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House of Commons Hansard #46 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was treaties.

Topics

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak about this very important issue. I have been involved with the Chilean community in Manitoba now for quite a number of years.

Back in 1985, there was a devastating earthquake in Chile and the community got together. As a matter of fact, I recall Canadian airlines providing an airplane to airlift food, medicines and equipment to Chile.

We now find ourselves in a similar situation with a devastating earthquake. I have been presenting petitions for the last several months, since February 27, calling on the government to match funds personally donated by the citizens of Canada for the victims of the earthquake in Chile.

We have seen this happen with the earthquake in Haiti. Perhaps the government could have gotten away without dealing with the issue had the earthquakes been a year or two apart. However, the people involved in the earthquake in Chile are quite aware of the way the government did such an admirable job in dealing with the earthquake in Haiti. It was in January and the government responded immediately. In addition to responding immediately, it also matched funds donated by Canadians to the earthquake victims. That was well received and I think people in this country supported the government for that.

In terms of the cost to the government, I am not certain exactly what the cost to the government is, but it is considerable. Perhaps the parliamentary secretary will know. It may be $200 million or it may be $100 million. I am not sure just what it will be. I do not know that we really will know until the end of the contribution cycle what it has cost the government treasury. The fact of the matter is that it was a very popular program.

Members of the Chilean Canadian community, at all of the social events I have attended, and there have been several now in Winnipeg, ask me, because they know that the government is matching the funds to Haiti, why would the government not do the same thing for Chile?

In terms of whether the cost to the treasury would be as much as for Haiti, I would have to say to the parliamentary secretary that I do not anticipate that would be the case. There are roughly 40,000 Chilean Canadians living in Canada. Based on the amount of money that we raised at the social events so far, I would think the matching funds would be far less. Perhaps we are only looking at $100,000 or $200,000. I really cannot say. However, it would not be in the magnitude of the earthquake in Haiti.

I really feel that this would be a positive thing for the government to do. It would make the Chilean Canadian community feel that they are being treated on an equal basis with the Haitian Canadian community. I also think it would actually spur fundraising because many people would be more than happy to maybe increase their donations or make donations if they knew that their government was behind them, and their government was participating in a very direct manner in the earthquake relief.

Arguments have been made, and the parliamentary secretary has said this, that Chile is a stronger country than Haiti. However, the fact of the matter is that it has been a very devastating experience. As a matter of fact, I have an article here from May 11. The headline reads, “Chile struggles to rebuild after earthquake”, and the article states:

Immediately following the 8.8 magnitude earthquake Feb. 27, Chile was ravaged by tsunamis, sustained billions of dollars in damages and suffered 528 deaths. Two weeks after the catastrophe, the nation watched its new president, Sebastian Pinera, take his oath surrounded by swaying buildings during a 6.9 magnitude aftershock.

So, we can see that the earthquake's aftershocks spread all the way to the capital of Chile.

6:30 p.m.

Kootenay—Columbia B.C.

Conservative

Jim Abbott ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for the opportunity to elaborate on the quick response by our government for the people of Chile.

As the hon. member knows, not only was the earthquake on February 27 and the aftershocks near Concepcion, Chile very different from Haiti but the context and the capacity of Chile to respond to the humanitarian needs was also very different.

His original question asked when the Government of Canada was going to create a matching fund program for Chile and what measures the government was putting in place to deal with this tragedy. As the member should know, matching fund programs are the exception and not the rule when it comes to providing immediate humanitarian assistance. In all cases, CIDA operates on the advice of the affected government. We also take into consideration what our international partners and the international community as a whole are doing in response to the crisis.

In order to be effective when delivering aid, we must work in conjunction with our partners. We also have to respect the other nation's sovereignty. We respond to its requests. We do not tell it how it should be responding or what it should be asking for.

In the case of Chile, its government assessed the situation and its capacity to respond, and then made a targeted appeal to the international community for assistance. We responded to its appeal quickly and appropriately.

In Haiti, the earthquake decimated the very core of the nation, and as we would know from media reports, it eradicated much of Haiti's infrastructure. It took the Haitian government quite some time to re-establish working order, submit a plan, and work with the international community. The world responded overwhelmingly to this tragic but unique response.

Thankfully, in the Chilean nation, by contrast, the government structure was not critically damaged in the February 27th quake. In Chile, approximately 800 people were reported dead and 1.5 million homes were damaged by the earthquake, which also caused damage to key infrastructure, including water, telecommunications, power, ports, health facilities, roads and bridges.

Naturally, our hearts and prayers went out to the Chilean people, yet our response to the smaller scale disaster would reflect the fact that this was not as devastating as the earthquake in Haiti. This was the largest earthquake in Chile in 25 years and it generated a small tsunami. It would be entirely misleading to compare Chile to Haiti.

On March 1, the Chilean president appealed for international aid and the Chilean embassy requested targeted assistance from Canada for the humanitarian effort there. Chile's president had indicated that the priorities included providing assistance to those affected, ensuring that water, electricity and energy supplies were functional, and maintaining public security.

On the next day, March 2, the Minister of International Cooperation announced that up to $2 million would be allocated in urgent humanitarian assistance to those affected by the earthquake. This support, provided through the Canadian International Development Agency, was targeted toward addressing the priority gaps identified by the Chilean government and our humanitarian partners.

As a leader on the world stage, the Government of Canada stands ready to offer any necessary assistance to the people of Chile and continues to monitor the situation there to ensure our assistance is delivered according to the priorities established by the Chilean government. We will continue to work with the Chilean government.

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I understand that hundreds of people are listening to the debate this evening. I know we certainly had word from the embassy that it is very supportive of what we are doing with our petitions. We have had petitions submitted in Parliament almost every day since the earthquake, asking for the government to treat the victims of the earthquake in Chile on an equal basis with the people of Haiti.

What the government and the parliamentary secretary should understand is that victims are victims. Whether the earthquake occurs in Haiti or Chile or anywhere else in the world, there are people who are suffering and who need help. The government should provide the same treatment. If it matches funds for one, it should match funds for the other.

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, if I heard the member correctly this evening, he was saying that maybe $100,000 to $200,000 would be a good figure for the Canadian government to look at.

In fact, we have contributed $2 million this way: $750,000 to the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies for the provision of essential non-food items and emergency shelter materials; $500,000 to the Pan American Health Organization toward re-establishing health and medical services, and replenishing emergency stocks of medicines; $500,000 to World Vision for emergency shelter materials and hygiene supplies, improved access to clean water and provision of child protection services; and $250,000 to Oxfam Canada to help improve access to safe water and ensure safe reconstruction of houses and livelihoods.

I think the people of Canada and, upon reflection, I am sure our Chilean Canadians will be very proud of the response that the Canadian government made to this tragedy in Chile.

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, over the last century, hundreds of thousands of Canadians have served our country with distinction and valour as members of Canada's armed forces. Many of these brave Canadians made the ultimate sacrifice, laying down their lives in the service of our nation. Many more returned home with physical or emotional scars that last a lifetime.

When a decision is made to deploy our troops abroad, whether in a combat or a peacekeeping role, we as politicians must always be mindful of the somber reality that any mission comes at the cost of Canadian lives and casualties. Fatalities or injuries will inevitably occur.

Members of this House sometimes confuse supporting our troops with supporting a particular mission. I want to be clear for the record that there is a definitive difference between supporting the ideology of any mission and the matter of supporting our troops and I would hope that supporting our troops is one matter on which members of this House, regardless of political stripe, can agree.

It is in relation to supporting our troops that I rise today to speak to what is happening at veterans hospitals in Canada, and specifically Parkwood Hospital in my riding. Parkwood Hospital has 269 in-patient beds under the veterans care program for use as long-term residency or short-term respite beds. However, as I learned last month, 72 of these beds are slated for closure. The reason cited for this closure is the dwindling number of World War II and Korean War veterans. The problem rests with who is deemed eligible for admission to the veterans care program at Parkwood.

The hospital's mandate is to serve veterans and members of certain civilian groups who have overseas service in World War II, the Korean War or receive ae Veterans Affairs pension for an illness or injury incurred during one of these wars.

I must take issue with these admission guidelines. In my view, a veteran is a veteran regardless of when or where he or she served. I know this is a view shared by many of my constituents and, indeed, by many Canadians. It is certainly a view shared by Ken Knisley. Ken's son, Andrew, served recently in Afghanistan where he lost his right leg and had significant damage to his right arm. Andrew is currently undergoing rehabilitation for his injuries but he is not eligible to receive this treatment from Parkwood Hospital. His father wonders what will happen to his son and the other injured soldiers returning home from Afghanistan. What happens when they need specialized veterans services?

History has shown time and again that once beds are closed and services are cut, those cuts are permanent. We will never see them restored.

I want to be clear that the slated closure of these beds is not the fault of the hospital administration which operates within its mandate. The problem can be resolved by the government. It is well within the purview of the government to modernize the criteria of Veterans Affairs Canada and ensure that modern-day veterans are eligible for the same services and programs that veterans of earlier generations currently have.

On April 23, I asked the Minister of Veterans Affairs to demonstrate the wisdom to undertake the changes needed to keep beds at Parkwood Hospital open. The minister's response was:

...since our veterans are dwindling in number because of their advanced age, some beds are no longer occupied. It is in these circumstances that we would talk to the hospital or organization about reducing the number of beds. Of course there is always room for our veterans, and other people can use the space when it is available.

That response was wholly unsatisfactory. The hospital administration spoke to local media about this matter and indicated that it would be happy to speak to the minister about expanding the mandate to keep beds open. Unfortunately, that discussion has not happened.

So I return to where I began and I would suspect that the majority of Canadians agree with me: a veteran is a veteran. It does not matter where or when he or she served. Canadian Forces members who have served in deployments abroad should all be treated equally, with fairness and respect.

6:40 p.m.

West Nova Nova Scotia

Conservative

Greg Kerr ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for London—Fanshawe for raising this issue. She makes the point that we all support our veterans, and that is a given. It is not a matter of political stripe. Whether it was the first world war, the second world war, Korean War, we have provided terrific service over the years in recognizing their injuries, providing occupational therapy, retraining and re-establishing them back in their communities and so, and that continues.

There is a reality, though, that as these veterans have aged, the needs have changed along with that. The conditions under which these beds were made available was contractual with provincial health authorities or provincial health delivery.

Today as the modern vets come out, many of the new needs are very clear. People want that service as close to home as they can get it. They do not want to get into the old established facilities where they have to travel long distances and live away from their communities. This has become a real challenge.

Therefore, this service tries to make these beds available to other Canadians who are in need of long-term care. These beds are not simply disappearing. They will be used more and more by civilians, or that will be the intent after the transfer takes place. It is a sad reality that the aging process does continue.

We have to continue to look at the needs of modern vets. A lot of the program changes recognize there are many new needs and new conditions as they come home. However, the general consensus we get from modern day vets is they want to be treated as close to home as they possibly can. They want to be near their families and near their communities.

That has been the focus. There is always room to continue the review, just as we are doing right now with the Veterans Charter because it is a living document. Part of what we hear is the long-term need for them.

Although this issue will not go away quickly, we need to recognize that in many cases the beds are empty because of the aging process. These beds have been made available to the general population for needs in that way. As we look at the legacy these veterans have left us, we will continue to look at the new needs and respond to them. It does not mean things will not change in the future as the needs become apparent down the road. However, for the time being, we felt this was an appropriate response to the needs of the veterans.

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are currently undertaking the beautification of the Veterans Memorial Parkway, the eastern gateway to London, which runs through my riding.

On April 9, at the 93rd anniversary of the Victory at Vimy Ridge, I joined with the mayor of London and my provincial and federal colleagues to unveil the Veterans Memorial Granite marker along the Parkway. Three bus loads of veterans, who reside at Parkwood Hospital, were on hand to witness the unveiling. I know from talking with them afterward how much it meant to them to be recognized with this tribute. Yet it seems the government is doing everything it can to distance itself from veteran care and that is shameful.

The minister said that new veterans from Afghanistan are young and may not need long-term beds yet, but what about the veterans of earlier deployments? We all remember the terrible circumstances of our peacekeepers in Rwanda. Does the minister truly believe that Afghan, Rwanda and Somali veterans will never need care? Psychological wounds can be just as painful and damaging as physical ones.

It is time for the government to support all of our troops and support them close to home.

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Kerr Conservative West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, on the last point I agree. We are trying to support them as much as we can close to their own communities.

Once again, the new veterans have may challenges that perhaps were not recognized years ago and it is has become more apparent. The response has become quite obvious, as I said, with the charter review and all that goes with it.

We are listening to those concerns. We are listening to the advice and recommendations coming from the review process. It is probably fair to say, because the government does care and puts a lot of resources into it, that the appropriate responses will be made.

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:49 p.m.)