Madam Speaker, I am happy to rise to speak to Bill C-13, which is a very important for our military. I am excited to support the bill and help our military.
I want to congratulate our critic, the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, for his analysis and support of this and many other bills in his area and our critic, the member for Don Valley West, for the tremendous work he does to move forward the situation of veterans. A number of speakers today have mentioned the problems in which veterans find themselves. I also congratulate all other members of the House who have spoken to the bill and the people who brought it forward. I think everyone is very supportive of it. I know everyone is very supportive of our military. That is why I am so excited about this. These troops often go overseas and into horrendous situations. They get paid about the same as everyone else, yet they put their lives at risk to protect our freedoms and the freedoms of those people around the world who cannot protect themselves.
This is a great role for Canadians. However, our soldiers bear the brunt of that role. They do a great service for all Canadians, and we certainly appreciate that. I think that is why everyone is so enthusiastic about the bill.
I remember the tremendous work Bill Graham did, as minister of defence, supporting the troops and moving ahead on their living conditions. However, much more can be done, and I compliment the House for moving forward in this area.
I have always been a great supporter of the military. I have tried, in the decade I have been in Parliament, to get more of these tremendous troops in the north and have been somewhat successful. One regiment moved to our riding, the cadet management, and the number of troops has dramatically increased by over 100%, which is very exciting. That is why I enjoy the times I have been on defence committee, trying to once again support the military.
I am also a very active member of our local legion. I compliment the Legionnaires for the tremendous work they do to honour our troops, to ensure that no one ever forgets what they have done for our country. They have organized many celebrations and have raised funds through the poppy campaign to help those who are still in need.
I know it is easy to talk about this from the comfort of the House of Commons, but it is really brought home when we go into the area where the troops are serving. I remember my trip to Kabul, which is one of the safest parts of Afghanistan. Even then I saw the jeopardy in which our troops were. It was very tricky simply landing at the airport and getting away from it safely. The lives of our troops are in jeopardy just to get there. In fact, as we arrived at the base, they had just discovered rockets at the old palace, which were aimed at the base. We were in jeopardy and were shut down for several hours. As we know, the troops sleep in tents, and that is not much protection from nearby rocket attacks. We know from the news reports about the other deadly attacks they face when they leave the base.
For all these reasons, I know all members of Parliament and all Canadians are very appreciative and supportive of our troops. If there is a minor adjustment to an act that could help them out, we are definitely in favour of that.
Of course there is much more to be done. As we speak, veterans are going to food banks. We certainly need to address situations like that and move forward on the provisions so this never happens to the men and women who have so nobly served our country.
I know how difficult it is to be away from our families. As people know, my riding is the farthest from Ottawa. It is located in the fartherest northwestern corner of the country. I get home from work on Saturdays. It is a pretty hard to be away six days every week from my wife and our 18-month old baby.
People have said to me that it must terribly hard and painful to be away, but I tell them it could be a lot worse. I could be in the military and I would be unable to get home every weekend. I would be unable to see my baby and my wife. That must be excruciatingly painful for family life. The last thing we want to do is make it difficult by an aberration in the law that is not flexible enough to accommodate the families of military people.
Another thing that is very important is the formative years of a child. Professors and experts in child development say that probably the most important part of a child's life, or the formative years, which will determine what type of citizen, what type of benefits he or she will bring to society, or the cost to society if it does not work out, are the very first few years of life. It is totally unnecessary for parents, be it the mother or father, to be deprived of being with their children during those early years. A minor amendment to the act, like we are doing on Bill C-13, would be of great benefit for children, for family cohesiveness and ultimately for society.
There are a couple of ideas that hopefully the committee will discuss. Speakers before me have mentioned some good ideas to be discussed as possible amendments. The member for Acadie—Bathurst mentioned looking at other people who may be in the same situation. That is discussing in the committee discussion and listening to witnesses. He suggested, for instance, police officers. Canada often sends police officers to help other countries in dire situations. It is not only the military that needs training to be democratic and professional, but often the police forces, RCMP or other police are sent to help people in need overseas and they may be in the same situation as the military.
Perhaps even in certain cases, maybe not often, aid and emergency workers. Today being the World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day is a perfect time to mention this. In emergencies those individuals get extracted from their families. Usually it is not for that long, but it is something to look into when the committee discusses this.
Remember we are talking about roughly 60 people a year who this would affect. The bill would take effect the first Sunday after it receives royal assent. To remind people what the bill would do, if people have parental leave for a baby, they normally get 35 weeks. Military members also get 35 weeks of benefits and can be at home with their baby. That 35 weeks have to be used any time within the first 52 weeks.
The bill would extend that another year, depending how long people are called away for military duties. If they are called away in the middle of this leave or before it is about to start, like the example we heard when the baby was four days old, they would not lose their benefits because they are away for a year. They can claim those benefits in the following year. This would allow parents to spend the time with each other and with the baby, which is tremendously important for people when they do not even know whether their wife or husband will come back from military duties. They would be under tremendous stress. Anyone who has had children knows how much stress it is to raise a child, let alone raise a child when the other parent is overseas.
The point I was getting to is the fact that the bill comes into effect on the first Sunday after it receives royal assent.
We are in a minority Parliament. There have been a lot of disruptions. Bills that seem to make common sense get delayed, the House prorogues or we have elections. We are only talking about 60 people. Instead of waiting until the bill gets royal assent, why not make it retroactive for people right now who are away, are having babies, and could lose those benefits? It would only add a few more people to the bill.
The member for Chambly—Borduas suggested it before I did. I did not realize he was thinking about. It looks like there could be consensus with others who agree with this idea. It certainly should be looked into, especially at this time when our biggest mission in Afghanistan is on the verge of ending. There would be even less need than perhaps 60 people a year, for a while at least. Why not try to help a few other people in this unfortunate situation by making the bill retroactive for them?
The member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour also made a good point in which I am also interested. We are talking about such a minor modification, less than $1 million for 60 people. Why does it have to go through the legislative process? It is unfortunate that this item is not in the regulations so smaller amendments like this could be implemented, which would prevent us from having to go through this type of process.
I want to use this point to pay tribute to a constituent of mine named Tony Fekete. Unfortunately he passed away last week. His memorial is this Friday at three o'clock in the Catholic Church in Whitehorse. He was a great person and common man who was very interested in politics. He was always bringing up his ideas. He came from Europe.
I want to commend him for his effort to improve Parliament. He suggested that we did too much in Canada by regulation, that cabinet made decisions and ran the country without any democratic input from the people because it could change things by regulation. He was a champion of democracy and put forward his strong ideas. I pass on my sorrow and condolences to his family.
It seems to me this case is an example of the purpose of regulations so things that require minor changes do not have to go through the lengthy process, including three readings in each House, committee debate and witnesses, et cetera in each House. If some things can be done by regulation, it can give us more time to focus on larger issues, which are very important. The obvious things could be done very quickly. I will mention some of the other types of things we could.
In summary, we certainly have unqualified support. I imagine this bill to improve the lives of military families will pass unanimously in Parliament. We are all very excited about that. I am sure young military families that are planning to have children and that will benefit from the improvements will be very excited to hear it as will other military families. It means 60 people in need every year will have a wonderful benefit.
However, this is a country of 33 million people and millions of them have other needs. As parliamentarians, we need to deal with those. As well, Parliament needs to deal with many other gaps. I look forward to the government moving forward in the same spirit it has with this bill to quickly deal some of the many other needs in our country.
Thousands of children are living in poverty at the moment. Thousands of people attend food banks. In the time we have taken to discuss this bill to help 60 families, thousands of people have gone to food banks so they can survive.
There are thousands of people in pain on waiting lists for operations. There are high levels of youth suicide, especially in the Arctic areas. There are many people incarcerated in this country for reasons of addiction and mental health who deserve more appropriate treatment by their government. There are many women being abused in this country and many aboriginal women are disappearing.
Thousands have lost their jobs and cannot support their families, which must be the most horrific feeling for anyone. There are seniors who must choose between food and heat. I hope the government moves forward quickly in the same spirit it has on this bill to help deal with all those Canadians who we in Parliament should be doing our best to help.