Mr. Speaker, I would like to share my time with the hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour. I hope that is acceptable.
I will begin my remarks by saying how sad it is that this debate is even necessary. Here I want to thank the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, not the minister, not the government, not the Prime Minister, but this member who has been the leading voice standing up and fighting for veterans, RCMP and their families, day after day. We thank this member for bringing this forward and giving us this chance.
As I said, what a shame and sad commentary on the government that we still have uniformed citizens in the theatre of war, whether a declared war or not, who are dying. That is the only reality that Canadians care about, and the government can put any label it wants on it.
There is not a Canadian, short of a mom who does not have milk and food for her baby, who is prepared to say that the health care, respect and dignity of those fellow citizens who don that uniform and go into harm's way on our behalf should not be given every single support necessary to give them that life and dignity, assuming, indeed, they return back home alive.
How sad it is that in this context we have to bring forward a motion, on bended knee, “Please do not cut the benefits to our veterans”. How shameful it is that we would have to do that. It is not being done in the United Kingdom. It is not being done in the United States. It is not being done in Australia. However, here in Canada, we have to have a debate about whether or not our veterans' services and benefits will be protected from the austerity budget that is coming at us.
We have listened to the Conservatives on any given day for years when they were in opposition or in government, and no one short of my friend from Sackville—Eastern Shore can stand up and mouth the words of respect and dignity and service and loyalty and all the great attributes that are well deserved to be heaped upon our veterans.
The Conservatives are really good at the words, and they are even better at doing the saluting when the ships are going off from our shores. There are lots of flags, lots of bands, lots of support, lots of words about how wonderful these Canadians are.
However, what really matters for those of us who are here, who are not in government and cannot do anything other than say thanks, is to be sure that the one thing we can do as Canadians is to give our voice and our support to a policy that says the government will not cut veterans' programs, it will not cut veterans' benefits, and it will not harm their families.
The Conservatives make the speeches, but let us never forget they have the power and the money and could make this whole argument redundant. If we listen to their speeches, we should be in this place right now questioning whether or not they are pandering to veterans by giving them so much. To listen to the Conservatives' speeches, the veterans are the most important people in the whole nation.
When the bands are gone and the ministers and senior military officials are gone and the veterans are coming home, if they are lucky enough to come home, and they have needs, where will the band be for them then? Where will all the parades be for those who are suffering with mental health issues, whose physical lives have changed forever, who cannot breathe right, who cannot walk right, or who do not have a sexual life, all of those things that are real and they live with when they are alone? It must seem so much more lonely when the person does not even think the government is on his or her side. That is the shame of why we are here today.
The Conservatives are great at making speeches. They are great at taking credit when they are prepared to buy big military assets and beef up the military budget. Why are they not standing up for veterans, the women and men, the reservists in uniform, who do the biggest thing that a country can ask of a citizen, and that is put on a uniform, take a gun and fight? They are not expected to ask why or what it is about. They cannot question whether or not to be there. They are expected to just go there and do the job, and that is what our armed forces do with pride.
In return for that blind support, all they are asking for is to be cared for when they come home, that their families be given a chance to get back on a normal path, that their families be taken care of if they do not come home. While the rest of us benefit from what they have done, they ask for decent dignity. This is about that.
The government says that it just needs to change a few red tape rules, that bureaucracy is the problem, that red tape is the problem. The government does not think the budget is to blame. If that were the case, these galleries would be filled with veterans who agreed with the government's idea of cutting red tape. They would be telling the government to ensure that the austerity program would be front and centre at Veterans Affairs, that they knew if the government got rid of the red tape, they would then the get the benefits. They are not here saying that and they are not going to be here.
We just need to ask legions how they feel about this idea. There is a voice that actually represents our veterans. They are both angry and terrified at the prospect of what little benefits our veterans will get beyond the chopping block.
We have tried on a number of occasions, again thanks to the leadership of the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, to help our veterans. We brought in an NDP veterans first motion in 2006, and as I recall, the government of the day, the Conservative government, was quite pleased to stand and support it. Conservative members probably gave all the right kind of speeches, but they did not do it.
Words are cheap. Programs and benefits cost money and bureaucrats have to be hired to administer the programs. We can call bureaucrats evil or fantastic, depending on whether they have the programs to administer to help the veteran at the end of the phone, or at the end of the computer hookup or standing right in front of them.
This is not about red tape. This is not about bureaucracy. This is about a political will that either the Conservatives have or do not have. This is about standing up to their highfalutin words about what they say about our veterans. This is about whether they are prepared to put real money behind that.
We demanded before, and we will continue to demand, but at this point, nobody has demanded any great expansion of programs. Our veterans were willing to give up their lives and in many cases they did. All they and their families and their representatives are asking is for the government not take a meat cleaver to the veterans affairs ministry. They are asking for the same respect that the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia have shown to their veterans.
I end with passionate remarks. I am saddened and border on disgusted that we would even need to have a debate like this. It will be interesting to see how government members vote. If they do support the motion, it will be interesting to see whether it finds its way into policy. Who knows? The Conservatives talk one game and do another.
I am proud to stand here in support of the motion. I am proud to let the veterans of Canada know that they are not alone, that the vast majority of us in the House do support them and are prepared to say so on any day we are called to.