Seniors get a star

Originally published in the Toronto Sun on January 6th, 2010. To go to the Toronto Sun website please click here

Julian Fantino’s prickly past not an issue in new cabinet job

Julian Fantino may just be the best thing ever to happen for seniors in this country. Or not.

Let me explain. Over the last two decades, it’s been a rare thing to have an advocate for the country’s seniors sitting at the cabinet table.

Until Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed Sen. Marjory LeBreton as secretary of state for seniors in early 2007, Canada’s seniors had not had such an advocate since Brian Mulroney had Monique Vezina take over that job in his final cabinet shuffle in 1993.

Fantino, on the other hand, arrives in the seniors portfolio with a champion’s halo about him, having won a byelection in the Ontario riding of Vaughan last fall that had been held for more than 20 years by Liberals.

But more than just that, Fantino was a “star candidate,” with a long and sometimes colourful career in policing.

As the top cop of the Ontario Provincial Police, Fantino was accused of being biased in favour of aboriginal groups in a land dispute centred around Caledonia, Ont. A petition was circulated at one point calling for a public inquiry into his handling of the dispute. One of those who signed that petition? None other than Diane Finley, who, as minister of human resources and skills development, is now Fantino’s ministerial boss.

Earlier in his career, while he was a top detective in Toronto, he was accused by another cop of ordering wiretaps on a friend of Susan Eng, who was then the chair of the Toronto Police Services Board. Fantino denied such an order was ever given and the allegation was never proven.

Fantino the detective left the Toronto force to become chief of police in London, Ont. but when the job of chief opened up in Toronto, Fantino applied — to the police services board Eng was still leading.

In the end, Eng’s board chose David Boothby, but one board member, Norm Gardner, tried to finger Eng as the one who blocked Fantino.

Fantino would eventually succeed Boothby as Toronto’s top cop.

And now, lo and behold, Eng is the executive director of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons or CARP, the very group whose support will be crucial to Fantino’s new job as minister of state for seniors.

Eng, though, thinks Fantino’s appointment will be great for the 55-and-over set she represents.

While Fantino’s political opponents think he’ll be a loose cannon that will get the Conservatives in trouble, Eng recognizes the political value of having a Harper favourite like Fantino on the file.

Those who know Fantino say he will want to show he can get things done with the file he’s given.

For seniors, this could shape up to be good news. Seniors were miffed at Harper when he flip-flopped on the issue of taxing income trusts. They felt better when the Harper government brought in pension-splitting.