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House of Commons Hansard #89 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was literacy.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, in case the minister did not hear it, the person's name is Mr. Ribiere and his phone number is 613-352-8765.

I would first like to thank my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore and the member for Québec, who is seconding his motion. I admire my colleague's passion and how, day after day, he makes sure that Parliament does not forget our veterans. This is vital because we deploy them to areas where the conflict is not always clear-cut. We put their lives in danger and, when they return, we can measure the strength of our society by the manner in which we treat them.

I listened to most of the speeches and I must admit that I do not understand why the Conservative government is not able to support a motion that simply says:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) honour the service of Canadian military and RCMP veterans and their families [there is nothing shocking about that] by committing to not cut Veterans Affairs Canada in the upcoming budget [and if I understood the minister correctly, the government does not intend to reduce the budgets]; and (b) provide programs and services to all military and RCMP veterans and their families in a timely and comprehensive manner.

This motion makes so much sense that it is almost shameful to say that, at 5:15 p.m. in this House, we are still debating this motion, and there has not been a massive show of support for all our veterans to let them know that we are in favour of this motion.

In Gatineau, in my riding, I have two legions and, every November, I am among those who watch, participate and try to remember. We know that, when we remember our history, we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. We know what all our veterans, all those who gave their lives and all those who returned with physical, emotional or other injuries, did during certain battles. We know what they did on behalf of our great country of Canada. Remembering once a year with our hands on our hearts so that we do not forget these people is one thing, but taking action is another. It is not very hard to go to the cenotaph with a wreath to remember some of the battles that took place and some of the courageous actions of our veterans. However, making their needs a priority when they return wounded and scarred is another thing. I believe that we are somehow failing miserably as a society when we have to debate the issue before us right now.

In November 2010, I was on Parliament Hill. A few years before that, I was hosting a small radio show in the national capital region and I decided to do something completely different because I had gone to Holland during a trip to Europe. The hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore will appreciate this.

In Holland, I saw the cross-marked graves of all of those Canadian soldiers. I had a chance to talk to some Dutch people who, even at the end of the 1990s, still remembered what our soldiers, our men and women in uniform, did to liberate Europe from the grip of the vilest demon the world has ever known: Hitler. I was so proud to be Canadian, so proud of our people's work and selfless sacrifice.

I returned to Canada. I returned to my radio show, and that November, I decided to do something that my program and station director did not want me to do: observe a minute of silence. For those who do not know, a minute of silence on the radio is quite costly. I was told not to do it. A radio show simply cannot suddenly go absolutely silent for 60 seconds. I am here to say that the minute of silence I observed during my little call-in radio show was the most moving moment of my entire on-air career, and perhaps of my life.

After that, we opened up the phone lines. The way people responded to our 60 seconds of silence was absolutely amazing. People called to say that we do not talk about veterans enough and we are not there for them when they come back with injuries and cannot find a job. When I listen to the people here talk about red tape and this, that and the other thing while people are starving, I am not very proud to be Canadian.

That being said, since that radio moment, the month of November has always been special to me. When I noticed local media reports about a newly formed organization called Canadian Veterans Advocacy and a proposed first Canadian veterans national day of protest in support of veterans' rights, I felt that something was not right. If Canada is taking proper care of its veterans, why is there a need for a national day of protest to raise awareness of normal, ordinary and necessary needs? Something is not right here.

I decided to take part in this day of protest to speak to people on the ground. I met two extraordinary individuals who really affected my outlook on this issue. The first was Mike Blais, a retiree who founded Canadian Veterans Advocacy and who, like my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore, works tirelessly day after day, trying to obtain what should be given automatically without a moment's hesitation. The other person was the former veterans' ombudsman, Pat Stogran. A few months earlier, in July 2010, he had given a press conference to denounce how poorly we treat our veterans. A few days after that, he lost his job, which was no surprise.

The person who replaced him said the same thing, which is terribly sad: veterans still do not have access to services. We have been asking questions of the members opposite all day today. They say they have invested money here and there, but none of them can look at the cameras with a straight face and say that our veterans have exactly the services they deserve. The rest is gibberish, to say the least. It is an affront to those who fought on the front lines, not knowing if they would come home. Considering that there is no greater sacrifice in life, if our society does not ensure that they can live decently and in dignity upon their return and that they can get services, it will have failed miserably.

We hear the government constantly saying that it is here for our soldiers and for the army and that the opposition does not support the army. However, the facts reveal the reality, and the reality is that the Conservative members across the floor are going to rise tomorrow around 6 p.m. and vote against this motion and the amendment, and I find that shameful. The Conservatives should be ashamed of themselves.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Lévis—Bellechasse Québec

Conservative

Steven Blaney ConservativeMinister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I have a few questions for the hon. member for Gatineau. Of course there is a motion, but members can truly make a difference by supporting bills and budget initiatives. She mentioned that when she spoke to veterans on November 11, Remembrance Day, she told them that it is important to take action in the House. How does she explain to them that the NDP refuses to take action for veterans in the House, even to support the creation of an ombudsman whose role is to protect the interests of veterans? Why was the NDP opposed to creating this ombudsman? Why did they vote against money for improving the lives of modern-day veterans, the most seriously injured veterans? How does she explain to them that she voted against opening five clinics to treat operational stress disorders? She was talking to us about mental health. As a member of Parliament, it is important to take action here.

Are veterans telling my colleague that it is important to take action in this House by supporting the Conservative government's initiatives? Are veterans also telling her that we need to cut red tape? Our veterans deserve first-class service and we have to cut red tape for them.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, these types of comments and questions are so typical of the Conservatives. They always include tons of things in the budget, but often, it is not enough. Needs are great, but the Conservatives constantly ask us to vote with them on half-measures. It is unacceptable. Why accept something that is a slap in the face and worth absolutely nothing? Even veterans are saying that this is not what they need. The minister can give all kinds of examples, but one fact remains. Why do we need to have veterans advocacy? Why do we need to have a veterans ombudsman who, year after year, writes reports that are not very flattering for the government?

I do not accept the examples the Conservatives are tossing around to satisfy their need to explain the inexplicable.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I truly appreciated the speech by the member for Gatineau. I would like her reaction to the second item, the amendment we moved to this motion. If the government truly wishes to cut costs, we suggest that the amounts cut be reallocated to benefits that will help those who need them. If they really want to reduce the amount of paperwork and cut red tape, we suggest that the resulting savings be redistributed. I would like hear her to comments on these suggestions.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Saint-Jean has posed an excellent question. I appreciate his work and I know how important this issue is for him. Now that my colleague for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour has moved an amendment to the motion by my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore, the Conservatives have no reason to object to the motion. If they are right about there being too much red tape, that is one thing. However, the savings should not be used to purchase F-35 jets—when we do not even know if they will be operational—or to give tax cuts to big business because the government coffers are empty. The savings must be used to meet the needs of our veterans. I will say it again, veterans are saying that they lack services.

It is a fantastic amendment that pulls the rug out from under the Conservatives. I am convinced that those watching today believe that the Conservatives will not dare to vote against the amended motion tomorrow.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Mississauga—Brampton South Ontario

Conservative

Eve Adams ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for West Nova.

I appreciate the opportunity to discuss how our government cares for and supports Canada's men and women in uniform, our veterans and their families. I feel strongly about the importance of caring for and recognizing a group of individuals that has sacrificed so much, but had asked for so little in return from our nation.

Our government is providing veterans with the support they need, when and where they need it. That includes supporting them as they make the transition from military to civilian life.

The members of the House are all aware of the unprecedented amount of money budgeted over the last six years to support veterans, be it for the implementation of the new veterans charter and its enhancements, the expansion of the veterans independence program, or the network of operational stress injury clinics located across Canada. All of these efforts will make a lasting difference.

What about the families of veterans, those who may not wear a uniform but serve our country nonetheless? They are the strength and foundation of the Canadian Forces member both while in service and when he or she transitions back to civilian life.

When an individual joins the Canadian Forces, he or she does so by choice. However, that choice can take a heavy toll on the family of the veteran. Whether it is being left alone while their loved one is deployed or trying to transition to civilian life after years of being a military family, in many cases, it is the spouses and caregivers who provide stability and balance at home while the veteran recovers and finds her or his place in the civilian world.

Our government understands that and that is why we are proud supporters of the new veterans charter.

When the charter was first introduced in 2006, its goal was to get the best results for our veterans and their families. I want to stress that it is for our veterans and their families. The needs and expectations of these veterans and their families are evolving. As the minister has clearly stated, we need to evolve with them. To keep the status quo would be an enormous disservice to those who have put their lives on the line for our country. Therefore, in recent years our government has made substantial changes to the programs and services to bring about the well-being and stability of our veterans in their civilian lives.

I want to take the opportunity this debate presents to look at what we are also doing for our military families and to remind Canadians that these families deserve our support and respect.

The best example of this care and support provided comes in the form of case management and rehabilitation services available to veterans and how the family plays a major part in developing their individual case plans. It is crucial that spouses, parents, children, or ideally all of those individuals, be full partners in a veteran's recovery. They are a critical support system, and they need to know what their loved ones are going through, how they are progressing and how the family can help. They are involved every step of the way through the transition process.

At the same time, families also need to know that there is help for them to have their own support systems. The military family resource centres are wonderful places to start, as is our network of family peer support coordinators. I had the great privilege of meeting with many of them last week.

Both Veterans Affairs Canada and the Department of National Defence have created a very successful network known as the operational stress injury social support program. Specially trained peer support coordinators who have first-hand experience with operational stress injuries and the loss of loved ones provide vital personal support. We met with the spouses of veterans and we met with the spouses of Canadian armed forces members. These are the very folks providing the peer-to-peer counselling. Family members have said that having someone to talk to who has already been there is incredibly supportive and comforting.

Our government has also invested more money in the network of operational stress injury clinics. These are the clinics that serve our veterans and Canadian armed forces members who are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Veterans Affairs Canada and National Defence have worked together on this initiative to create a network of 17 mental health clinics throughout the country. While continuing to live in their community, veterans attend appointments at the OSI clinic. They are offered a clinical assessment and a variety of treatment options, including individual therapies, group sessions, psycho education sessions and other resources.

The clinical teams are made up of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, mental health nurses and other specialized clinicians who understand the experience and needs of our veterans. The team works closely with other health care and community organizations to ensure that there is appropriate follow up within our communities. Loved ones can be involved in the treatment and eligible family members can also receive these services.

As of today, there are 10 of these clinics operated by Veterans Affairs Canada. The Canadian Forces offers its support through 7 operational trauma and stress support centres. Support like this brings back stability and strength to the family unit. As a result, veterans can make better use of the other services we provide, services such as career counselling, vocational assistance and job placement. The spouse of a deceased or severely injured veteran can get the training he or she needs to find work and help bring financial stability back to the family unit if the veteran is unable to benefit from these services. That means everyone can focus on what matters most: getting better and getting stronger.

The initiatives I have mentioned represent only a few of the actions taken by our Conservative government to provide assistance to Canada's veterans and their families. When it comes to easing the transition from military service to the civilian world, we believe families, first and foremost, are the most critical social support system. Knowing their families' interests are important, understood and supported keeps our existing forces strong.

I want to assure Canadians, veterans, servicemen and women and their families that we are working hard to provide them with the services and benefits when they need them and where they need them.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

March 5th, 2012 / 5:35 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Jacob NDP Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her speech.

There are good intentions in her speech. However, I note that, although the current Conservative government claims to support our troops, it abandons them at the earliest opportunity with irresponsible budget cuts, the refusal to pay benefits, and the disclosure of confidential medical information about veterans who stand up for others. When will the Conservatives stop attacking our veterans?

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Conservative Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

In fact, Mr. Speaker, nothing could be further from the truth. Our government takes the privacy of our veterans very seriously. When it comes to providing benefits to our veterans, it is our Conservative government that has actually enhanced the benefits available to our most severely disabled veterans.

I find it amusing that the opposition party would even raise this issue, considering it consistently votes against funding enhanced benefits to our most seriously disabled veterans. Frankly, it should be ashamed of itself and its track record.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I heard the parliamentary secretary in the course of her remarks say that to keep the status quo would be an immense disservice to our veterans and yet the amendment proposed by the government side is to maintain veterans' benefits. I am not an English major but I am having a little trouble trying to figure out the difference between status quo and maintain.

Why not take the savings that will be encountered through the strategic and operating review and fund the veterans transition program? The hon. member saw this program first-hand. It is an excellent program that is receiving nothing from the government. Why not plow the savings from the strategic and operating review into the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research? Why not? Is the status quo—

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. parliamentary secretary.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Conservative Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Liberals had some 13 years to do right by veterans and never did. They did nothing on agent orange ex gratia payments. It took our Conservative government to fund that. They never once created the Office of the Ombudsman. It was actually the Conservative government that created the Office of the Ombudsman. It was the Conservative government that brought in the bill of rights for veterans.

Our Conservative government constantly stands by veterans. Our simple proposal today is that we will maintain all benefits for veterans. However, any savings to be found by eliminating inefficiencies in our bureaucracy ought to be had immediately. I do not understand why the opposition would not support such a simple premise.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

David Wilks Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful to the Minister of Veterans Affairs for all that he does for this country.

As a retired member of the RCMP, I am much appreciative of the benefits that I receive yearly on behalf of Veterans Affairs. More important, what I would like the parliamentary secretary to expound upon is this. My son served in the last combat mission in Afghanistan from November 2010 to July 2011. I was blessed with the fact that we were phoned every month to ensure how our family was doing while he was serving overseas. I wonder if the member could again explain some of the programs that are available to the families while their loved ones are serving overseas.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Conservative Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his service to our nation, as well as that of his son. It is very much appreciated.

Putting our families front and centre is a priority for our government. While Canadian Forces members are serving overseas, the stress that is put upon their family members back home is sometimes unbearable. We have created a number of peer-to-peer support centres for these family members to offer them assistance and support.

More important, we want to ensure that we offer some assistance to our veterans when they return home to transition back into civilian life. Our committee has actually been focusing on that in the last weeks.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Kerr Conservative West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, this is an incredibly important discussion that we are having today. I will begin by making something very clear, and I think my colleagues on the committee would agree. I do not think there is a member in this House who does not support our veterans. I think every elected member understands the importance of what these great people have done for our country. Whatever disagreements we may have, I think they are in the spirit of how we can make it better and how we can continue to support our veterans. I just wanted to get that on the record because we do not always agree on everything.

I also want to point out that tomorrow is an important day. It is the day when the minister appears before the committee to discuss the main estimates. It will be a very fulsome, public discussion about what will take place and what will not. I want to get it on the record again, as the minister said many times, there will be no reductions in services to veterans. Legally, we cannot do that. As a government, we will fully support the services that are provided to veterans. Whatever else goes on, whatever one wants to add to it, that is a different kind of discussion. However, we need to be clear that there will be no reduction in the budget in terms of services to veterans in Canada. We just would not do that.

I will also point out, as I am supposed to use some of the document prepared for me, and make mention of the fact that there are some important anniversaries coming up. Part of what we do is commemorate what our veterans have done. We know that next month there is a special anniversary and special celebrations for the 95th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. It is one of four important battles but this one is special because it really showed that Canada was becoming a nation recognized around the world.

On April 8, some 500 cadets will gather here in Ottawa. It is very touching and moving ceremony. They hold an all night vigil in recognition of the tomb of the unknown soldier. If people are around, I would encourage them to go. One of the great things we have seen in recent years is the take up among young Canadians of what veterans and the military mean to our great nation. Every year they are showing up in greater numbers showing their understanding of the importance of what our veterans have done. That is certainly an important event.

Also, and I thought one of these years I might get to go, but the minister will lead a delegation to France with some 5,000 students and a number of veterans and military representatives. They will be able to see that very special place and to commemorate with our great Canadians how important not only the monument is but the whole event, the whole recognition of Canada being recognized in France for what we have done. We certainly think that is important. I just want to remind members that this coming up next month.

As well, there are a number of other programs and services. I want to touch on those because I think we overlook things sometimes. I think anybody on the committee would agree that this year we had a number of great witnesses come in. Many have started initiatives on their own or in partnership with the department. In every case, there is phenomenal growth in the services taking place for veterans in Canada. There is a whole recognition.

I know my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore remembers when we saw the peer group come before us a couple of years ago. There is a whole recognition of all the new challenges that veterans face, whether they be physical, mental, financial or whatever. I see continued progress taking place. I think a lot of it is in recognition of their service, although there were cuts that took place in the mid-1990s, which was unfortunate and it took a long time to bring them back, but now it is a matter of continued growth and recognition.

A former minister said quite often, and it is so true, that we can never do enough for our veterans. I think that will always be the case, but we can never stop trying. We can never stop listening. We can never stop reaching out and telling them how much they mean to our great nation.

Even though we may disagree on the timing of that, it is important to remember that the efforts that are being made show that every year there is an improvement over the year before.

We also know there are a lot of veterans who need special care and special attention. I know the talk has been about cutbacks, reductions and so on. I think the test will be when the budget comes in. I will just smile as I look at my colleague and say that this is the year for him to vote for the budget and to support the veterans in a meaningful way.

It would be so marvellous to see my colleague stand up that day and say that it may not be everything, that it may not be all that we want, but that the government is doing the right things for the veterans of Canada. I want to hear the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore stand up and, with great praise and great enthusiasm, do that.

All kidding aside, it is important to note that as we look at the issues we are facing and the issues to come, the modern vets need special recognition. I would agree with many of the points made over recent years that there were problems, whether it was regarding privacy or other issues. The fact is there has been a response to those, and a continued response is necessary.

It has been pointed out by other members that not just recognizing the services, but as the department becomes more efficient, more of the money should be spent on the veterans and less of the money should be spent on bureaucracy.

We will not get into a debate about the things that should stay or go; that will continue in the years to come. However, I will tell members one thing. Whatever we end up doing, as colleagues in this House, we have to keep trying and every day of every year we have to remember what these people have done.

The modern vets are coming home. As I said earlier about one of the meetings we had a couple of years ago, these peer support groups are becoming so important. There are homeless vets. There are a lot of problems that vets face. We have learned that the best approach is for someone who has been in their shoes to be the lead and the contact with veterans. They will make the contact and will bring them in. This is something that probably I and most of us could not do. They have been there. They have suffered. They understand and they want to help. We have to listen to these people. We have to support these people. We have to ensure they are given the supports they need. That is our job. I see a lot of opportunity for improvement there.

I have probably left a few things out that were in my notes, but I did want to take this opportunity to say that tomorrow is an important day. The minister is going to be with us at the committee. The committee members will have an opportunity to go into detail, but please let it be with the full understanding and comprehension that we start by saying there will be absolutely no reduction in services to veterans. We just will never let that happen.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments of my colleague from Nova Scotia. If I may say in a non-partisan way, he does an excellent job as chair of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs and for that I am greatly appreciative.

He said that we need to do more and we could never do enough. He is right. The reality is that in some cases the disabled veteran or family member is 86 years old, 90 years old, 97 years old. I raised the case of Mr. Dionne from North Vancouver in the House. Does the member honestly think for a second that a 97-year-old veteran who just had a pacemaker put in at a hospital and his 89-year-old wife should be told that the department will get back to them in 16 weeks if it may help them? This is just one of thousands of issues we deal with on a regular basis.

Does the member not think the answer should be that the department will help them immediately and that the paperwork can be filled in later? Does he not think that would be a much better way to go?

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Kerr Conservative West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I agree in principle, obviously. How would a person disagree with respect to a veteran of that age?

I would also remind members that every year we see the numbers of satisfied veterans, in terms of getting service and support, going up. The vast majority of veterans get the services that they want and need.

There are these that certainly deserve our attention. We have to focus more on the eligibility question. They deserve the benefit of the doubt. I do not argue at all. Also, the member knows that we are seeing the wait times actually begin to shorten. That is one of the major commitments to take place. All of us as members have been frustrated when dealing with veterans matters to see how long it has taken sometimes to get an answer, positive or negative, but certainly we want to continue. On that point, we would certainly agree.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I, too, would like to commend the hon. member for his work as the chairman of our committee. I know that I have not made it particularly easy for him. It would be great if more of the committee business was done in public. However, he is a good man, doing a good job.

He said in the course of his remarks that tomorrow is a very important day because the committee is going to consider the main estimates. He also said that legally we cannot reduce the amount that is being paid for veterans benefits.

Is he prejudging the outcome of the vote tomorrow? Does the committee not have the right to examine the numbers that come before it, to discuss them and to decide whether or not to pass them? If they are legally bound, what are we meeting for tomorrow?

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Kerr Conservative West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I hope I did not misunderstand my colleague from Charlottetown. What I said was that we were legally bound to maintain the level of service for veterans. I hope he is not suggesting that at tomorrow's meeting any member of the committee would talk about reducing support to the veterans, to actually reduce the amount of money going to veterans. I am not trying to be presumptuous of the committee, but this side of the House is going to absolutely vote to support and maintain the programs and services available to the veterans of Canada.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Lévis—Bellechasse Québec

Conservative

Steven Blaney ConservativeMinister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I want to add my voice to those of the two official critics, to commend the work of our chair of the veterans affairs committee. As well, I commend the work of the whole committee, which has provided an excellent report on remembrance as we approach the centennial of the First World War, which is very important.

The member raised the issue of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. This is at the very heart of our country. I wish every member and every Canadian could seize the sacrifices made by those Canadians at that time.

Tomorrow, I will be more than happy to appear in front of the committee where I will present an additional budget of $43 million that will be required for the current fiscal year. I will also be seeking support for an additional $3.5 billion in the main estimates for next year. I hope I will get the support of the member as well.

My question for the chair of the committee is this. Today we have a motion, but is it not more important to vote when there are budget initiatives? What can we expect from a party that is consistently voting against veterans? Should we not be more proactive and support our veterans?

As we heard, the member is asking for streamlining of processes so we have more money for veterans and less for bureaucracy.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Kerr Conservative West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I was getting a lot of helpful advice around this corner of the House, so I may not have the full intent, but I did get the sense about voting for the budget. It is kind of a segue to say, first, I heard one comment. No, I was not at Vimy Ridge. I did not see it personally, although I may be older than some members.

I absolutely agree that the real test is in the budget itself. The Minister of Finance, when he brings that great document forward, is one more member of the House who is totally aware of and supportive of veterans.

I know the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore will have to really contain his enthusiasm when he votes in favour of the budget that comes in this year. I look forward to that.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, knowing that several members wish to address this matter, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster.

Last week, I had the opportunity to experience one of the rare moments of unanimity in this House, when we all agreed to support Shannen's dream. These kinds of issues should always have our unanimous support, because their importance is indisputable. The same goes for how we should treat our military and RCMP veterans and their families.

I would remind the House that politicians do not take part in combat or peacekeeping operations, but we are the ones who decide on the missions that, quite often, jeopardize the health, if not the very lives of our men and women in uniform. Our soldiers defend our values and our freedom on behalf of all Canadians, because that is what we ask them to do. All members in the House carry a great deal of responsibility on their shoulders when they decide to send our troops into a foreign operational theatre, and members should be particularly careful about the respect, treatment and consideration our soldiers deserve.

We owe it to our veterans to remember, and this duty goes beyond the respect shown at Remembrance Day ceremonies. Our respect should be shown through concrete actions that constantly reflect the sacrifices made by our veterans so that we can all live comfortably in a world of freedom and justice.

I am very surprised at our government's attitude toward our veterans. The government has been making one funding announcement after another related to its plans to celebrate a war that happened a very long time ago. Our ministers seem much more interested in commemorating the War of 1812 and the soldiers who died in it than they are in the reality of today's veterans. We are uncomfortable with the extraordinary emphasis the government is putting on that long-ago conflict and the money it is spending to celebrate it. Nation-building means recognizing those who are currently contributing to Canada's presence on the world stage by participating in our diplomacy and military action.

In another sphere of activity, RCMP veterans also deserve recognition through action, not just words. We are just weeks away from a federal budget, but it seems the Conservatives have once again chosen equality over fairness. I will use a very simple example to explain the difference.

If a teenager and I share a pizza equally for dinner, we each get half. After dinner, the teenager is definitely still going to be hungry because he needs more food to fuel his growth, while I will probably have eaten too much and raised my cholesterol level. Equal shares may have seemed like a good idea at the time. Were we to do things differently and share the pizza fairly, neither the teenager nor I would still be hungry at the end of the meal.

Why choose that example? Because for months, the message the government has been sending is that everyone has to fork over their 5% or 10% contribution to the national treasury. Applying such a simplistic formula is not a courageous political agenda. Governing is not just about doing a little math to come up with a budget. It is also about making fair choices to meet the needs of every group and explaining why it is fair. The government must behave courageously.

A simplistic approach might be to say that every veteran who passes away should correspond to a decrease in the credits on this budget line, but that would be to forget that Canadians want a fairer society. They want the government to be there for those who served and even sacrificed their lives. What is more, the needs of today's veterans are very different from yesterday's veterans. War has changed and when veterans return, they need the appropriate care and services for each individual: both veterans and their families.

We are dealing with a new generation of veterans, many of whom are coming home with new psychological disorders. Indeed, this costs money, but that budgetary effort should be a given. A new generation of veterans means a new kind of care for them. Here are some ways the reality is so different: the declining average age of soldiers needing services and the rising number of years during which they need those services; the consequences of choosing combat missions over peacekeeping missions; the growing use of reservists; I will stop there because I do not have enough time.

The NDP is making very reasonable requests and showing increased sensitivity toward veterans and RCMP veterans, while remaining aware of the current economic situation. That is what it means to make choices.

As a result, the NDP is making two requests. First, it is asking for a guarantee that the Department of Veterans Affairs will be exempt from the cuts in the 2012-13 budget. Second, it is asking for a guarantee that all military and RCMP veterans and their families will have access to programs and services in a timely and comprehensive manner.

I would like to remind those who think this measure is excessive that, in 2011, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, committed to not making any cuts to programs for veterans at the very time when Congress and the administration were seeking to balance the budget. The United Kingdom and Australia did the same, so why not Canada?

In addition, according to all the government ministers and many economic analysts, Canada is the G8 country that fared the best during the economic crisis. The budget cuts that the government has been announcing for many months are controversial. It even seems that they may not be very effective or even useless. Given these circumstances, we certainly have the means to recognize military and RCMP veterans.

In addition to our two requests, we also have a number of recommendations to make to improve services for the clients targeted by this motion, such as developing health care centres of excellence for modern veterans, more access to veterans' hospitals, reforms to the new veterans charter, an increase in funeral expenses—a last show of respect if ever there was one—and action on veterans’ homelessness.

In short, the NDP wants to implement a system that will change with the changing needs of military and RCMP veterans. In this case, as in many others, the Conservative government is unfortunately the champion of half measures.

Although the Prime Minister promised, when he was the leader of the opposition, that a Conservative government would immediately extend the veterans independence program to all widows of World War II and Korean War veterans, regardless of when the veteran died or the period in which he received benefits before he died, the measures that have been put in place have resulted in the creation of two categories of widows.

The same approach has been taken with Agent Orange. Not only has the government created different classes of victims—with some receiving benefits and others not—but effective December 31, 2011, the department is no longer accepting applications for lack of program funding. Can we really put a deadline on compensation owed to victims suffering from medical problems associated with the use of Agent Orange?

The same battle is being fought by veterans exposed to radiation, and the list goes on.

At a time when the government is preparing to spend recklessly, without even batting an eyelash, to equip the military with a plane that is unproven and whose costs that continue to spiral upwards, should we not ensure that our soldiers who return home are treated as well as they have served our country abroad? That is the recognition and the respect that we owe our men and women in uniform.

The people we represent are all waiting for this type of action, which allows them to believe in their institutions and, above all, in the value of the politicians they have elected.

I am pleased to have joined in this discussion, and I hope that together we will find the means to meet the expectations of our military and RCMP veterans and their families.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend the hon. member for his speech on this very important day in the House of Commons.

Like me, the hon. member must certainly return to his riding for Remembrance Day, and I am sure that he has noticed that the number of veterans of past wars is getting smaller each year.

I would like the hon. member to tell me what will happen to our current military personnel when they need services if the Minister of Veterans Affairs makes the cuts we have been talking about today.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, this year, when I went to participate in the Remembrance Day ceremonies for the first time as a member of Parliament, the biggest surprise for me was to feel as though I were being welcomed as a hero when the veterans are the ones who deserve all the credit.

In most of the informal conversations that I had with new generation of veterans after the ceremonies, they told me that they were concerned because they have trouble obtaining services and they have to justify the health problems they experience as a result of wanting to serve their country. It is completely unacceptable.

I hope that the government will have the decency not to cut the services provided to veterans or the department's budget.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the fact that my colleague reminded us that last week, the House adopted a unanimous motion concerning Shannen's dream. As he so aptly put it, the same principle applies here when talking about issues that should transcend politics.

However, we are being accused of fearmongering on this issue. The Conservatives assure us that there will be no cuts. However, they refuse to tell us whether, yes or no, they will vote in favour of the motion and that there really will be no cuts. Everyone should be able to vote in favour of the motion.

I wonder if my colleague could comment further on the very serious implications of any budget cuts regarding veterans.

Opposition Motion—Veterans AffairsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, perhaps our friends know more about the budget than we do on this side of the House. It is very difficult to speculate on the contents of the budget that will be presented on March 29. However, what matters to all Canadians is that there are as many unanimous votes as possible in this House.

If the government really does not have any cuts planned in its budget that will affect veterans, why not prove it immediately and use this motion as an opportunity to show all Canadians, once again, that it is possible for us to work together in this House, in the best interest of our citizens?