That, in the opinion of the House, the government should immediately take the following steps to assist members and veterans of the Canadian Forces and their families:
1. amend Section 31 (1) of the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act so that second spouses of CF members and veterans have access to pension rights upon the death of the Canadian Forces member or veteran;
2. extend the Veterans Independence Program (VIP) to all widows of all veterans, regardless of the time of death of the veteran and regardless of whether the veteran was in receipt of VIP services prior to his or her death;
3. increase the Survivor’s Pension Amount upon death of Canadian Forces retiree to 66% from the current amount of 50%;
4. eliminate the unfair reduction of Service Income Security Insurance Plan (SISIP) long term disability benefits from medically released members of the Canadian Forces; and
5. eliminate the deduction from annuity for retired and disabled CF members.
Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour and a pleasure to rise today in the House of Commons on behalf of our leader and our party from coast to coast to coast to have a full day of respectful discussion in this House. There may be some disagreement, but we will have a respectful discussion on veterans and their families. It has been a long time coming for the House to dedicate a whole day to the discussion of those brave men and women who served our country with great distinction, courage and pride over the many years that we have been a country.
I first want to give a brief background on why this is so important to me and to my colleagues within this party and, I am sure, to many colleagues in the House of Commons.
As you know, Mr. Speaker, I was born in Holland. My parents and oldest brother were liberated by the Canadian military and its allies, the Americans, the British and the Poles, during the liberation of the Netherlands in 1944-45 in World War II.
Shortly after that, my dad was liberated from a work detail camp and came across a Canadian soldier. That Canadian soldier could have been from anywhere in the country. My dad asked him, in his best English, “Why did you come over and help us? Why did Canada do so much to help us?” The young Canadian soldier said, with typical Canadian modesty, “Sir, we had a job to do”. And he walked on.
In 1956, 11 years later, the Dutch government made the decision for the closure of the coal mines where my father had been working in the south of Holland in the province of Limburg over a four to five year period. The only answer in those days for thousands of people and their families was out-migration or, as we say in Dutch, “off you go”, not to another part of the country but to another part of the world.
The choices we had were Rhodesia, New Zealand, Australia, the United States, and Canada. As my father said to my mother, remembering the military fellow from Canada he met many years before, if Canada has a military like that, imagine what kind of country they have.
So in 1956, at the age of nine months, I, with five brothers and sisters and my mum and dad, came through Pier 21 in Halifax on September 18, 1956. We immediately took a train and settled in the area near Vancouver, British Columbia.
My father taught me right from the get-go about the sacrifices made by Canadians and their allies and by their families who stayed home. It is indeed an honour on behalf of my late father and my mother, who is still with us, and my brothers and sisters and all citizens of the world who were liberated by the Canadians to bring this motion so effectively forward today in the House of Commons.
I encourage all members of Parliament to support the initiatives of this motion. If they have disagreements of any kind on the technicalities, that is fine. Let us bring it to a committee where we can discuss it further so we can improve the lives of veterans and their families.
Of course, the number one item that we wish to talk about briefly is what we call “the clause of marriage past 60”. When we have the privilege of being married to someone for many years, that is a wonderful thing, but sometimes a spouse passes away or the marriage ends in divorce or whatever. If those individuals remarry at 58 or 59, when they pass on later their second spouse is entitled to their pension benefits, but if they remarry at age 60 or beyond, they and their children are not entitled to any benefits. That has to change.
Changing this is something that is supported unanimously by the Royal Canadian Legion, the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada Association and the National Council of Veterans Associations. I would like to give a tip of the hat to Jack Frost of the Royal Canadian Legion, Mr. Lorne McCartney of the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans Association, and Cliff Chadderton, a decorated war hero of World War II and a tireless fighter on behalf of all veterans and their families.
The other item is one that should seem very familiar to my Conservative colleagues because their leader, the Prime Minister, actually made this promise. It is the extension of VIP services for all widows and widowers of veterans, regardless of the time of a veteran's death.
Mr. Speaker, I do not know if you or the people who are listening have had a chance to see the Clint Eastwood movie called Flags of our Fathers. There is a very poignant scene at the beginning of the movie when an elderly war veteran is shaking in his bed, having a nightmare, and shouting out, “Where's Iggy, where's Iggy?” And here I do not mean the current candidate for the Liberal leadership. He is shouting for his friend, who was left on the beaches of Iwo Jima.
The person comforting that veteran is his wife who is elderly. She looks after him in the home and is the primary caregiver of this individual. When the veteran passes on we should not abandon or forget about the caregiver and the spouse who looked after our dedicated heroes.
The extension to the VIP allows individuals to stay in their homes even longer, and that is caring for someone with respect and dignity. In the end, if we want to talk about fiscal arguments, it actually saves the government money. The least we can do is provide housekeeping and groundskeeping services for all veterans and their widows, regardless of the time of death of the individual.
We would also like to talk about the elimination of the SISIP LTD services, the service income security insurance plan, long term disability. When veterans receive this, there is actually a deduction from another form of income. We do not believe that disability payments for our veterans should be taxable. Those should be given to veterans for the service they have done for our country.
The other day the defence ombudsman came out with a report that was very damaging to the government. It basically said that for the Medak Pocket and those who served in Kuwait, veterans' medical records were missing, changed or not there at all. When military personnel serve their country, in sound spirit and body, they need to know that if they return with an injury, either physical or mental, that the government, and especially this Parliament, will look after their needs and the needs of their families. That is extremely important.
What I would like to focus on the most in terms of my discussion is the elimination of the deduction from annuity for retired and disabled veterans. In 1966, when the Canada pension plan was introduced, the pension programs of all federal and provincial public servants, with the exception of members of Parliament and Senators, were blended. They paid a portion of CPP and a portion of superannuation and when they reached the age of 65 they received their superannuation of, for argument's sake, $2,500 a month from the Canadian Forces. They then would receive their Canada pension plan at age 65. However, the amount they received from CPP, which, for argument's sake, we will say was $700, was deducted from their superannuation. We believe that needs to change.
The arguments we get from governments, the previous one and the current one, is that they never paid enough into their programs to qualify for both. That is simply not correct. The reality is that these veterans in 1966 and 1967 never had an opportunity to even debate this. This was done without consultation with them. What cost do we put into people who serve our country with courage and distinction?
Veterans pay into the superannuation, the Canada pension plan, and the EI program and yet at age 65 they end up collecting just one. We are saying that if at age 65 they can collect their superannuation and a reduced CPP, because everyone can collect CPP at age 60, they already lose one-third of their CPP benefits. Therefore, if their superannuation pension is, for argument's sake, $2,500 a month and their Canada pension is $500 a month, they get to collect them both. There is no deduction. The deduction happens at age 65 which is when they need the money the most. These are elderly men and women. They do not need to be clawed back as we say or the official term is a benefit reduction.
I personally want to thank the following three individuals from my riding who came to me a year and a half ago on this very same issue: Mr. John Labelle, Mr. Roger Boutin and Mr. Mel Pittman, three ex-servicemen who served their country with distinction. They asked me if there was anything that could be done to raise this issue in the House of Commons, such as introducing a private member's bill or something to address this issue. We have done that in the form of Bill C-221. Their website has over 82,000 individual names of ex-servicemen and current service personnel, who are serving or have served, who support the initiative.
We would also like to see this to eventually include all RCMP officers who not only serve our country mostly at home but also overseas sometimes. They serve with great pride and distinction and we should not ignore the services of our RCMP officers as well.
The Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada Association and the Royal Canadian Legion have supported this endorsement. We are looking at hundreds of thousands of individuals across the country who want this issue revisited. They want it addressed and they would like it done now.
On a more personal note, a good friend of mine, Mr. Reid Myers of Fall River, Nova Scotia, was a liberator of the Netherlands. He is now 83 or 84 years old and his wonderful, beautiful wife, Marion, is his prime caregiver. I would like everyone in the House to look at veterans, or maybe someone in their own family, in terms of their sunset years, as we call them, their golden years, look at them straight in the face and say that we cannot do any of these things.
We should ask these veterans about their younger days when they joined the services and went overseas to fight for peace, freedom and democracy. Did they question how much it cost? Did they question the technicalities of legislation in the House of Commons? No, they did not. At that time they went overseas for King and country. They knew they had a job to do and they did it voluntarily. These veterans are our greatest heroes and Canada's greatest volunteers.
As Rick Mercer once said, if we are going to take the very best of Canada and move them into the worst parts of the world in war and conflict, we might as well give them the gold card. It is the least that they deserve.
As well, when they come back and they suffer through various disabilities, mental challenges or old age, we should be looking after them. That is the time to ensure that all services and all support programs adequately meet their needs, and there should not be any hesitation on that. We have the fiscal capacity to do it and it is time to restore economic dignity to the men and women of our services and the men and women who look after our brave veterans. We believe that is the minimum we should do.
We will all soon be gathered at cenotaphs and monuments around the country and, in many cases, around the world. At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month we will be bowing our heads in respect, honour and dignity of those who have passed on. Over 117,000 Canadian men and women, who are buried in over 70 countries around the world, have paid the ultimate sacrifice. We call that day Remembrance Day.
I remind the House of the parents of Nathan Smith, of Braun Woodfield and of Paul Davis. Those are just 3 of the recent 42 Canadian service personnel who were killed in Afghanistan. For their parents, their brothers and sisters, their other relatives and their friends and family, Remembrance Day is every day for them. They live with that every day and the least we can do in the House of Commons for those young men and women who gave us the greatest gift of all, an unfinished life, is to give them the respect and dignity they deserve for their ultimate sacrifice. Their sacrifice allowed us, you and I, Mr. Speaker, and my colleagues in the House of Commons, to come here in a democratic way and discuss our differences in a parliamentary fashion .
Our freedoms do not come cheap. These brave young men and women know that. They have the ultimate liability when they sign on the dotted line. We, as members of Parliament, should have the ultimate responsibility and not just to the time when they wear the uniform. Our responsibility carries on all the way through their natural lives, including that of their families.
I will give the previous government and the current government credit, along with other members of Parliament from all parties who have passed along the new veterans charter that was enacted in April of this year. The charter will go a long way in addressing some of the issues that some veterans have, along with their families.
However, as in all legislation, it does not go far enough. The five points that my party has addressed today would go a long way in addressing many of the issues that have been brought to the attention of all members in the House of Commons. I do not believe there is one member of Parliament in the House who has not had a veteran, a current armed forces personnel, the spouse of a veteran or the children of a veteran come to them with an issue regarding the military or veterans affairs.
Everyone in the House supports the troops. What the motion asks is that we support them even longer, right to the end of their natural lives, including that of their spouses. If we do this, we will be truly saying on Remembrance Day that we honour them and we respect them. We know for sure that this House can work in a cooperative fashion in doing something that we should all agree with without hesitation.
The fact is that these are our bravest Canadians. They are the ones who lost their lives so we could live in peace, freedom and democracy. Just maybe there is a little kid somewhere in another country who looks up at a Canadian soldier and says the same thing that my father said in 1944, “if they have a military like that, imagine what kind of country they come from”.
This is the type of image that our Canadian military men and women have around the world. This is the image of our veterans when we see them standing in the cold at the cenotaphs and memorials on November 11 from coast to coast to coast or when we see them in the hospitals if they have become shut-ins and cannot make it out.
I know many veterans who stay at home, put their medals on and then watch the ceremonies that take place here in Ottawa on TV. We all know that the men and women of the military and the veterans wear their medals with pride and distinction. They wear their medals because of service to their country but, most important, they wear them because of their friends and comrades who never had the chance to wear theirs.
When we see these veterans and the current armed forces personnel and their families, we should shake their hands, give them a hug and say thanks or merci beaucoup for the services they have provided.
We know all too well what happened to many veterans when they returned from the wars. We know exactly what happened with our aboriginal veterans. Many of them were not treated with the greatest of respect. We know that these things are slowly changing but we are hoping this particular resolution will move things even faster with the cooperation of members of the House of Commons.
I may be a little emotional on this but it is because everything I have, everything my parents were able to do and everything my brothers and sisters have has been because we moved to Canada. Canada gave us everything. God has blessed my mom and dad and my family and they have blessed this country. Canada has been blessed with Canadian soldiers, Canadian airmen, Canadian merchant mariners and Canadian navy personnel and their families who gave us and still give us the greatest gift of all. The least we can do in this House of Commons is to honour them and look after them in their final years. We need to ensure that when they become injured in any capacity that Canada will look after them. We must not argue about technicalities, legislative concerns or whatever. This is the minimum we can do.
I know some members in this House have served in our services and for that I respect and honour them. I know everyone in this House of Commons will stand proud with our veterans on Remembrance Day but we must remember that for them Remembrance Day is every day.
The NDP is proud of the five points that we have filed in our motion today on behalf of all veterans and service personnel. We believe it is fair, respectful and balanced. As we say in various cenotaphs throughout the country on November 11, at the going down of the sun we will remember them.