Madam Speaker, it is a privilege for me to stand today and speak to this particular bill, Bill C-311, An Act to amend the Holidays Act, Remembrance Day.
It has been a real honour for me to serve on the Veterans Affairs committee and serve as deputy critic for Veterans Affairs, especially as a first-time member of Parliament, and to be a part of standing up for our veterans and making sure their needs are understood and met by this House, and understood by the Canadian population as a whole. Of course, this is basically a symbolic gesture, but it is important to do what we can to make sure that Remembrance Day is recognized and continues to be recognized throughout the years forward, even though so many of the veterans who were part of World War I and World War II are at an age that makes it very difficult for them to be able to attend and be part of the ceremonies. In Yorkton this year, it was just so overwhelming for me to see the veterans make the huge effort that it takes to be there and be part of that ceremony, and to stand even though it is so difficult to stand and make sure that this is not forgotten. Regardless of the approach that we take, the important thing is that we do remember.
The fact that it is at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month is very fitting. From our veterans and being part of different ceremonies, we start to realize how important these special traditions are to our veterans and to our armed forces as well. I recently attended the 64th field battery 10th field artillery regiment, Saint Barbara celebration in my home city of Yorkton with our reservists there. It was something to listen and to learn about why they take each of the steps they do during that celebration. It is all part of building up that community and making sure we value each other as reservists. That is one example where I say we need to make sure that, whatever approach we take as a legislature in our communities, the total focus is on valuing our veterans and keeping that in front of other generations as they come forward.
My grandson was born on November 11. It is a very special day to him, and he always says, “Grandma, the first half of the day is very sad”, and he talks about Remembrance Day and they always go to and are part of the services. He says, “And then the second half of the day is very happy”. I thought that was something that he is being taught the value of the individuals who stood up for Canada to keep it as the free country that it is today, and it is very much a part of his psyche. I thought that was very special.
I also had the opportunity as a new member of Parliament to attend the Battle of the Atlantic gala, and attend the ceremonies on Parliament Hill. Again, members of the regiments, the cadets, the reserves, and the navy were all there on time ready to start this event. It was so bitter cold outside. I was sitting out on the lawn waiting for this to start, and I was beyond cold. I think I was as cold as I have ever been in my life, and thinking, “I do not think I am going to make it”. Then I looked across the grounds, and there were 80- and 90-something year-old veterans sitting there waiting for the event to happen. It was pouring rain, but they were sitting there with their jackets on. They were not putting on their caps or carrying their umbrellas until the very last moment. They were choosing to sit there and persevere through the cold. When I put that together with the battle gala and saw the pictures, I saw that these elderly men were the same men who were so young on those ships getting the supplies across the Atlantic. Seeing the pictures of them caked in ice is what got me through the event, and just made me so proud in my heart to be a part of that particular celebration.
There are army cadet reviews, and opportunities when we go home to our riding to be a part of those celebrations as well.
It is really important that we do whatever we can to make sure we are recognizing everything our veterans have done for us. We have to make sure that within our school systems, they are learning about the different battles and the amazing things Canadians have done.
I just learned that our soldiers had to take on the Battle of Vimy Ridge after France had lost 200,000 men on that hill and Britain had lost 100,000. Our troops came together for the first time as Canadians from across the country, put their heads together, and devised what they would do. They ended up laying out the whole battlefield behind them to practice what was ahead of them. How did they do this? Our young aboriginal soldiers went out in the dead of night and basically mapped out the whole area. We were able to go forward and win that battle, starting at five in the morning and ending at noon.
We have so much to be proud of as Canadians because of our veterans and armed forces. I know that in Afghanistan, the question was asked of the Taliban, “Do you fear western forces?” They said, “No, except the Canadians”. That says so much about our armed forces.
That being said, it is very important that we do these things to celebrate, commemorate, and remember. We fall short if we do not do everything we can as legislators in this House and on the committee, which I am on, to make sure that we are truly caring for our armed forces when they transition to the veteran's life. We need to do whatever we can to make sure that the transition is as painless as possible and that they are recognized for what they have done. They sacrifice their families, their own choices, and their own decision-making to become part of the armed forces. They stand side by side and serve for us, then come back to the very difficult circumstance of transitioning to civilian life.
It is a pleasure to serve on that committee. There are many things we are working on with our report, and I am certainly hopeful that the government will do everything it can to look at the recommendations from us, and from the two ombudsmen, to make sure that we are doing everything we can to close that seam and deal with circumstances that have been left hanging for a very long time.
One of those is the issue of mefloquine and how it impacted our soldiers in Somalia, Rwanda, Afghanistan, and other battlefields. There are a number of heartbreaking stories coming from veterans who have lived with the results of this and are not being recognized for having suffered from what this actually is. It is not just PTSD. It is a brain injury as well. Our government needs to recognize that this particular anti-malaria drug is not being used by the rest of the world.
We are falling behind in making some of the decisions that say to our veterans that they are important to us and that we will do whatever it takes to ensure that they are cared for in the way they should be.
We talk about caring about our veterans and about how much we want to recognize them but then do not do what needs to be done. This does not mean huge changes. It means simply putting things in place to ensure that veterans do not end up more ill after coming home because of the stress of getting settled in their new civilian lives.
One of the things we heard over and over again was about family life and how difficult it is for the other parent and the children to deal with the challenges of being an armed forces family and a veteran's family. We need to be there to support them in taking care of the soldier who has come home.
We need to tell our veterans that they really matter to us and that they matter to us every day of the year, from the moment they sign up with our forces right up to when they retire or have to quit because of an injury. We need to put real meat on these things. I am not making light of that at all. We need to commemorate what they have done for us.
There is another issue we are all facing right now, which is medical marijuana. Veterans are concerned about the fact that the government is considering legalizing marijuana for recreational use. They are concerned about how this would dumb down the importance of it as a medical prescription. I regularly hear stories about how this is replacing pharmaceuticals for so many veterans, with far fewer side effects, and about improvements in dealing with their pain so they can get on with their lives. It is not costing us anywhere near what it costs to have them on pharmaceuticals.
Those are just some issues that come to mind when I think about commemorating our veterans. We certainly want to do this. I am so proud to have a role as deputy critic, to be involved in specific instances in my riding, and to be part of making decisions that are good for them.