Mr. Speaker, there is nothing like a good dose of maritime eloquence to begin the morning. I thank the minister for his eloquent speech. In fact we could pass the bill very quickly, as he and other members of the House would like to do, except for one little clause. Clause 46 needs to be removed from the bill to provide the equitability and fairness I know the minister would like to see.
I thank the member for Souris—Moose Mountain, as the minister has mentioned, who has done an incredible amount of work not only for our party but, more important, for the members and the veterans who are waiting for the bill to pass.
I will get to the aspects of clause 46. I am glad the minister will listen. I know he is a man of fairness. I am sure he will encourage and convince his members to remove this clause. If he does so, our party will support the bill and help him expedite it through the House to relieve the suffering that our veterans have been enduring for far too long.
Our party supports Bill C-41 because it gives civilian groups the same fairness and equitability as it has to other veterans who have laid their lives on the line for our country, for peace and security.
It gives it to groups such as the Canadian Red Cross, St. John Ambulance, the Corps of Canadian Civilian Firefighters, the Ferry Command personnel and the Newfoundland Overseas Forestry Unit because these people provided invaluable service to the war effort. These people, as the minister mentioned, put their lives on the line. Many of them lost their lives while supporting the war effort. Their efforts, while they did not pick up a weapon, were absolutely essential for the men and women who were in Europe and other parts of the world fighting for the peace and security that we enjoy today.
Our armed forces personnel must have access to existing veterans benefits today if they served overseas during World War I, World War II and the Korean war. Merchant navy vets gained full access to these benefits in 1992. Unfortunately the issue of compensation took far too long to come about. We do not want this to happen with the bill.
The groups affected by the bill have historically had limited access to veterans benefits previously given to other veterans, but the bill recognizes that fact and does a very good job of providing them with the benefits they so justly deserve.
I say these groups are worthy recipients because they served alongside other forces personnel and their lives were in no less danger during those perilous times. The efforts of these organization deserve the recognition they have so long been denied.
I will cite a few examples. The overseas air crew of the Ferry Command ferried military aircraft across the Atlantic Ocean. In many ways those brave pilots were trail blazers. Some of them, interestingly enough, were among the first to chart a path across the North Pole.
It was dangerous work, flying over uncharted territory. Many of the pilots lost their lives in the endeavour to provide planes that were absolutely essential for us to carry on the war effort in Europe. During World War II about 340 civilian pilots and air crew were contracted to deliver aircraft to Britain and elsewhere. Today about 100 of these brave souls are still alive.
Coal was vital to Britain's war effort and mining activity. Its use increased so much that Britain did not have enough and wood had to be cut in Scotland. As a result, the Newfoundland Overseas Forestry Unit was created on short notice. It went over there to harvest timber. Of the 3,680 Newfoundlanders who went to Scotland during the war there are roughly 1,000 of these souls alive today who cut the wood that was necessary to build tunnels and for other uses during the war.
During the second world war the Corps of Canadian Civilian Firefighters bravely put out fires during the blitz, which was central to saving the lives of many people.
Members of the Canadian Red Cross and St. John Ambulance worked alongside people who were terribly injured during the war. They were as close to the action as anyone could get. There are approximately 450 members of this group alive today and they need the care they require as they age.
It is a shame that with the passage of time there are so few left and it has taken so long for this legislation to come forward. We as a party are happy and encouraged by the government's effort to move the bill forward.
This should be a lesson for all of us as Canadians to take a more active interest in our military and service people who historically have given us more care and consideration than I think the House has given them. We must pay more careful attention to the long term effects of war that for a long time have been ignored: post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and the effects on the family that are so often hidden.
In fact, historically after World War I and World War II many of these problems were buried but now that medical science and others have taken a more active interest, these problems are coming to light. As these problems come to light, so too is it necessary for the care to be there for people who have been traumatized by horrors that most of us can only imagine.
Not only will civilian groups benefit from the bill but members currently serving in our armed forces will benefit as well. The bill amends the pension act to allow Canadian forces members in the regular force who have acquired service related disabilities to receive pensions while still serving. This brings it in line with the public service and private industry. This is important because this is not a stand-alone issue. It does not affect only the military. In fact the bill brings the military up to today's standards in the public service and private industry.
I want to address our primary criticism which the member for Souris—Moose Mountain raised with the minister. I am sure we can find a way to ensure that this tiny issue will be resolved expeditiously. It involves the RCMP.
While the bill alleviates a past injustice to our armed forces, it creates an injustice to the RCMP. The RCMP pension is tied to the armed forces pension but is funded by the RCMP. Currently RCMP officers are in the same position as Canadian forces personnel in that they cannot receive a disability pension while being employed by the force. I will give an important example very shortly, one of which we are probably all aware. Because clause 46 was added to the bill, by its very wording it removes previous legislation that prevented those in the armed forces from receiving a disability pension while employed, but it prevents the RCMP from getting the same benefits as will be accrued to other members that the bill actually supports, brave officers.
The example I will give now is one which we all remember very well. Constable Laurie White was shot in the leg while trying to serve a search warrant and had to get a portion of her leg amputated. Constable White is back on the force working very hard, bravely so, despite having had part of her leg amputated. She demonstrates the best that we have within our RCMP service personnel and indeed she deserves all of the honours that have accrued to her.
Because this amendment exists, people like Laurie White in the RCMP cannot receive the benefits the bill gives to other individuals even though the RCMP is tied to the essence of the bill. We ask that clause 46 be removed purely in the name of fairness. We cannot ask the RCMP to be involved in the bill and have its entire benefits package tied to those of veterans and the personnel that this involves as the bill does, while on the other hand exempting it from an aspect that would be very important for individuals such as Constable Laurie White.
The bill also makes a provision for peacekeepers which is very important because peacekeepers serve in very dangerous environments. Peacekeeping is a misnomer in that one thinks it has something to do with peace. It has, but the problem is that peacekeeping is really war by another name because peacekeepers confront land mines and snipers. They are often put in between warring factions which are often under no control by their supposed leaders. It is a very dangerous situation.
Unfortunately the government historically has given our armed forces personnel the equipment for a peaceful situation. One other thing I would like the government to know, and I hope the minister of defence pays close attention to this, is that we simply have to arm our soldiers for war in a peacekeeping situation because peacekeeping, as I said, is war by another name.
Our veterans have faced a litany of problems when they have returned from war situations, particularly recently. I and many other members in the House have received many legitimate complaints from brave men and women who have come back from the theatre and have not received the care they require.
I know the minister is very interested in this and that his heart is in the right place. I know he would not like to see these people go without the medical care they so justly deserve. He would want them to receive the required care for such things as gulf war syndrome, other poisonings as yet unidentified, post-traumatic stress disorder and severe major depression.
Fifteen per cent of people who suffer from major depression commit suicide. Imagine the numbers that would involve with respect to our armed forces personnel who go abroad and raise our flag to fight for the noblest of elements of humanity. They fight for peace and security, the things we gratefully enjoy in our country. Let us give them the same care and consideration they have given us.
The government has seen fit to give the members a cost of living allowance. We support this. We have been working hard for a long period of time to right this injustice. We applaud the government for doing it, but there is a problem. While the government has given the members a cost of living allowance and an increase in pay, it is surreptitiously yanking that money away by increasing their rents.
Their rents have increased dramatically in many areas. On the base in Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca the members are so happy and pleased to finally get some recognition and fairness in their pay but there have been massive and dramatic increases in their rents. While money has been given with one hand, the government has taken it out with the other.
I know the government really does not want to do this, at least I would like to think it would not. I challenge the government, as all of my colleagues here do, to please stop yanking money out of one pocket while putting it into the other pocket. Stop giving our military forces money and talking about it as if it has done something and then taking the money away. This has created an incredible negative impact on the morality within our armed forces. They do not deserve that. They have been extremely patient.
The other small section I would like to talk about briefly concerns the civilian population in our military who have done a yeoman's job under very difficult circumstances. Their numbers have been cut dramatically. They did not mind, as they recognized that came down the pike in an effort to save money. Their members have been cut by 50% or more. They have increased their efficiency dramatically and in fact have been given awards for it. On the other hand, alternative service delivery is taking place. They do not mind alternative service delivery but they do want to ensure that they are able to compete on a level playing field with the private sector.
I have one request for the government. Make sure that the people there today are treated as fairly as other competitors. That is what they want. They are confident they will be able to compete well, and as they have done for a long time, do their jobs to support our military. They have done this well but they want to be considered fairly with the private sector that is competing for their jobs.
The government should take a good look at that because they have done an excellent job. They have provided high quality service. They have probably done a better job than many private workers could do. Take a look at that and compare it fairly. I think the government will find that in many cases the civilian workers have done an excellent job and deserve to keep doing their work. Do not let them be lost in the cracks. I would ask the government to make sure that they are listened to and that their concerns are dealt with.
As my colleague from Souris—Moose Mountain said, the improvements made in the bill involve: clarifying how private information can be exchanged within the department to expedite benefits, which is a good thing; protecting the public servants from having to testify in courts of civil litigation; compassionate awards to be continued to survivors, which are very important; deleting penal provisions from veterans legislation where the provisions are either unnecessary or substantially duplicated in the criminal code; where two disabled pensioners are married to each other, both receiving the married rate of pension benefits; and allowing for remission of overpayment based upon compassionate grounds if the debt is not collectable. These are fair things.
In conclusion, the groups of people affected by this bill have a very legitimate claim to the benefits provided. We compliment the government for putting this bill forward. The civilians who went alongside the armed forces personnel did yeomen's jobs. Many of them lost their lives in the process. Their survivors and the remaining few deserve the care this bill provides.
The pension act prohibits armed forces personnel from receiving a disability benefit while employed in the forces and this has been removed. But clause 46 has been added to the bill and it prevents the RCMP from being able to acquire the benefits of this part of the bill. This inequity must be addressed before our party can fully support the bill.
If the government removes clause 46 from the bill, we will have a piece of legislation that will correct years of injustice. If the clause remains, the RCMP will be exempt from the very provision and benefits that our armed forces will enjoy and it will therefore be instrumental in creating an injustice.
In the name of fairness, let us include the RCMP in the bill as it ought to be. Let us remove clause 46 and let us pass the bill for our veterans.