Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to contribute to this debate and commend the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay for bringing this issue to the House.
This is a non-votable matter, illustrating yet once again how it may be preferable that all business in the House be votable. The reason that all House business should be votable is that many important legislative initiatives come from individual members rather than from the government of the day.
We know from recent media commentary on House business that well thought out legislative initiatives may be procedurally scuttled by the government of the day based simply on the fact that it is the private member rather than the government or its ministers who is credited.
If the efforts of individual members are non-votable, what transpires in the House is more of a discussion than a debate with the advantage that there is no need for position entrenchment. We are able despite our differences in political outlook to arrive at a consensus as to a direction that is generally positive and of benefit to Canadians. We may also air our differences without the rancour and partisanship that often accompany political posturing.
In the end the Hansard record acts as a permanent reference to a moment in Canadian history when a particular issue of merit was debated by members. It is up to us to make Canadians aware of the importance of what goes on in this place. Much is discussed that becomes fertile ground for historians 20 and 50 years hence but goes largely unnoticed by the contemporary Canadian populace.
The issues before us today go to the heart of respect for our history, the need to acknowledge service to Canada and the need to counter historical revisionism which denies that war is an imperative to historical progress. I wish we had a vote on today's issue although I would have to oppose it.
Why should the bill introduced by the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay be votable? It is because it raises the issue of ceremonial recognition of veteran and civilian contributions to Canada's war efforts. I would argue that any such recognition should not be generally given but rather limited to those who actually served in war.
In terms of recent developments in the House concerning our merchant navy, even those who served in war had to wait some 50 years before being accorded ceremonial recognition simply because they were not enlisted members of Canada's armed forces during World War II.
It may be said that during the two world wars some Canadians who contributed to Canada's war effort were not ceremonially recognized. In terms of subsequent conflicts it may be said that many Canadians have contributed to our peacekeeping efforts and that not all are ceremonially recognized.
In introducing this legislation last November, the member for Timmins—James Bay described his motivation as having to do with the fact that over the years he had met veterans on numerous occasions who had nothing to show for their participation in world conflicts. They may have been awarded service medals but one does not carry medals on a day to day basis. They may have been given lapel pins but some regard such pins as ostentatious regalia.
As I understand it, what the hon. member proposes is a certificate comparable to a wallet size health card that wounded veterans are now able to show to interested persons, much like a wallet snapshot. In the case of the health card, it becomes a snapshot of past life of valour. For those who were not wounded in conflict there is no comparable snapshot to show someone and say “I was a veteran of this conflict and stand before you today as someone who has personally contributed to the defence of Canada's interest”.
The bill however is flawed. First it is out of date. If the member would take a look at subsection 2(c) he would notice that it refers to the merchant navy under the old legislation. With the passing of Bill C-61 they will now be full status war veterans.
The idea of giving ceremonial recognition to those who contributed to Canada's war efforts is a noble one and worth exploring, but we must not be in too much of a hurry. The bill as it currently stands is too broad and will diminish the contribution of those who gave the most while elevating those who played a less important role.
At this moment the war in Kosovo is expanding in what many would regard as disturbing directions. Some have argued that Kosovo should more properly provide NATO with an opportunity to reassess its purposes and objectives. Yet a few short years ago our soldiers were addressing peacekeeping issues in Bosnia, Rwanda and Somalia. Many of these soldiers are no longer in active service.
It was only in the last parliament that the creation of a medal for service in Somalia was accepted by the House based on a private member's initiative, that of Mr. Jack Frazer, the former hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands and the predecessor to current veterans affairs critic of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.
Would it not enhance our sense of history and military service to Canada and the world if all such persons were able to carry a wallet size certificate acknowledging their service? In this regard I am pleased to report to the House that subsequent to inquiries by my office of the War Amputations Canada, Mr. Clifford Chadderton, chief executive officer, communicated to me as follows:
The proposal to issue a ceremonial statement recognizing individual contributions to Canada's war effort should have far- reaching effect. Traditionally, veterans have been reluctant to speak about their military service. The issuance of a ceremonial statement of service may well serve as encouragement, so that future generations will know what veterans and other members of the military have done to preserve our freedom. However, as has been noted, the legislation is inclusive, rather than exclusive, through also permitting the ceremonial recognition of civilian contributions to Canada's war and peacekeeping efforts. I feel this is too broad a stroke to make.
Mr. Chadderton supports recognizing veterans and members of the military, but the bill has much more in mind. In section 3 it would allow any person who believes he or she helped Canada in a significant way in a war or armed conflict in which Canada took part or a veteran received recognition.
Does an armed conflict mean journalists covering the Oka crisis can get a statement of service? Under this piece of legislation it indicates that. All it would require is the individuals' belief and they would get the recognition. They do not even have to be on the conflict side of the ocean.
Would members of the House who stood to speak about the Kosovo crisis believe they are worthy of official recognition for their contributions to peacekeeping?
Imagine how insignificant its true meaning would be. Under clause 3(2) any spouse or descendant can apply for a deceased person. Technically somebody could get certificates for their great-grandparents with respect to the war of 1812.
We can easily see there are some flaws. I have some serious questions as an individual. This has helped to formulate my opinion on this. I am sure we could think of other examples that are worth asking about.
One last analogy which came to mind on reviewing this bill is my own family. My elderly father who just passed away operated a factory in Toronto which supplied war materials during World War II. Was that a contribution to the war effort? Should he receive a certificate on my mother making application? Is this the same certificate that somebody would have who was actually engaged in the fighting?
With this in mind, I have to decline my support. I realize and respect the initiative. I believe this would be a much more commendable and worthwhile initiative if it focused on Canada's military. I want to thank the member for his initiative, but unfortunately I have to decline my support.