MP looking for answers about future of veterans’ affairs office in Kelowna

Stephen Fuhr will meet with the veterans' affairs minister to clarify remarks that not all the closed veteran's affairs offices may reopen.

During the recent federal election campaign, then Kelowna-Lake Country Liberal candidate, and now MP, Stephen Fuhr was definitive—a new Liberal government would re-open the veteran’s affairs office in the city that was closed by the former Conservative government.

It was a promise made by the Liberals in their election platform should they form government and, according to Fuhr, was what he was told at the time would happen by party officials.

But doubt has been thrown on what Fuhr believed was a certainty.

New Veterans’ Affairs Minister Kent Hehr appeared to backtrack recently on that promise when he refused to say where, or how many, of the nine veteran’s affairs offices that were closed by the Tories would re-open.

And that has Fuhr now looking for answers.

“Does the Okanagan Valley need two offices? Probably not,” said Fuhr, referring to the fact there is currently a veterans’ affairs office located in Penticton.

So he said if he is unsuccessful in getting the Kelowna office re-opened, he will lobby to have the Penticton office moved to Kelowna.

Fuhr, who is scheduled to meet with Hehr in Ottawa next week to discuss the situation, said he feels having an office in Kelowna makes sense because of the city’s central location in the valley.

“People in Vernon and Coldstream have to drive a long way (to get to the Penticton office),” he said.

When the Conservatives closed the Kelowna office, they replaced it with a single agent manning a desk in the federal office building in downtown Kelowna. They said the move was a cost-cutting measure.

Fuhr, a 20-year Air Force veteran before retiring from the military, said there are a number of issues related to the re-opening of an office here that need to be discussed and he hopes to get more information from the minister at their meeting.

After taking over as veterans’ affairs minister earlier this month, Hehr was asked specifically about re-opening the nine closed offices—a promise reiterated by now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as Liberal leader on the campaign trail in September.

Hehr said his party made a commitment to go back and look at the situation and reopen “many” of the offices by looking at the areas that need them the most.

He would not say how many would reopen, where they would be or when they would reopen.

The closure of the offices was met with frustration by veterans, who already had a strained relationship with the Conservative government at the time because of what they felt was a lack of support from Ottawa.

Rallies were held in Kelowna to protest the closure here, a move that was supported by then-Conservative MP Ron Cannan.