Mr. Speaker, I rise today in appreciation for the motion before the House that has come forward in a very timely fashion.
This issue is obviously important to my constituents in Pickering--Scarborough East and to every Canadian as this is probably the greatest deployment and greatest commitment this country has made, certainly since Korea.
We have talked in this debate about the ultimate sacrifice made by 79 Canadian soldiers so far in the mission and countless others who have been wounded. There can be no denying the great sacrifice they have made. I think it is fair to say, on behalf of all members of Parliament, that their memory will live forevermore in the hearts and the minds of all Canadians.
Most Canadians respect and support our troops in Afghanistan. This is shown day in and day out by the Yellow Ribbon campaign and the Red Fridays campaign. We have seen, especially in my riding, an outpouring of support by many people on many bridges on the Highway of Heroes when a Canadian soldier passes away or is killed in action. I want to salute the Ontario government for turning that highway into what it has become today.
Not far from this place is the Veterans Affairs building which has carved in stone on its facade a passage from Eclesias in the Bible. It merely states, "All These Were Honoured in Their Generations and Were the Glory of Their Times”. I would submit that is exactly what Canadians are doing today for our troops. They are honouring the personal and dedicated commitment by our brave men and women who are displaying Canada's best in Afghanistan today.
However, that also brings into play our national values and our important perspective in how we show support for our troops, especially those Canadian soldiers who have been wounded in the mission.
Many of us in the House have a personal connection. My cousin Mike was badly injured in the Panjwai district in Zhari last year. I spoke to him before this debate and he is doing much better.
With the outpouring of support of so many in terms of the wounded warriors fund, it is clear that we are demonstrating, day in and day out, that we have not forgotten those who are over there.
Let us not forget that in the past year it has required the opposition and some parliamentarians to bring forward some of the shortcomings, particularly for wounded soldiers and those who have passed on. Last year, a father, unfortunately, had to come to Parliament Hill to ask that his son's funeral costs be covered. That should never have happened. I think I join with all members of Parliament in saying that something like that should never happen again.
Wounded soldiers were told that their pay would be docked because they had either stepped on a landmine, were shot or were wounded in battle. The first thing they were told upon their return to Landstuhl, Germany, was that they would receive medical treatment, there would be questions of compensation down the road but that the money promised by the Canadian government in order to get them over there and to be compensated for the harsh conditions was simply gone. It took this Liberal Party to stand up for those troops at the time.
I also have concerns with respect to things such as the veterans independence program. The Prime Minister made a commitment to Joyce Carter and to thousands of widows of those who saved the country in its time of need and saved the country billions of dollars in terms of looking after our veterans and keeping them in their homes. He made a commitment that they could maintain their properties and do a bit of work on the inside, particularly for those spouses in their twilight years. That was a promise to all widows but that has not been fulfilled, notwithstanding the fact that it was a commitment made directly by the Prime Minister.
It is also important for us to recognize that the number of wounded soldiers returning from Afghanistan would commit us to ensuring that the excellence of the service is beyond question. It has dawned on this member of Parliament and I think all members on this side that wounded soldiers who return may very well find themselves in a situation where they no longer receive a pension for life. As well, this should be of concern to all members in this House.
Wounds may be substantial and there may be long term implications. We have heard about this from the hon. member from Sackville, Nova Scotia. He has spoken many times about the traumatic implications of post-traumatic stress disorder. These problems are all facets of a bigger problem. They cannot be resolved by the government simply cutting a cheque for $50,000 or $100,000 depending on the severity of the wound and then writing off the wounded forever.
These wounded soldiers who are 19, 20, 21 or 22 years old need to have the assurance that they will have, for the rest of their lives, a pension that respects and recognizes the great contribution they have made. For a nation that is as blessed as ours and that has people who make those kinds of commitments, I think we can keep faith with those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice and those who have been wounded by ensuring that for the rest of their lives they will not go without.
To put it more in perspective for Canadians who may be watching this important debate unfolding today, I ask them to think about it this way. For a 21 year old, $50,000 may sound like a lot of money, but in 20 or 30 years that money will be gone. An annual monthly or weekly cheque for the rest of their lives not only gives them security at the bank, but in the long term it does pay them a far greater amount. And why not?
I have many veterans in my riding, as does the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood, veterans such as Ken May, who was wounded in Italy in 1943. He has had a pension since 1945 when he was discharged. It seems to me that this cumulative effect over the years is far greater than simply giving a couple of dollars here and there, getting rid of the problem and moving on.
Whatever the analysis is for the future of the Department of Veterans Affairs, my suggestion is that it should be strengthened, not weakened. It should not be decommissioned. It should not cease functioning because that department will serve today's veterans tomorrow and for years to come, as well as their families.
Our commitment in Afghanistan is vital, but we have to also put it in context. The bigger problem we are facing is with the entire Middle East, not only with Afghanistan. It is incumbent on parliamentarians to understand that we will not resolve all the problems of the Middle East overnight, but one thing is very clear. For the life of me I cannot understand why the government has disengaged in its activities with respect to the Middle East.
Canada used to have a very proud tradition of being able to engage all nations. We were respected and highly coveted for our opinions because we tried to provide even-handedness in our approaches. We did not do as the Conservative government has done over the past couple of years and take sides in a particular debate.
More importantly, with respect to the incursion into Lebanon, we never put ourselves in a situation where we would call something a “measured” response when in fact the rest of the world did not. We understand the tensions there. We have to understand those living in oppressed conditions, whether that is in Palestine, Iraq or Afghanistan. We may not be able to settle all the world's problems, but we must continue to strive for the just and durable peace that King Hussein talked about in the many peace conferences that have been tried and the many that have failed.
However, we must also take into account the origins of why we are in Afghanistan. Many of us were here on September 11, 2001, when the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania took place. It was a very dark moment. The western world had finally understood what the problems were. I was helpful in getting a plaque here to recognize the 29 Canadians who were injured or killed in that tragedy. Behind that tragedy exists a long litany of concerns. Humiliation in that part of the world can only be addressed by a solid foreign policy that continues to engage all players evenly and fairly but firmly.
While we talk about Afghanistan and the continuation of the role, which I do support, and I am also grateful for the work of John Manley, I also recognize that we have a far greater responsibility to look at the bigger picture, to go deeper and understand the reverberations when millions of children were killed in Iraq through bombings, starvation and a forced embargo. We are talking about humility, we are talking about humiliation, and we are talking about injustice.
This House cannot do what happened in 1979. We made commitments to the mujahedeen in Afghanistan when the Russians were pushed out, but we forgot about them. Economic depression led to the kind of regime that was installed there and which we had to remove. We must ensure that our commitment to that country, to the world and to world peace through the Middle East continues to be seamless and is applied in a way that is both fair and even-handed.