Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I stand today to conclude my remarks on Bill C-55. To be clear on the issue, the Liberal Party recognizes the great value of the legislation.
At every opportunity in the veterans affairs committee reference has been made to Bill C-55. It is in good part due to the fact that we want to ensure we do everything possible to see the bill in committee. I get the sense there is a willingness in the chamber to see this bill move forward. Members of the committee, including me, are anxious to see the bill come before us. I suspect it is only a question of time before it does.
Bill C-55 would address income loss, base salaries and lump sum payments. These are all important issues to our veterans and we owe it to them to do our work as quickly and as diligently as we can.
Some members in debate have nudged others to move forward on the legislation. One of the things I would share with the House is the fact that the Liberal Party does not require any nudging on the bill. We see its value. We have an immense amount of respect for our veterans and we ultimately want to see it pass.
I have had opportunities in the past, as I am sure my colleagues have, to deal with veterans. A number of years ago veterans actually sat right behind us in the Manitoba legislature. I thought it was appropriate. I remember sitting in the chamber, being able to reach back and touch one of the veterans, thinking we were able to have that debate because of our veterans.
We recognize the valuable contributions that our veterans have made to who we are today as a free nation. We need to do whatever we can to extend adequate compensation to them for the sacrifices they have made.
Being on veterans affairs committee, I recognize it is important for us to go even further than what the legislation proposes to do. Compensation is critical, and I cannot emphasize how important it is that we get that compensation to our veterans. However, there are other things which the government should seriously look at doing.
I did not know, and I suspect a good number of members of Parliament would not be aware of this either, that we have in excess of 750,000 veterans in Canada, which is an amazing number. They participate in our society in so many ways. We have to think beyond even what we will pass today.
Bill C-55 would allow for income loss and other forms of compensation so our veterans would be more properly and adequately taken care of, and that is great. However, much like other issues, we need to do more in preventing some of the illnesses and injuries that occur.
We had a psychiatrist, who is a colonel in Australia, on video conference the other day. I was really impressed with what Australia has put into place to assist future veterans so their dependency on compensation, on disability, will not be as high, especially in the area of mental illness.
I will highlight a couple of those points.
Australia is prepared to put in the necessary resources to ensure there are minimal compensation packages after someone leaves the service. That is a direction in which we should move. We should be putting more emphasis on that in our Parliament.
To give members a sense of what Australia does, it looks at the complications and the mind games that take place in today's forces. It has a psychological training component incorporated within its boot camp system for everyone who enters the forces.
Recognizing that not everyone, even from within the boot camp, might be engaged in a situation like Afghanistan or other countries of that nature, where there are all sorts of turmoil, Australia also has developed what it calls a pre-deployment course. Once someone has been deployed to Afghanistan, for example, another training session takes place and there is a psychological component to that training. That, again, is the way to go.
Taking it even a step further, Australia has after-disengagement training. After they have served in a country like Afghanistan and they come back, there is a post-course provided that will assist them in dealing with the issues they had to face while they were in a foreign country.
Equally important, Australia also has a transition course component. When people leave the forces and they go back into civilian life, they are afforded the opportunity to have that course which will, in essence, assist them in better adapting into civilian life.
This is the type of progressive thinking that is necessary in order to meet the needs of future Canadians who make the decision to serve our country. Ultimately, I would encourage the government to seriously look at this.
I posed a question about cost. There should be no doubt. There will be an additional upfront cost in ensuring that we have the right complement of psychiatry and other potential professions within the regular forces so we have those courses and give legitimacy to them.
However, by investing at that end, we are assisting individuals going forward so when they decide to sign on the dotted line, enter our forces and maybe serve in a country like Afghanistan or in another country, come back and ultimately end up back in the civilian life, they will be better able to adjust.
I believe if it is handled appropriately or if there is a plan for investment upfront, then we will prevent many illnesses from occurring in the first place or we will be able to minimize the psychological impact of someone being in a war-torn country where there is civilian unrest and all kinds of horrors that our military personnel often confront.
Ultimately we would have a better equipped force, and this is why it is to relevant to the bill we are passing today. By doing this, future compensation requirements will not be as high. That should be the goal. Minimizing the amount of money that we would ultimately have to pay would not be the primary reason. That would be the secondary reason.
The primary reason will be the impact that it has our soldiers, once they get back into the force and once they are in full retirement. That is the real value and the primary reason why we need to move in that direction.
The secondary reason would be one of finances. I ultimately argue that there would be additional costs upfront, but at the end of the day we would save money in compensation, in terms of the potential income loss that goes up significantly because of the passage of the bill, and justifiably so, and in terms of issues such as the base salaries or the lump sum payments. That is stating the obvious.
There are so many other expenses that governments, and not only the federal government but also provincial governments, have to incur as a direct result of individuals who have been in the forces and once retired become veterans. After all, it is the individual provinces that ultimately deliver our health care services. A part of those health care services is mental health, among other things. Ottawa itself invests billions of dollars annually in public health.
When we are talking about compensation, the type of compensation we are talking about within this bill is fairly specific, but there are many other forms of compensation as well. It is not as easy to say that we have a bill, Bill C-55, and by passing it, all the issues veterans face in terms of overall compensation will be resolved.
I trust and hope that no one here would try to imply that this would be the case. This bill, from my perspective and I believe from the perspective of the Liberal Party, is but a first step in recognizing the value of our veterans and the importance of the House of Commons to adequately and properly compensate those men and women who have sacrificed a portion of their life in order to ensure we have what we have today.
We can do more. I encourage the government, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, the Minister of National Defence, the Prime Minister and others, cabinet and all members, opposition included, to do more to support our vets. It is not just this bill. This bill is a very good first step and we look forward to seeing it in committee, but that is what it is, a first step.