Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour to speak to Motion No. 298 that the hon. member for Sarnia--Lambton has brought forward in which he calls for the establishment of Remembrance Day as a national holiday.
Canadians have a proud heritage of remembering our war veterans. Every November residents across Canada can be seen wearing the traditional red poppy in remembrance. We attend Remembrance Day services in our local community halls and legions. These traditions are dear to many of us and must continue.
We tend to think of Remembrance Day as a day to remember only those veterans who have fought in wars past. As World War I and World War II fade further into our past, it would be easy too for our memories of those events to fade. It has been said that understanding our past is essential if we truly want to be aware of our future. The men and women who served our country in the past deserve to be remembered.
Remembrance Day also affords us the opportunity to appreciate the efforts of those who are currently serving in the Canadian armed forces both at home and abroad. Canada currently has armed forces in many countries with the emphasis on peacekeeping.
Last November 11, I saw the blue beret of our peacekeepers being worn with great pride. How proud we are of our men and women who are serving our country today. We must remember and recognize the importance of their contributions and sacrifices. The involvement of our armed forces today is as important and worthy of recognition as those who fought in past wars. These sacrifices are made to ensure the safety of all Canadians.
November 11 is already recognized as a day of remembrance. There are provinces that have legislated that it be a holiday. Should it be a national holiday? There are arguments made on both sides. From the poem Flanders Fields:
To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep...
That quote from Flanders Fields allows us to see the importance of remembering those who fought on our behalf, and they must be remembered.
The question remains, would setting aside November 11 as a national holiday be the best way in which we could remember or would it simply be a day off for Canadians? My granddaughters attended our national Remembrance Day celebration in our home town last year. I was very proud of those two little girls when they stood at attention and remembered their uncles who fought in war.
There are dangers in not being fully aware of the sacrifices made by those who have fought on behalf of Canada. Last December 6 saw flags flying at half mast at every federal building across this country. This action was taken in remembrance of the 14 young women who were killed in the shootings in Montreal. This was a horrific event that deserves a moment of remembrance by all Canadians. Violence on such a scale cannot be tolerated in a society such as ours.
A month earlier on November 11 only one flag was mandated to fly at half mast, the flag on the Peace Tower in Ottawa. Over 114,000 men and women have been killed defending our country from tyranny. Their lives should be remembered on a grand scale as well. Only one flag was lowered in their memory.
That action was met with outrage and dismay from veterans groups across this country. In fact, my colleague from Souris--Moose Mountain will be introducing a private member's bill to ensure that flags on all federal buildings fly at half mast in recognition of the sacrifices made by those in our Canadian armed forces.
What actions should be taken to ensure that the sacrifices of our veterans are effectively remembered? I believe that education is the key. Education of future generations of Canadians is needed to guarantee that our veterans are remembered.
Education on such a scale is easily undertaken in our school system. Every year thousands of children across the country are taught of wars past and the sacrifices made by those who fought to ensure their freedom. Veterans and legionnaires are allowed into schools to tell stories of past events and show children the importance of remembering. My granddaughters have had veterans visit their school. They have been truly impressed and have told me amazing stores.
Schoolchildren are encouraged to actively participate in poetry and poster contests. Last year the Royal Canadian Legion received over 65,000 entries. That is an outstanding number. Some 65,000 Canadian children took an active role in remembering the lives of Canadian veterans.
The knowledge gained by these children will have a direct impact on the lives of those around them. They will begin to ask their parents and grandparents about their own memories of wartime. The impact of the lessons will be carried with them as they grow.
Would the message of Remembrance Day reach these children if they had a day off school or would they spend the day watching television, hanging out at the mall or talking with friends on the phone? Is the message of Remembrance Day being delivered? Would schools participate in the same way to ensure children are taught these important lessons? Having a day a remembrance enables teachers and community groups to relay the message of the day.
Schools throughout Canada hold Remembrance Day services. Children have the opportunity to meet with veterans. These interactions are invaluable in making Remembrance Day real for children. By meeting veterans children are able to see the reality of wars past. It is more than just stories and pictures. They are able to meet people who were in the wars and conflicts. There is no better teaching tool.
Many legions agree that the best way to connect with future generations is to maintain the educational element in the school environment. The title of the day, Remembrance Day, invites us to remember, pause and reflect on the actions and sacrifices of those who have fought for the freedom of our country. Would this be effectively accomplished by having a day off? Would the message be taken to heart more effectively if we were not required to be at work or school?
The education of future generations of Canadians about the sacrifices of our veterans is of utmost importance. Whatever decisions are made we must keep this in mind. We must find a way to effectively convey the importance of the day. Lest we forget.