Stephen Harper replaced Fantino with O'Toole, a southern Ontario MP and former Sea King helicopter navigator who was elected to the House of Commons in a 2012 byelection.
Fantino, a tough-talking former police chief who represents the strategically important riding of Vaughan, north of Toronto, remains at the cabinet table as associate minister of defence.
But repairing the political damage of his 18-month tenure, which was marred by controversy, confrontation and cries of incompetence, will fall to O'Toole, who has been a frequent, articulate defender of the government's policy in both the House of Commons and in the media.
"It's an honour for me to serve our veterans," O'Toole said after the ceremony while getting into his car at Rideau Hall. "I am getting up to speed on what I need to know, but it's a privilege for me to serve our veterans."