I thank my colleague for that comment.
We had CMHC and we were building homes for seniors and others but the government took away all the money and cut out CMHC. As the hon. member said, there is a need for us to look after all our seniors.
This coming of age will force significant changes in how government operates in a wide range of areas from, as he has stated, affordable housing to transportation and from tax policy to national security.
And yet, despite these powerful warnings, the Government of Canada has done horribly little to prepare itself. The Speech from the Throne failed to make seniors and seniors' issues a priority. That was a grave mistake.
For the past two years I have repeatedly called on both the current Prime Minister and his predecessor to name a cabinet minister specifically responsible for seniors. After all, do we not have a Secretary of State for Youth? Can we not agree that our seniors are facing challenges unlike those facing any other age group?
I admit that I was greatly disappointed when the new Prime Minister ignored the advice and failed to name a seniors minister. I was disappointed but not surprised. Every day we waste is a day less that we have to prepare.
We are now faced with a huge challenge that must be addressed within a progressively shortening timeline. If we do not overhaul the institutions of government, they will be overwhelmed.
Let me make clear that the coming of age is not a bad thing. I know all about it. I am of the coming of age. It goes without saying that we should celebrate the fact that more Canadians are living longer and healthier lives. We should be proud that our senior citizens are among the most active in the world and that they continue to make a significant contribution to our country in a broad range of areas. I have often said that when speaking about our senior citizens we should put more emphasis on the word “citizen” and less on the word “senior”.
Two months ago the Prime Minister offered some vague comments about no commitments, about eliminating mandatory retirement ages. The time has come for us to recognize that mandatory retirement is discrimination, plain and simple.
Countless Canadians remain both physically and mentally capable of doing the same job at age 70 that they did at age 30. We live in a free country that respects free markets yet, in some cases, we order our citizens to retire, and that is wrong. I believe that retirement should be left to the individual choice in as many cases as possible. The only criterion that should matter is the employee's ability, not the employee's age.
In order to fully appreciate our new reality we must understand its root causes. Canadians are living, as I stated, longer, healthier lives because we have become a much healthier society. Not only have we made great strides in the fields of medical science, we now place greater emphasis on preventative medicines. Moreover, we have improved our lifestyles with better nutrition and more exercise.
Back when I was mayor of Saint John, I was a proud proponent of the participaction program. In fact, I was invited up here to Ottawa with that participaction program when I was mayor. To this day I remain a strong supporter of the Senior Friendship Games. Both played a vital and unequalled role in the promotion of physical fitness.
In the spirit of these great programs we should have a national senior fitness program that actively encourages seniors to take up some form of physical activity.
My view has been greatly inspired by the findings of the Active Living Coalition for Older Adults and Smart Risk. These two groups have drawn a clear and unmistakable link between exercise, healthy living and injury prevention.
While we must increase our focus on the positive aspects of aging, we cannot ignore its unfortunate effects. As last year's SARS outbreak clearly demonstrated, our aging bodies can become more vulnerable to threats to our health.
Because the health concerns of someone aged 50 and older are different from those aged 50 or younger, we must ensure that our health care system reflects our changing times. This means that our health care system and institutions must put greater emphasis on long term care, home care and gerontology. It means looking at a national strategy to help reduce the cost of prescription drugs. It means looking at tax credits for families who care for an aging or sick relative in their homes. It means taking the steps necessary to ensure that seniors are able to remain independent and free to go about their lives without concerns about health and safety.
This concept is not new. After all, that was the original purpose of the veterans independence program; to ensure that our veterans could remain in their homes for as long as their health allowed.
When it comes to the VIP, I cannot believe it was not addressed in the Speech from the Throne. Here we have the widows of veterans who passed away from 1990 to today and they will get the VIP, but all those widows of veterans who passed away prior to 1990 are not getting a penny. I have stacks of letters from veterans' widows from all across the nation. They want to stay in their homes but they have been denied the VIP. It has created two classes of veterans' widows, and that must be addressed immediately.
In the fall, however, the government made the decision to cover widows, as I stated, eligible from 1990 onward.
In the past few months I have been contacted by many of these veterans' widows who are praying and begging that each and every member of Parliament on both sides of the House will make them equal. Although they spent the majority of their married adult lives caring for their families while their husbands were overseas fighting for you and me, Mr. Speaker, so we could stand here tonight in this safe place of Canada, they will not receive the benefits of the VIP.
I was really shocked that the Speech from the Throne did not refer to the VIP and to making widows equal under the program.
We had hoped that the government would treat veterans and their families equally. In its first three terms the government had to be forced into helping our merchant navy veterans. Whether it was a hunger strike on the steps of Parliament or a class action lawsuit in the Supreme Court, our nation's heroes were forced to fight against the government they had fought for. From merchant navy vets to those whose pensions were mismanaged by government officials, the government's record on veterans affairs is sorely lacking and it saddens me to report that this tradition continues.
Last Friday a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of veterans used in chemical weapons testing during the second world war. These soldiers were taken from their units, brought to secret camps and gassed by the Canadian government; not some other government, but our government. The purpose was scientific research. We did to our own soldiers what the Geneva convention prohibits us from doing to enemy soldiers in time of war.
Sworn to secrecy, these brave patriots have lived with the scars of that time for more than 60 years. They deserve immediate compensation. They deserve better and I am not alone in this assessment. The Canadian Forces ombudsman has recently passed to the minister a favourable report outlining in great detail the case for compensation. I know that all members join with me in anxiously awaiting the government's response on this critical file. How we treat our veterans today is a clear sign of how we will treat our armed forces in the future.
Some years ago I participated in a NATO meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, where Lord Robertson from London, England, sent a message to all of us. He stated in a video, to all of us who were in St. Petersburg, Russia, from Canada, that he wanted us to put some money into our military where we used to be at the top with all of the others. He said we were at the lowest end of the scale and we must do something.
I listened to the speech yesterday and heard how seniors were left out. Instead of announcing a bold new program like the seniors independence program advocated by the Royal Canadian Legion, the throne speech offered false hope and bad faith.
Instead of upholding the charter and striking down mandatory retirement, the speech offered empty promises. Instead of offering a new direction for health care, the speech kept it on life support.
The government is seeking to continue its agenda of neglect. The government is preparing to extend its life by four more years. The government is trying to get Canadians to offer them a fourth chance. I am sorry, it is three strikes and it is out if it does not start doing something for seniors, the military, and the vets. It must do it now.