House of Commons Hansard #89 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was literacy.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, of course, I am in touch with veterans in my riding. All veterans are looking for services to be simplified. Cutting red tape is very important.

Many veterans are confused with some of the paperwork they have to fill out. Therefore, they have asked that the red tape be cut to simplify the procedures so that they can access their benefits faster. They do not want to spend a lot of time on bureaucracy. Enhancement of these services is required.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to support the motion before the House this afternoon. I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Gatineau.

I would like to begin my comments today on the motion by thanking the member of Parliament for Sackville—Eastern Shore for his sponsorship of this motion and. more than that, for being an unwavering voice and a principled champion of our soldiers, our veterans and, of equal if not greater importance, their families. He already knows this but let me assure him and the House and those listening today that he is not a lone voice. Many of us on this side of the House will be speaking in support of the motion and in support of giving respect to our veterans and their families.

The motion and its call for an exemption of the Department of Veterans Affairs from cuts in the upcoming budget is nothing other than a call on the House to fulfill its part of a bargain made with this country's soldiers, veterans and their families.

The bargain I speak of is not an explicit one. It does not take the form of a legal contract. More important, the terms of the bargain were never even formulated as demands by our soldiers, our veterans and their families. Their part of the bargain was an offer, not a set of demands, to serve this country recognizing and fully cognizant of the fact that such an offer may ultimately cost them their lives.

To be clear, that is not a bargain just between our country and our soldiers. The family of the soldier, parents, spouse and children are all part of this bargain. The soldier's fate is his or her fate. The soldier's bargain, for better or worse, is his or her bargain.

I was reminded of this early in my tenure as a member of Parliament. I met with the president of a local community service organization in Beaches--East York to talk about the organization, what it does and the services it provides to our community. After that discussion, and recognizing that I was deputy critic of military procurement, he seemed to really want to talk to me about his family and his experience growing up. He lost his father in action in the second world war and his mother faced difficulties raising a family without the father around. He wanted to impress on me his desire that I bring to the House a respect for veterans. He wanted me to be an advocate for veterans to ensure that the spouses and families, the widows and widowers and families of veterans are respected and provided with the services and benefits they so deserve.

This issue of the family came home to me again when I spent four days aboard a frigate through the parliamentary program just this last summer. I had a lot of time to talk to the service members of the Royal Canadian Navy while onboard. The conversation that kept coming up was a personal one about their families. They talked about the difficulties of being a member of the forces and keeping a family together, keeping in touch with their children, keeping their relationships alive.

So, when we provide the uniform and we assume the authority to demand of our soldiers that they meet their part of the bargain and put themselves at risk on demand in the service of our country, we have sealed the bargain. It is up to us to now live up to our part of it.

A veteran is defined on the Canadian Veterans Advocacy web page as someone, whether on active duty, retired or reserve, who at one point in his or her life signed a blank cheque made payable to the people of Canada for an amount up to and including his or her life.

But it is not reasonable, fair or right to accept that offer and not also assume a responsibility on ourselves to firstly, ensure that we never take such an offer lightly or for granted by placing our soldiers in harm's way for anything other than the most critically necessary of circumstances.

Nor is it reasonable, fair or right to accept that offer without making our own promise in return to ensure that our soldiers will forever be treated with respect and will never want for care, and more important, to ensure that their families will forever be treated with respect and never want for care.

In this vein, the Royal Canadian Legion Dominion President, Patricia Varga, wrote a letter to the Prime Minister last fall, appealing for what we are appealing for today by way of this motion. In that letter she talked about our moral debt to our veterans and urged the Prime Minister not to reduce our financial deficit on the backs of our veterans.

More recently, Brian Forbes, chairman of the War Amps executive committee, wrote a letter to the Minister of Veterans Affairs expressing concerns about the combination of cuts emanating from the department's strategic operational review and the anticipated budgetary reductions. According to Forbes:

Should VAC’s budgetary capacity be impacted at this time, it is our considered opinion that the Department will be unable to fund crucial legislative improvements in order to fulfill its ongoing commitment to the overall veterans’ community.

In this letter he cites serious outstanding concerns with respect to the traditional veterans programs and the unfinished work and unfulfilled promises with respect to the modern-day veteran. He concludes:

Given these significant concerns, this is clearly no time to be suggesting any diminishment in the budget or resources of VAC. In our judgement, the financial responsibility and debt of gratitude that all Canadians owe to Traditional and Modern Day Veterans should now, and in the future, remain a paramount consideration in any evaluation of a Federal Deficit Reduction Plan.

We have both the Royal Canadian Legion and War Amps Canada saying this, and we have heard already about the position of the Veterans Ombudsman. Moreover, today this party here in this House is calling on the government to follow the lead of other allied nations, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, and exempt Veterans Affairs Canada from cuts in the upcoming budget.

Virtually every day in this House in response to questions on the F-35s, members on the government side rise to accuse the NDP caucus of not supporting our veterans and our men and women in the services. Just today, the Associate Minister of National Defence responded to a question about the F-35s with this comment:

—the only emergency here is the NDP's desire not to help and support our military men and women.

My father was a veteran of the RCAF in the World War II, and although he never talked about his service voluntarily, his sons were incredibly proud of his service. When he died, we draped his coffin with the RCAF flag. We set upon it a picture of my father in his uniform. My father was just one of thousands of veterans who served this country and who should be so respected and honoured.

Today, the rubber hits the road for the government. It has failed already on several occasions but has another chance today to demonstrate in some really concrete and meaningful way that it is living up to its hyperbole, to walk the walk, as we say, and to ensure that the services and benefits of our veterans and their families are sheltered and held safe from the austerity the government is about to visit on this country.

In closing, I would like to add this. A constituent of mine this morning, an associate of the delegation that appeared before the veterans committee last week, requested the following, that if the government truly respects veterans and wants to honour veterans and their families, it remove the member for Calgary West from the veterans committee. He has shown incredible disrespect for the veterans community and undermined the work and effort of those who appeared before the committee to give voice to the serious concerns of the veterans community of this country.

With that, I am happy to answer any questions.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, over the course of the debate today we have heard government members, including the minister, imply that it is necessary to defeat the motion in order to tackle red tape, that if the motion passes, then veterans would be burdened by red tape.

In my respectful submission, this is nothing more than a red herring. It is entirely possible, in fact it is incumbent upon the government, to tackle red tape whether the motion passes or not.

I invite my hon. friend to offer comments on that observation.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, of course all of us here in this House have a responsibility to ensure that our government functions effectively and provides the services and benefits efficiently to the people who should be in receipt of those benefits.

To the extent there is red tape in Veterans Affairs, then of course I full support the removal of that red tape. To the extent that still exists in Veterans Affairs, I think it is quite an indictment of the government across the way. The Conservatives have had six years in government to remove red tape in that particular department and ensure that our veterans get the services and benefits they so deserve.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Mississauga—Brampton South
Ontario

Conservative

Eve Adams Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, our government has put forward a very reasoned and balanced amendment to this motion. It is an amendment that would allow us to put our veterans front and centre.

Our Conservative government has already invested some $2 billion with the enhancements to the new veterans charter. These are enhancements that both opposition parties voted against funding.

Perhaps the opposition member could tell us why he will not accept our amendment that would put our veterans front and centre, instead of constantly putting big union bosses front and centre?

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not quite sure where the union bosses come into this debate.

Quite clearly the government has had a number of years to put veterans front and centre, and it has failed to do so. We have a number of validators of that, including the Veterans Ombudsman who talks about the challenge of getting benefits and services to the veterans of this country.

I think it is funny that we talk about a Conservative government that came to change Ottawa, but Ottawa has changed them. All we hear from that side of the House is this bureaucratic language about cuts and red tape, and the removal of such somehow providing benefits for our veterans.

It strains credibility that Veterans Affairs Canada, 90% of whose funds go to funding services and benefits for veterans, could survive cuts and still provide those benefits.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, there is a gentleman watching us from Kingston, Ontario, a former RCMP intelligence officer who is livid at the government, though I will not say what else he said.

His phone number, by the way, is 613-352-8765, because he wants the minister to call him. He wants to tell the Conservatives exactly how RCMP veterans are treated in the Department of Veterans Affairs. He has asked me to request that the minister do so.

Can my hon. colleague tell us why we have to raise these issues over and over again to get the attention of the government to help these men and women who have so greatly served our country?

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for raising the issue of a citizen from Kingston, my home town. I would like to talk to him myself sometime.

As to the answer of why the government fails to respond to veterans and the opposition who supports the veterans, it is a matter of speculation but the government has had six years to do so and has failed miserably. That record of priorities speaks for itself.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, I forgot to mention the gentleman's name. It is Eric Rebiere, at 613-352-8765.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

That is really not a point of order. It is a matter of debate for the House.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Gatineau.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

March 5th, 2012 / 5:10 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, in case the minister did not hear it, the person's name is Mr. Ribiere and his phone number is 613-352-8765.

I would first like to thank my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore and the member for Québec, who is seconding his motion. I admire my colleague's passion and how, day after day, he makes sure that Parliament does not forget our veterans. This is vital because we deploy them to areas where the conflict is not always clear-cut. We put their lives in danger and, when they return, we can measure the strength of our society by the manner in which we treat them.

I listened to most of the speeches and I must admit that I do not understand why the Conservative government is not able to support a motion that simply says:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) honour the service of Canadian military and RCMP veterans and their families [there is nothing shocking about that] by committing to not cut Veterans Affairs Canada in the upcoming budget [and if I understood the minister correctly, the government does not intend to reduce the budgets]; and (b) provide programs and services to all military and RCMP veterans and their families in a timely and comprehensive manner.

This motion makes so much sense that it is almost shameful to say that, at 5:15 p.m. in this House, we are still debating this motion, and there has not been a massive show of support for all our veterans to let them know that we are in favour of this motion.

In Gatineau, in my riding, I have two legions and, every November, I am among those who watch, participate and try to remember. We know that, when we remember our history, we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. We know what all our veterans, all those who gave their lives and all those who returned with physical, emotional or other injuries, did during certain battles. We know what they did on behalf of our great country of Canada. Remembering once a year with our hands on our hearts so that we do not forget these people is one thing, but taking action is another. It is not very hard to go to the cenotaph with a wreath to remember some of the battles that took place and some of the courageous actions of our veterans. However, making their needs a priority when they return wounded and scarred is another thing. I believe that we are somehow failing miserably as a society when we have to debate the issue before us right now.

In November 2010, I was on Parliament Hill. A few years before that, I was hosting a small radio show in the national capital region and I decided to do something completely different because I had gone to Holland during a trip to Europe. The hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore will appreciate this.

In Holland, I saw the cross-marked graves of all of those Canadian soldiers. I had a chance to talk to some Dutch people who, even at the end of the 1990s, still remembered what our soldiers, our men and women in uniform, did to liberate Europe from the grip of the vilest demon the world has ever known: Hitler. I was so proud to be Canadian, so proud of our people's work and selfless sacrifice.

I returned to Canada. I returned to my radio show, and that November, I decided to do something that my program and station director did not want me to do: observe a minute of silence. For those who do not know, a minute of silence on the radio is quite costly. I was told not to do it. A radio show simply cannot suddenly go absolutely silent for 60 seconds. I am here to say that the minute of silence I observed during my little call-in radio show was the most moving moment of my entire on-air career, and perhaps of my life.

After that, we opened up the phone lines. The way people responded to our 60 seconds of silence was absolutely amazing. People called to say that we do not talk about veterans enough and we are not there for them when they come back with injuries and cannot find a job. When I listen to the people here talk about red tape and this, that and the other thing while people are starving, I am not very proud to be Canadian.

That being said, since that radio moment, the month of November has always been special to me. When I noticed local media reports about a newly formed organization called Canadian Veterans Advocacy and a proposed first Canadian veterans national day of protest in support of veterans' rights, I felt that something was not right. If Canada is taking proper care of its veterans, why is there a need for a national day of protest to raise awareness of normal, ordinary and necessary needs? Something is not right here.

I decided to take part in this day of protest to speak to people on the ground. I met two extraordinary individuals who really affected my outlook on this issue. The first was Mike Blais, a retiree who founded Canadian Veterans Advocacy and who, like my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore, works tirelessly day after day, trying to obtain what should be given automatically without a moment's hesitation. The other person was the former veterans' ombudsman, Pat Stogran. A few months earlier, in July 2010, he had given a press conference to denounce how poorly we treat our veterans. A few days after that, he lost his job, which was no surprise.

The person who replaced him said the same thing, which is terribly sad: veterans still do not have access to services. We have been asking questions of the members opposite all day today. They say they have invested money here and there, but none of them can look at the cameras with a straight face and say that our veterans have exactly the services they deserve. The rest is gibberish, to say the least. It is an affront to those who fought on the front lines, not knowing if they would come home. Considering that there is no greater sacrifice in life, if our society does not ensure that they can live decently and in dignity upon their return and that they can get services, it will have failed miserably.

We hear the government constantly saying that it is here for our soldiers and for the army and that the opposition does not support the army. However, the facts reveal the reality, and the reality is that the Conservative members across the floor are going to rise tomorrow around 6 p.m. and vote against this motion and the amendment, and I find that shameful. The Conservatives should be ashamed of themselves.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Lévis—Bellechasse
Québec

Conservative

Steven Blaney Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I have a few questions for the hon. member for Gatineau. Of course there is a motion, but members can truly make a difference by supporting bills and budget initiatives. She mentioned that when she spoke to veterans on November 11, Remembrance Day, she told them that it is important to take action in the House. How does she explain to them that the NDP refuses to take action for veterans in the House, even to support the creation of an ombudsman whose role is to protect the interests of veterans? Why was the NDP opposed to creating this ombudsman? Why did they vote against money for improving the lives of modern-day veterans, the most seriously injured veterans? How does she explain to them that she voted against opening five clinics to treat operational stress disorders? She was talking to us about mental health. As a member of Parliament, it is important to take action here.

Are veterans telling my colleague that it is important to take action in this House by supporting the Conservative government's initiatives? Are veterans also telling her that we need to cut red tape? Our veterans deserve first-class service and we have to cut red tape for them.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, these types of comments and questions are so typical of the Conservatives. They always include tons of things in the budget, but often, it is not enough. Needs are great, but the Conservatives constantly ask us to vote with them on half-measures. It is unacceptable. Why accept something that is a slap in the face and worth absolutely nothing? Even veterans are saying that this is not what they need. The minister can give all kinds of examples, but one fact remains. Why do we need to have veterans advocacy? Why do we need to have a veterans ombudsman who, year after year, writes reports that are not very flattering for the government?

I do not accept the examples the Conservatives are tossing around to satisfy their need to explain the inexplicable.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I truly appreciated the speech by the member for Gatineau. I would like her reaction to the second item, the amendment we moved to this motion. If the government truly wishes to cut costs, we suggest that the amounts cut be reallocated to benefits that will help those who need them. If they really want to reduce the amount of paperwork and cut red tape, we suggest that the resulting savings be redistributed. I would like hear her to comments on these suggestions.

Opposition Motion—Veterans Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Saint-Jean has posed an excellent question. I appreciate his work and I know how important this issue is for him. Now that my colleague for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour has moved an amendment to the motion by my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore, the Conservatives have no reason to object to the motion. If they are right about there being too much red tape, that is one thing. However, the savings should not be used to purchase F-35 jets—when we do not even know if they will be operational—or to give tax cuts to big business because the government coffers are empty. The savings must be used to meet the needs of our veterans. I will say it again, veterans are saying that they lack services.

It is a fantastic amendment that pulls the rug out from under the Conservatives. I am convinced that those watching today believe that the Conservatives will not dare to vote against the amended motion tomorrow.