Mr. Speaker, I find the speeches in the House interesting, from time to time, and the different perceptions on reality, I guess one could say.
Just for the people at home, I have been on the veterans affairs committee since I was first elected in 2008. It is a privilege, really, to serve on the committee. In spite of the debates we have heard today, it really is not a partisan committee. I think all members are trying to do their best for veterans.
However, I think we do need to focus on a couple of things.
The Funeral Service Association of Canada was in Ottawa a couple of years ago and made its presentation on the issues it thought could be improved. The head of the funeral association came forward after the budget and really had glowing remarks about what we have been able to do to provide increased funding for the funerals of veterans.
The other thing that I think has been lost in this debate is the burial portion of it that was really unlimited, depending upon where a veteran was from, whether from a city or from an area like mine, which would be considered rural. If they were from a city, the actual burial portion of it could be quite expensive. Veterans Affairs was there to cover that cost. I think that should also be mentioned in the debate.
The member for Charlottetown and the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore commented on what they perceived to be deficiencies inside the department. However, I think they have to remember what we have done since 2006, to date, to transform this department. Seeing how they went on about this, I think I should clarify a few things.
Basically, prior to our becoming government in 2006, they were doing business in Veterans Affairs as they might have done business in 1972. Virtually all the records were paper. There were virtually no electronic veterans' files of any detail. That has come a tremendous way in the last few years. With respect to the transformation agenda that has taken place at Veterans Affairs just during my time, since 2008, I feel great strides have been made to improve efficiencies and, most important, to deliver results to veterans in a timely, appropriate and professional manner. Case managers who deal at the front line to get things done for veterans have been given a lot more leeway. I think that is really worth mentioning. It is worth noting that Veterans Affairs has stepped up to the plate.
The member for Charlottetown talked about jobs. By and large, most of those have been through attrition. I think that speaks to the compassion of the department, both at the political level and at the administration level as well. I think that speaks to the effort and the manner in which it is trying to deliver.
The other point is that such tremendous efficiencies have been developed in the last couple of years that it allows for those people in the backrooms, I guess we would call them, to perhaps be replaced through the efficiencies. However, the front-line workers are still there and are still doing a great job.
The member for Charlottetown also touched upon the offices and their ability to deliver services. In my riding of Huron—Bruce, we do not have an office, and the service is delivered quite fine, as far as I am concerned. The case managers I have come to know or spoken to over the years do a great job. They drive from London, which is about an hour's drive from where I live, and in some cases it is farther, depending on where one lives. They do a great job. They work with the Legion branches. If veterans cannot make it to the Legion, they go to their house. I have never once had a complaint from veterans on the way they have been treated or the way the case manager has treated their file or their situation.
It is the year 2013 and things can be done differently from the way they done were in 1972, even if the opposition resists those changes into modern times or modern technology.
Another thing I would like to talk about is the new veterans charter. We have already made one change since I have been here, with the new veterans charter, because we have listened to veterans and we have listened to veterans groups. We realize the new veterans charter is a living, breathing document that is not set in stone forever, and as veterans' needs change, so will the program.
I just looked at changes to the earnings loss benefit. I looked at changes to the permanent impairment allowance. These were significant improvements.
A couple of years ago, veterans came forward and said they would like some flexibility on the lump sum that is paid out. We listened to veterans, and when Jean-Pierre Blackburn was the minister, we brought those in. We have done a great job of listening.
I find it interesting that members of the opposition talk about the lack of consultation. I have been in committee since 2008, and I have heard numerous veterans groups who appeared before committee talk specifically about the last post funding and they have made themselves clear, not only in House of Commons committees but in the Senate committees as well.
As far as consultation is concerned, we have heard loud and clear about the last post fund. We have heard loud and clear from the Funeral Service Association of Canada. We have heard loud and clear from the Legion. We have heard loud and clear from veterans and different veterans associations. To say there was no consultation is ridiculous, to say the least, because there are umpteen different reports or files that can be seen, and the ombudsman has provided documentation as well.
We have been there. We have doubled funding for the last post fund on the funeral side of it, and it is a means-based program that allows a veteran and his or her family to have a dignified funeral, which is the whole purpose of the last post fund. There are hundreds of thousands of people who have served in the military who are not active clients of Veterans Affairs. However, these are people who are involved and are clients of Veterans Affairs, through their service-related injuries.The fund is to provide those veterans a proper and dignified funeral, and that is what we have done.
It is also worthwhile to note that in spite of the economic downturn and in spite of increased financial pressures on government coffers, we did not do what the Liberals did so many years ago and cut all the vital services. We go on at length about the cuts to social transfers and health transfers, but there also were cuts in the Veterans Affairs Department.
We have maintained the funding. We have found savings by providing efficiencies in the department, with which I think most Canadians agree, and we have maintained the fund. We did not cut the funerals and burials of the last post from $3,600 to $1,800. We doubled it. We have made the investments, and this is in a time of deficit.
When provinces from coast to coast—and I am from Ontario—have slashed services in some cases, we continue to deliver, and we have continued to deliver for veterans.
Many members of our caucus have parents or grandparents who have served in the Canadian Forces. We even have some members of Parliament who have served in our Canadian Forces. I have a member sitting right near me who had a great experience with his father with Veterans Affairs. If any members of the opposition would like to talk to him about his experience and the professionalism with which they treated him and his family, I am sure he would be happy to share that with them anytime. I would encourage them to do that.
To sum up, we have to look at the entire suite of programs that are going to veterans. We have done studies on what other countries provide to their veterans in the form of services, and time and time again, Canada comes out ahead. It comes out right at the top. Whether it is about vocational training, PTSD or mental health, governments around the world are looking at what we are doing in Canada with Veterans Affairs, and they are using our template to deliver services to veterans. Why? It is because we listen to veterans; we are working for veterans; and the department, the minister and all his staff are focused on getting the job done, because we appreciate the service commitment that they provided.
I appreciate the time for the debate. I think we have put forward a great case and we have shown Canadians, demonstrated our investment, and it should be noted that the Department of Veterans Affairs' budget is over $3 billion each and every year.