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.