Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the minister's comments. It might be said that the bill brings us up to date. It brings us into a new millennium and a new military era. The bill itself is designed to be a millennium bill. Not only is it designed for today, but I believe it is designed for the future. I commend it and I will certainly be supporting this bill.
I might point out in contrast that next week on May 4 we will have the Battle of the Atlantic parade, or we were to have it. In that battle, one-eighth of all those involved gave their lives. Today it would be considered a high designated area. We did not have that then. We were not used to terrorism. We were not dealing with modern techniques. We were not dealing with modern weapons. The weapons at that time were very crude. Therefore, what this bill does is give real meaning to what is here before us today and which I believe will be here for us well into the future.
We have come through a period of debating what constitutes a legal war. This bill will give a wider meaning to what actually constitutes war in designating special areas or special operations, but it is all in defence of our nation and the security of our nation. It takes on a brand new meaning. We cannot help but disagree with those who say that a nation can never be at war unless it is attacked or invaded. If that is what legal war is, I am sorry if any veterans are listening in, because over 100,000 Canadians let their blood flow in some 21 countries around the world. Canada is proud of that fact and we have lived better because of that even though we were not invaded.
In World War II, not too far off the coast of Canada in Canadian waters we lost hundreds of lives. Those people did not wear uniforms and they did not have guns, but they were delivering goods to supply a war in a foreign continent. This idea of what constitutes a legal war is nonsense. A war is constituted when a nation is threatened by any means, be it here on our soil or somewhere else.
After the Twin Towers went down, people began to think differently. They began to think that the new type of warfare that we will face now and into the future will be different. This bill addresses that.
I might point out one other thing. Not too long ago, a young man came to my office who had done some research on what was probably the last major battle of World War I, Cagnicourt. I hope we get something going; I am excited about this and I will tell everyone why. The only sitting member of Parliament ever to win a Victoria Cross was at Cagnicourt. This fall, on September 2 or somewhere around there, Canadians are going to be recognized by having a town square named after one of the VC winners from Calgary, the remnants of what was left two months before the Armistice was signed. It was at Cagnicourt that Kaiser Wilhelm said the war was over.
I want everyone to think about this. I want everyone to think about what special forces can do. The special forces on that day said this. Instead of having the slaughter of a lot of British, Australians and New Zealanders, the Canadians went over and the war came to an end on November 11, 1918, not on March 11 or April 11 of another year. By designating areas, as the minister has announced, and by designating the rapid deployment, by speeding up the process, we are indeed into the new century.
Some people ask me, “How come you are critic for veterans affairs? Why would you not be critic in some more important role?” That really bothers me. It really does. What is more important in this country than to take a look at the thousands of people, as the minister has said, who are on benefits and the hundreds of people and their kinfolk, their spouses and so on, who are still being cared for by the government? Can we think of anything more important than that? I cannot. I am very proud to represent my party as critic in this particular area.
The purpose of the bill, as the minister has said, is to be more responsive: bang, bang. Do we remember how long this used to take? It used to take from six months up to a year to designate something. I would have quite a beard by that time. Now it can be done almost immediately. It is in keeping with what is surrounding us today.
Therefore the bill is to be more responsive in providing comprehensive coverage to members of the Canadian Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who serve in dangerous operations areas and in conditions of elevated risk. These provisions are good provisions. They are good because they meet modern day requirements. They are good because we can declare a designated area within 24 hours. They are good because those people who are being deployed know that they have this coverage. Canadian troops have never known that before, not to this extent.
I just finished a trip visiting long term care for vets and I reminded my colleagues who travelled with me that Newfoundland was a designated area. Do members know why? It was considered overseas in World War II. They still get extra pay for serving overseas. I tip my hat to Newfoundland, because they were a very special people.
Under this pension act, there are two types of coverage, as the minister has announced. It is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There is a difference that has to be explained. It is not just if one is on a specific duty. Let us say a person was in Kosovo and was sent out to take a look at a particular function. That would be a police duty. Let us say that something happened after the person came back from that duty and the person was wounded while sleeping. There is still coverage under the bill, which makes it entirely different from any piece of legislation we have had before.
About three years ago at the annual chamber of commerce meeting in Moosomin, Saskatchewan, there was a young RCMP officer who had served in Kosovo. Listening to the graphic details of what a Canadian policeman had to go through while living there made one feel proud that we had people like that in a high risk area. That was only a few years ago. We could not tell them then that they had this extra insurance, but it is there today.
Canadian vets are the pride of the country. I know that a lot of people will say, “Yes, but there are not many left and why do we want to spend a bunch of money?” But these vets and these people serving are the pride of the country because of their acts and sacrifices and their heroism in the defence of their country.
There are so many things we can do. For instance, I got a call the other day about the condition of an 89 year old vet who had fought almost five full years in World War II. He came out of it unscathed, without a scratch. But because of the conditions in which he was living I had to call somebody and get that vet out of there. I finally worked through the Royal Canadian Legion and we are going to get some action. Vets care for vets and the government should care for vets as well.
I was thrilled to be with the minister and the committee when we visited Dieppe last summer on the 60th anniversary. There are many Canadians who take the opportunity to dwell always in the negative about the military. Terence Robinson wrote a book called The Shame and The Glory: Dieppe . To go to Dieppe and to Pourville where the South Saskatchewan Regiment was, a regiment which was organized in Weyburn, Saskatchewan and to see the grave of a deceased Canadian soldier from the South Saskatchewan Regiment who did not have a name, it brought me to a standstill.
All of this made me realize what had happened. Perhaps it was ill planned. Nevertheless we will deal with a more prominent issue of the day which is we will be called upon and make no mistake about it.
Bill C-31 will ensure that veterans receive full access to all benefits and allowances due to them.
I was also with the group that spent a day at the Veterans Affairs office in Charlottetown. The office deals with many problems. I am somewhat relieved to see the manner in which the Veterans Affairs office attacks a problem, particularly if a person comes in for benefits and so on. I am satisfied that the bill, along with an increase in attention to veterans affairs will reduce the red tape. It will reduce the time spent on waiting lists. Then veterans can appeal and receive what is due to them immediately.
Bill C-31 provides compensation to Canadian Forces and also to the RCMP who are injured or disabled as a result of their service or while they are in a special duty area or a special duty operation. This is while they are there. It could be while they are eating supper but they are in a dangerous area. This is a big change.
Bill C-31 which has been brought forward by the government is not asking for additional money. I repeat that the bill is not asking for additional funding. It is not the same as another minister who fined 16-year-old hockey players and their teams. Then after they were done raping Saskatchewan they quit the survey. The bill is not asking for additional funds.
The Minister of National Defence or the Solicitor General, with the Minister of Veterans Affairs, would be able to declare an SDA just like that, whereas under our old system it would have taken up to a year.
What will Bill C-31 bring to the families, to the mothers and dads at home and to the boyfriends, girlfriends and so on? The bill will bring something which I think will be elevated and that is peace of mind.
The Canadian Alliance is pleased to support Bill C-31. When a member serves on a committee he or she is not always happy with everything. There are others items which I will not mention at this time that need to be supported. I do want to say to the government that this is good legislation. It is meaningful and up to date legislation. As situations develop, hopefully not for the worst, this piece of legislation being there will make it much easier to handle the situation in a better way than we have ever done before.