Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my friend, the member for Yorkton—Melville.
This is an important debate today. First and foremost, let us honour our veterans, those who have gone out there and served, who fought, and made sure we are safe here at home. They have made major sacrifices on behalf of themselves and their families. It is important that not only do we honour and respect them but that we share the covenant and sacred obligation to support them.
As Conservatives we believe in that, to the letter, unlike the government. The reason we are having this debate today is because of some very insensitive comments made by the Prime Minister in a town hall just recently. However, this started before the Prime Minister was in Edmonton, and said there was no more to give.
This started when the Prime Minister broke his promise that he would no longer force veterans to fight their own government for the support and compensation that they have earned.
When we look at the promise that was made back on August 24, 2015, which is in the motion that we are debating here today, and look at what the government did, not only by taking the Equitas group of veterans back to court, we have to look at the arguments it made.
In paragraph 99 of the submission, the government says to the defendants, meaning Equitas, the veterans, that there is no written, defined, or articulated social covenant or social contract between members of the Canadian Armed Forces, the government, and people of Canada, which has those attributes.
Despite the rhetoric that has been coming from the Liberals, their argument has been that there is no social contract or social covenant. They actually say it again, that at no time in Canada's history has any alleged social contract or social covenant had the attributes pleaded by the plaintiffs, the veterans, been given effect in any statute, regulation, or as a constitutional principle, written or unwritten.
Again, the Liberals are arguing that no principles exist, there is no certainty, there is no clarity, and that the Government of Canada has no obligation to our veterans. That is really disappointing.
I have met with some people of the Equitas lawsuit, including Aaron Bedard who does Veteran Guerrilla Radio on Facebook. These are veterans who have been fighting the government. These are veterans we had a handshake agreement with under the former minister of veterans affairs, the member of Parliament for Durham, our friend and colleague.
We were moving forward as a government to fix that. The Prime Minister said quite clearly in the election campaign that veterans would not have to fight the government in court, but then Liberals turned around and betrayed veterans who went out and campaigned for them, working on their behalf. The Liberals betrayed them by not honouring that promise.
It was a broken Liberal promise, and veterans are back in court.
The next broken promise was when the Liberals said that veterans were going to have a lifetime pension. The member for Winnipeg North was just saying that Liberals gave them a lifetime pension. He is not listening to what veterans are actually saying, because veterans feel betrayed by the Liberal program that was announced.
Don Sorochan, lead counsel for the Equitas Society, said:
The position taken by the government was astonishing. For them to stand up and say we don't have any special obligation to veterans was completely contrary to everything they had been saying in Parliament, on the election campaign.
Mark Campbell, who is part of the Equitas group, said:
The new pension for life is nothing more than a shell game.
Sean Bruyea, who is a veteran and veterans advocate, said on CBC:
Instead, the government merely resurrected ghosts of Christmases past with a hodgepodge of benefits that amount to recycled, remodeled, and repackaged programs that already exist.
There is no new money here, and any new money that the Liberals are talking about is actually down the road, past 2019, past the next federal election. There is actually no cash in the bank for veterans today. That is why veterans were on the front lawn protesting the government for betraying them and breaking the promise about not having to take them back to court, and betraying them and breaking the promise about having a true pension for life.
We just heard the member for Winnipeg North, and we hear the Minister of Veterans Affairs stand up in question period. The Minister of Veterans Affairs gets up here with his bravado, chest-thumping, and Liberal arrogance. I can tell members that veterans are insulted when he performs that way. It is not showing respect for our veterans. It is not honouring their service, and they feel they have been used as political pawns, as many members on the other side have with veterans when they stood behind the Prime Minister, and made promises for lifetime pensions, and when they made promises to actually keep veterans out of court. This is just completely disrespectful.
We can look at what the Prime Minister actually said in Edmonton when he was asked by a veteran, an amputee, why we were still fighting against certain veterans groups in court. The Prime Minister responded, “Because they're asking for more than we are able to give.” Of course, there were boos and shouts. Even the Royal Canadian Legion, which usually does not get involved in political statements, said, “These sorts of words are extremely insensitive.” Again, it is another betrayal that we have a Prime Minister who says that there is no money, and there is no sacred obligation in the court case.
However, there was an opportunity just last night when my colleague, the member for Barrie—Innisfil, came forward with Bill C-378, which would restore fairness principles and the sacred obligation, and to actually put that into statute law. Every single Liberal stood and voted against the recognition of the sacred obligation that the government has to our veterans. I am disgusted by that.
The Prime Minister says that it is more than we can give. I can tell members that the Liberals had no problem finding $2.6 billion to help developing countries fight climate change. That money could have been used here to actually enhance spending for veterans. Just earlier this week, we learned that the Liberal government announced $59.5 million to Burkina Faso for education efforts there. Why are we not spending that on our veterans? The Prime Minister says that it is more than we are able to give, I guess, to our veterans.
Our veterans are out protesting on the front lawn right next to a $8.1 million temporary skating rink. That could have been used to support our veterans. There is the $10.5 million payout to Omar Khadr, a convicted terrorist who was prepared to kill our veterans who were serving in Afghanistan. Let us not forget the reintegration of returning ISIS terrorists to Canada. There are federal dollars for that, and the $500 million to the Chinese-Asia infrastructure bank.
This is not the only time the Liberals have taken our veterans to court. We just learned last week that they are also taking the Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans who have faced sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, while they served in the Canadian Armed Forces, to court from a class action lawsuit. In its argument, the Government of Canada said that it does not “owe a private law duty of care to individual members within the Canadian Armed Forces to provide a safe and harassment-free work environment, or to create policies to prevent sexual harassment or sexual assault.”
The Prime Minister said he did not know about it, but that just shows he is incompetent. This actually undermines the Chief of the Defence Staff General Vance's Operation Honour where he wants to encourage victims of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct to come forward and report. Meanwhile, we have the government actually taking those veterans back to court with the class action lawsuit against the government.
It is amazing that all the litigation that the Government of Canada undertakes actually goes through a cabinet committee on litigation management, which is chaired by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, and actually five out of seven members are women. The vice-chair is the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, who used to be the minister of status of women, and the Attorney General sits on that special cabinet committee on litigation management. Therefore, the Liberals knew about it, and let it go forward, which points out the hypocrisy they have. If it is not hypocritical, then they are incompetent for allowing this to go forward.
To summarize, when it comes down to restoring lifetime pensions as promised by the Prime Minister, he broke that promise. When it comes down to veterans being forced to take their government to court, the Prime Minister broke that promise. When it comes to making life easier for veterans, he broke that promise.
It is time for the Liberals to honour those election promises, and apologize for the way they are treating our veterans in Canada.