Mr. Chair, between the outbreak of war in September 1939 and the allied victory in Europe on May 8, 1945, more than one million Canadians served in our country's armed forces. More than 43,000 lives were lost. In the liberation of the Netherlands, which we also commemorate this week, 7,600 Canadians perished over the course of a brutal nine-month campaign. The scale of their generation's sacrifice can be difficult to comprehend, for this was a time when Canada's population was only 12 million—think about that—yet they shouldered their burden and they carried it without complaint until the job was done and they could come home and resume their lives, those who were able to come home.
In so doing they laid the foundation not only for seven decades of postwar peace and prosperity but also for a new generation of immigrants from across the European continent and, in time, from around the world, who built new lives in Canada, and who built Canada itself.
For them, our country represented peace and a refuge from crisis and turmoil. Then, as now, Canada held the promise of a better, more peaceful and more prosperous future. What better and more enduring example is there of Canada's importance in the world?
The tens of thousands of patriotic men and women who enlisted to serve their country during the darkest days of war in the early 1940s could not have known that, in the end, the allies would be victorious.
They could not have known that on a sunny day in May long years later, Canadian soldiers would be greeted as heroes by throngs of overjoyed men, women and children in the streets of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the Hague. They knew only that they had a moral obligation to serve, one shared by the six brave Canadians who tragically lost their lives a week ago while serving in Operation Reassurance.
Mr. Chair, as we mark the liberation of the Netherlands and Victory in Europe Day, we honour all these great Canadians. We honour their toughness, their moral fibre and their resolve, which changed the course of history. We honour their sacrifice.
For the Canadians who went to the front lines and served in the Second World War not only defeated the forces of fascism, authoritarianism and oppression. They built a better world. They built transatlantic alliances that protect us to this day and formed bonds that enhance our prosperity.
When Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands addressed this House in 2018, he spoke of the enduring friendship between our two countries, a friendship forged during the war through the extraordinary actions of ordinary Canadians. Our soldiers liberated the cities from Nazi occupation and, to this day, the children who hailed them in the streets remember them still. Seventy-five years later, they continue to tend to the graves of our fallen soldiers. Their children and grandchildren lay flowers at the feet of monuments dedicated to the memory of our Canadian heroes.
It has been 75 years since our parents, our grandparents and our great-grandparents, the greatest generation, stepped up to do their part to build a more prosperous, secure and free world. As our Minister of Veterans Affairs put it, many sacrificed their future to liberate people who had suffered for years under brutal occupation. They left behind family, friends, children, parents and communities, people who loved them. My grandfather, Wilbur Freeland, and his two brothers, Carleton and Warren, were among those volunteers. Carleton and Wilbur came home. Warren did not.
Today, as our country faces a new battle against a pandemic that knows no borders, I cannot think of a better example to follow, and I cannot think of a better reason to serve.
For the last surviving members of the greatest generation, our elders are now the generation most in need of our protection from the COVID-19 pandemic. They look to us to do what is right, responsible and just, however hard that might be. They look to us to forgo, for now, the comforts and pleasures of gatherings and ordinary social interaction. They look to us to follow the advice of public health professionals to wash our hands, to avoid non-essential travel and to stay home as much as possible for as long as necessary.
I actually think it is very simple. We owe it to the generation of Canadians who won that great victory in Europe, and who built the peace that followed, to do whatever is in our power to keep them safe. We owe it to generations to come, our own children and grandchildren, to bequeath to them a country that is more prosperous, more free and more secure than the one we ourselves inherited.
They did their part. Now we must do ours.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.