House of Commons Hansard #235 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was veterans.


Last Post FundPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague a few questions. I thank her for moving this important motion that seeks to resolve some problems.

However, I would like to mention from the outset that, like the member opposite said, if there is a problem with the accessibility of the Last Post Fund, it is partly due to the legacy of the Chrétien government, which reduced the estate exemption from $24,000 to $12,000.

According to my colleague, what amount would be acceptable today? Would $24,000, which was the amount that could be accessed in 1995, be acceptable today?

I would also like her to comment on whether the increased amount of approximately $7,300 set out in the government's economic action plan is enough to cover the funeral costs of our veterans.

Last Post FundPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, whether or not the $7,000 figure is sufficient, it is unfortunate, I am told that the government did not consult with the Last Post Fund when it determined that figure. That is unfortunate, indeed. I do know that of course for serving Canadian Forces members who die, anywhere from $13,000 to $17,000 is provided.

The issue for me is to do whatever we can to increase the amount available to families so that ensuring our veterans receive a dignified funeral and burial is what this motion is all about.

Again, we are talking about things that happened 20 years ago. I am interested in the veterans of today. I would like to think that all of us in this House of Commons are concerned about our veterans and their families.

Last Post FundPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Mississauga—Brampton South Ontario


Eve Adams ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for this chance to speak in support of the government's funeral and burial program for the families of Canada's veterans.

The funeral and burial program recognizes and supports the families of all veterans who have died from injuries they suffered in service to Canada, as well as the families of those veterans who have passed away and are in financial need. Thanks to this program, more than 1,300 families were helped through a very difficult time in their lives this past year. We were there to help honour Canadian veterans and ensure that these men and women were laid to rest with the dignity and respect that Canada's heroes deserve. That is why I am proud to support this program and to stand here and pledge my support for maintaining and enhancing it where and when it can be improved.

That is why I am proud to support this program, to stand here and pledge my support for maintaining it and even enhancing it.

The funeral and burial program reflects Canada's pride for our veterans. It is a responsible and effective program and one which fully considers the individual needs of the families it serves. That is particularly true with the help provided to the families of veterans who have died in financial need.

The term “financial need” has been mentioned often tonight, but what does it really mean? In short, “financial need” is determined through a simple means testing of the veteran's estate, a straightforward process that considers factors such as marital status, number of dependants and net assets.

It is also worth spelling out very clearly what we mean by “assets”. A veteran's primary home and vehicle are not included in calculating the value of his or her estate. Nor is a spouse expected to sell the family home or the primary car in order to cover a veteran's funeral and burial. That is simply not how the program works.

The means test also exempts the first $12,000 of cash in the veteran's estate. This means that veterans can still be found to be in financial need even when they own a home and a car, and have $12,000 in the bank.

It is equally important to emphasize that every application under the funeral and burial program is reviewed on its own merit. Every case is unique and everything is considered.

As well, members of the House may be interested to know how the funeral and burial program is actually administered. It is administered for the government by the Last Post Fund, a non-profit organization that started as a grassroots movement back in 1909. It is estimated that the Last Post Fund has helped to lay to rest more than 150,000 veterans over the past century. What a truly proud history for the Last Post Fund.

However, we know that it has not always been easy for the Last Post Fund. In the mid-1990s, for example, the Last Post Fund was asked by the previous Liberal government to scale back the funeral and burial program during a time of fiscal restraint. That was a decision by those who served in the House before us. It is not for us to judge or answer for, it is simply what happened, it is reality, just as it is also true that some changes were subsequently made to restore and improve the program.

Of course, it is also true that our Conservative government finds itself in another period of fiscal restraint. Conceivably we could follow the lead of the Liberals before us, but our Prime Minister and our Minister of Veterans Affairs have been very clear that our support for the funeral and burial program remain steadfast.

Even during our currently fragile economic recovery, our Conservative government refuses to entertain reductions to the program or its benefits. In fact, our focus is completely the opposite. We are constantly looking at new ways to support Canada's veterans and their families. The funeral and burial program is no exception. The minister has said so. He has instructed our department to continue reviewing the funeral and burial program and to explore options on how to improve the program and cut red tape.

Our Conservative government's record for supporting veterans demonstrates how well this approach is working.

Over the last seven years, we have approved record new funding, totalling almost $4 billion in accumulated increases to ensure that the Government of Canada is here for its veterans and for the men and women who continue to serve Canada. This includes: implementing the new veterans charter and enhancing it with significant new measures for seriously ill and injured veterans; enhancing other vital health services, including a doubling of our specialized clinics for veterans struggling with mental health issues; and reaching out to new partners across the country, whether it is in developing new employment opportunities for our veterans, new transitional housing or e-services.

Through our Conservative government's ongoing cutting red tape for veterans initiative, we are also serving our veterans and their families better and faster and in more modern and convenient ways.

All these measures represent real action for veterans and their families. They also illustrate our Conservative government's commitments to our veterans. We are always looking ahead and adapting our programs and services to meet the evolving needs of our veterans. The funeral and burial program is a case in point. Economic action plan 2013 would modernize and improve support for families of veterans. With economic action plan 2013, we would make the funeral and burial program even better.

How will we do that?

First, we are more than doubling the maximum reimbursement for funerals from $3,600 to $7,376. That is in addition to already covering the actual and full cost of burials. We are also simplifying the process for veterans' estates. Canadians should know the full extent of the program, that it also includes financial help for such things as the purchase of a grave or the cost of cremation. Finally, Canadians should know that we assume the full cost of maintaining the veteran's grave in perpetuity.

The funeral and burial program ensures that veterans have a dignified funeral and burial and that their final resting place is always fitting for Canadian heroes.

I do not know how to say it anymore clearly, Our government is committed to supporting Canada's veterans and their families and the funeral and burial program is an important part of that. It is providing funeral and burial assistance to all veterans who die of a service-related disability and it is helping the families of veterans who die in financial need.

This is good news. I would have thought that the member opposite would support that and that she would support our promise to complete a thorough and responsible review of the program. I am certainly proud to say that I do.

I am proud to say that our Prime Minister and our Minister of Veterans Affairs stand by Canada's veterans, and that we will continue to review all of our programs and services to make sure they are meeting the needs of the remarkable men and women we serve.

Canada's veterans have earned that. They deserve that and we will settle for absolutely nothing less with the Prime Minister, the Minister of Veterans Affairs and this incredible Conservative team.

Last Post FundPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague from the great province of Newfoundland and Labrador for bringing forward Motion No. 422. I greatly appreciate it. We do not necessarily have to go back 20 years on something, but even though I was not a politician then I remember clearly the articles written about the massive cut from $24,000 to $12,000 in terms of the eligibility rate. I hope the Liberals have learned from that mistake. With this motion, they obviously have. I will accept that as an apology for what happened 20 years ago, even though the member was much younger back then. I do not really blame her or the current party for that now.

The parliamentary secretary gave us some numbers. She talked about 1,300 veterans being helped. That is great. The problem is that by the end of this year we are going to lose over 40,000 World War II and Korean veterans due to the aging process and 1,300 of those 40,000 will have access to the funeral and burial service. Those numbers do not jive.

I said this before and I will say it again, the funeral and burial service that Canada offers its veterans is the last chance for a grateful nation to say thanks to that person and to that family for what they have done for our country. To not include modern day veterans is a travesty. It will cost money, just like Canada's economic action plan advertising costs money, just like Mike Duffy in the Senate costs money, just like everything else the Conservatives do, like the F-35 boondoggle. The Conservatives have no problem with spending hundreds of millions of dollars on their friends and their agencies. How much did they get in consulting a while ago? I believe it was something like $96,000 a day. It is insane.

We are talking about Canada's heroes, the men and women who have served our country. The fact is that unless we increase the $12,015 estate exemption many veterans will be denied this service.

I thank the government for putting in $65 million, but there is no plan in the budget. It says it will be $63 million in the first year and $2 million in the second year. I called officials with the Last Post Fund and they knew nothing about it. They were pleased but they were surprised by this. When I received a briefing from the department, officials told me the money would be rolled out over a certain period of time, that the plan would be worked on more or less as they went along. There is no plan.

We thank the government for ensuring that those who are eligible will get more money. However, my hon. colleague from Random—Burin—St. George's is correct. If we had a stand alone on this one, it would be passed immediately. In fact, we would encourage the government to take that out of the budget, accept the member's motion and move it forward. The government will not do that. The government will leave it in the budget with all the other bad things that are in it, beat us over the head and say that we voted against it, which is typical nonsense. I could list hundreds of things the Conservatives voted against when they were in opposition in the budget talks, but it is just simple nonsense.

Remembrance Day is every day for the men and women who served our country and their families, not just on November 11.

On this side of the House, we firmly believe that every veteran should have access to this program. It is quite simple for the government to reduce red tape. It just has to ensure that when every veteran passes away, they would be eligible to get this money to assist in a proper and dignified funeral services. That is the only true way we can ensure that every veteran and their family gets the respect they so rightly deserve.

It is unconscionable that the government can include this money. We do not know where the $65 million came from. Nobody really knows how that figure came about. The Conservatives say that they want to consult with the Royal Canadian Legion. With great respect to the legion, which does a great job, it is not the one that delivers the service. It is the Last Post Fund that delivers the service. One would think the government would have consulted with the Last Post Fund with respect to this additional money, but it did not do that, which shows us that this is a last minute add on which was thrown in the budget to appease the critics.

We are not criticizing the added money. We are criticizing the way it was done and the fact that many more veterans will still be denied. By the time we put our heads down tonight, we will lose another 120 World War II and Korean veterans through the aging process. They will have crossed the bar and many of those people will not have qualified for this program. That is a shame and it is a sin.

Think about that. These people have served their country with great gallantry and with great honour, and we are saying to them that they do not qualify. “No soup for you”, as they say. They will not qualify. “You might; but you do not.” On the battlefield, the enemy never said, “You are a reservist. You are a full-time guy. You make a lot of money. You do not.”

Bullets do not discriminate. PTSD does not discriminate. The reality is that the government uses all these qualifying words: if you qualify; if you are eligible; if you have a service-related injury. I knew a gentleman who passed away a few weeks ago. He had asbestosis. He got a benefit for that, but he died of a heart attack. He was denied the funeral and burial service, because his heart attack was not due to the asbestos. What kind of nonsense is that? The reality is that the man passed away. He served in the Korea War. Why do we not offer him the funeral and burial service that his family rightfully deserves so that they could send him away in a dignified and proper manner. That is what we need to be doing.

I want to assure the hon. member and her Liberal Party that we will be supporting Motion No. 422. We thank her very much for bringing this forward. There is a lot more work we need to do. I will be working very closely with her colleague from Charlottetown to make sure that the Liberal Party gets it right this time. We will assist him in any way we can, in the co-operative nature in which we do business around here, to ensure that every one of our military and RCAF veterans and their families, not just for this service but all aspects of veterans affairs, are treated with the respect and dignity they so rightfully deserve.

At the end of the day, they are the ones who allow us to have a good night's sleep. I have not had one since the original Woodstock, but that is a personal problem. Our veterans are the ones who allow us to do that. We should at least allow them to ensure that they themselves have a good night's sleep.

God bless all the veterans and their families out there.

Last Post FundPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to speak today. To begin, I would like to congratulate the member for Random—Burin—St. George's and thank her for her work on this file. This is a very important motion. It is very important that this matter be debated publicly because we were not able to debate it in committee.

I am very pleased to participate in the debate. Part of the reason is that for some time now, I have actually had a motion before the veterans committee. The minute we tried to introduce the motion to do a root and branch study of the Last Post Fund before the veterans committee, it went in camera. Now here we are discussing this in public. I thank the member for Random—Burin—St. George's for ensuring that we are able to do this.

Imagine my surprise, when just a few minutes ago, we heard the parliamentary secretary talk about how the minister is directing a continuing review of the Last Post Fund. That is the very thing in the motion before the veterans committee that is not worthy of public discussion.

I have said on many occasions that the government places more value on symbolism than on substance. This choice of symbolism, spin and propaganda is done to convince Canadians that Conservatives are doing something on veterans issues. This is evident in the empty measures recently announced in the budget, to which I will return to later.

I want to highlight, for the benefit of the House and for Canadians, the true record of the Conservative government with respect to veterans. It is a long rap sheet. It is a record of blaming others, spin and political opportunism. Here are just a few examples.

It was the Conservatives who made the decision to interfere with the work of the independent Privacy Commissioner, who was conducting an audit of the department and investigating breaches of privacy, including the privacy of a decorated veteran, Captain Sean Bruyea.

It was the Conservatives who interfered and halted the work of the independent veterans ombudsman's investigation of breaches of privacy, notably the Conservatives' snooping into medical records of veterans who spoke out against their policies.

It was the Conservatives who removed a decorated veteran, Harold Leduc, from the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. The only reason they did this was that he was an outspoken advocate in his defence of veterans, and more often than not, he granted the benefit of the doubt to the veterans appearing before him.

It was the minister's decision to spend millions of dollars in departmental funding on propaganda, media backdrops, photo ops and other communications to the benefit only of the Conservatives, all the while ignoring the needs of veterans and chopping front-line services.

It was the Conservatives who dragged disabled veterans into the Federal Court over their disability pensions. It was the Conservatives who decided to fight them in court for five years over money they had earned and deserved. The Conservatives lost that case, but only after the minister spent $750,000 fighting the very people the Conservatives go to great lengths pretending to care about.

They did not learn much. There are two class action suits presently wending their way through the courts. All too often, the government's response to valid complaints from veterans is “Have your lawyer call mine”.

It was the Conservatives who shut down local Veterans Affairs district offices. It was these offices that provided a place where veterans could meet caseworkers in person to discuss the issues they are facing, including pensions and benefits. In the case of my province, veterans who are being case managed have had their case managers moved out of the province.

It was the Conservatives who have been and are still in the process of firing hundreds of employees from Veterans Affairs Canada, and they are not done yet. In the report on planning and priorities, issued last week, it shows that over the next 23 months, another 319 positions will be cut. That is 10% of the workforce at a time when they claim that veterans' services will not be affected.

These cuts are happening at a time when veterans' needs are actually increasing. Even the Auditor General has raised alarm bells about the impact of these cuts to veterans' services.

This is the Conservative's record with respect to veterans. It is a record of symbolism over substance. It is a record where talking points trump substance, where spin trumps truth.

The motion before the House was not brought by accident. It is not something that was created in a vacuum. It was brought before the House because the Conservative government has failed in its duty to support the real needs of veterans and has failed to provide financial support for their burial costs.

Today we have heard the Conservatives talk about how great they are, because they made an announcement about the Last Post Fund in the recent budget. As a result, they intend to oppose the motion. That is a disgrace.

Do the Conservatives know that their colleagues, successive Conservative ministers, refused to implement changes to the Last Post Fund recommended over three years ago by officials in their own department? It was the Department of Veterans Affairs, over three years ago, that recommended changes to the Last Post Fund to expand access to financial support at the passing of veterans. For three years, the Conservatives did nothing. Yet today they are beating their chests as if they saved the day with changes to the Last Post Fund.

As we heard earlier in the debate, there has been very little in the way of detail. It is clear that these changes were made without consultation with the Last Post Fund, the very organization that administers the fund.

We heard the parliamentary secretary describe this as a responsible and effective program. Do the Conservatives think Canadians will forget that they were responsible for the rejection of 66% of all requests for funding to help bury our veterans? Do the Conservatives think Canadians will forget that for years, successive veterans ombudsmen have called for changes to the Last Post Fund to help veterans? They did nothing. They ignored the ombudsmen's recommendations. Do the Conservatives think Canadians will forget that it was their government that ignored recommendations made by the Royal Canadian Legion for changes to the Last Post Fund in the years 2008, 2010 and 2012? They did nothing. They ignored the legion. For years the Liberal Party was calling for expanding access to the Last Post Fund. The Conservatives did nothing. For years they ignored the veterans community, and only after overwhelming pressure to finally do something, they added one paragraph in the 2013 budget and now claim to have solved the problem. That is false. It is a ruse. The proposed changes outlined in the budget provide little in the way of detail.

However, I am grateful to my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore for his co-operation and the great work he has done. He was able to obtain a briefing and some information. We are now led to believe that access to the fund, which is now very limited, which was the fundamental complaint, has not been changed, as it should have been. Expanding access to the fund was the primary issue for the ombudsman and the legion. The Conservatives failed them and failed veterans. Not one veteran currently excluded from accessing the burial fund will have access to the fund under the proposed changes announced in budget 2013.

The members opposite may think that their Minister of Finance handed them political cover to go out and brag about how great they are helping veterans, but the truth tells a different story.

Canadians are tired of spin and talking points. They want real action from the government but are getting nothing. The Conservatives have failed veterans, and we are here to tell Canadians the truth.

Last Post FundPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

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.

Last Post FundPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Motion No. 422.

I would like to touch on a few comments made by the member opposite about the programs and services offered to veterans. He said that the government has done a lot in recent years, but I feel that there is still much left to do before our veterans actually receive adequate services and health care. There is much work left to do, and I hope that my colleague agrees with me. I also hope that the new veterans charter will soon be improved so that veterans receive the amount they deserve. That would go a long way toward giving them the recognition they are worthy of.

My colleague said that he has never met a veteran who had problems accessing services. I cannot say the same because I have met a great deal of veterans who said they had a hard time getting information on the services to which they are entitled. Just recently, one veteran told me that he had been entitled to receive certain services for a number of years already, but that he only just found out. He could not find the necessary information. The closure of eight offices next year across the country is despicable. This will force older veterans, who do not necessarily have access to a computer to get information about the services to which they are entitled, to travel hundreds of kilometres to find the closest office to get the information on the services they are entitled to receive.

I want to come back to the motion before us today, Motion No. 422, on improving the Last Post Fund. I will elaborate. The Last Post Fund was mandated by Veterans Affairs Canada to provide financial assistance to veterans in need, in order that they may have a funeral worthy of the sacrifice they made for their country. The financial assistance is used to pay for burial, cremation, and grave marking.

The Last Post Fund is a non-profit organization that, since 1909, has been providing financial assistance to veterans in financial difficulty at the time of their death. It has been administering the Veterans Affairs Canada Funeral and Burial Program since 1998. The funding does not come from the federal government alone. It also comes from private donations that help provide veterans with a proper burial worthy of the sacrifice made by financially disadvantaged veterans.

Since 2009, further to observations made by the ombudsman, the NDP has been saying that the Funeral and Burial Program, which is very important to veterans, is clearly underfunded. What is more, the eligibility criteria are such that veterans have a hard time getting financial assistance, with two-thirds of families applying for this financial assistance being denied access to this funeral fund.

Since then, the NDP has been calling on the government to respond to the ombudsman's report. A number of other stakeholders have also called on the government to improve the fund. There is the Royal Canadian Legion, the Funeral Service Association of Canada, the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada, Canadian Veterans Advocacy, the National Council of Veteran Associations, and many other veterans' organizations.

Of course, the NDP will support the motion. I think the Liberal member is admitting that it was a bad decision on the part of the Liberal government in 1995 to cut off access to this funeral fund. Thus, if veterans are having eligibility problems today, it is because of a Chrétien government legacy that decreased the estate exemption from $24,000 to $12,000, where it has remained since then.

Thus, we can understand that with this very low exemption level, very few veterans' families are eligible for this financial support for funeral expenses, which is truly appalling.

Liberal members recently sent an open letter to some local media outlets in the ridings of several of our MPs, calling for support for this motion. Of course we will support it. However, I deplore the fact that they presented themselves as ardent defenders of veterans' rights, when it is because of the legacy of one of their own governments that we are in this unfortunate situation today.

While accessing the Last Post Fund is one problem, veterans also come up against many other problems, particularly concerning the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, or VRAB, which they often have to fight. The NDP abhors this situation and is calling on the government to replace that board with another body that, in co-operation with veterans, will better meet their needs and their families' needs.

I hope to have the opportunity to finish my speech in order to emphasize how important this motion is, at least so we can try to solve some of the problems related to eligibility regarding the Last Post Fund, which is seriously flawed at this time.

Last Post FundPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

The time provided for the consideration of this item of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

The House resumed from February 6 consideration of the motion that Bill C-266, An Act to establish Pope John Paul II Day, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Pope John Paul II Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Pursuant to Standing Order 37, the House will now proceed to the consideration of Bill C-266 under private members' business.

Pope John Paul II Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Oak Ridges—Markham Ontario


Paul Calandra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today on this bill. It is an important bill for a lot of reasons.

Before I begin, I would like to recognize the member for Mississauga East—Cooksville for bringing this bill forward in the House. He is a gentleman who has a very important success story, and he is one of those people Canada seems to attract.

The member for Mississauga East—Cooksville was born in Poland. He lived under a Communist dictatorship and understood how hard life was. He wanted to do something better to support his family. He came to Canada and built a better life for his family. Ultimately, living the Canadian dream, he has now been elected to the Canadian House of Commons and is able to give back and contribute to his community.

He is doing spectacular work here, and this bill is just another indication of it. How nice it must be for the people in Mississauga East—Cooksville to have a member of Parliament who brings forward their issues and has finally restored that community to some excellent representation. I want to congratulate him for bringing this bill forward, because it is so important that we talk about this extraordinary person, Pope John Paul II.

I was a student in Scarborough in 1984 in the second class of Pope John Paul II Catholic school. The year 1984 was a very interesting time, because I believe it was the Pope's first visit to Canada. It was an extraordinary time for us students as we got to wait in line in the procession as the Popemobile came by. I can remember all of the people being there in downtown Toronto, waiting to see the Pope for just a split second as he drove by in the Popemobile. It was not just Catholics; hundreds of thousands of people were waiting to catch a glimpse of this person. At this point, we did not really know how important this pope would be, not only to those of us of Catholic faith but in changing the world as we know it.

I already mentioned how the member for Mississauga East—Cooksville endured a Communist dictatorship and how he was able to make a better life for himself, but I would also like to talk about my French teacher in my riding.

He is a Polish immigrant who came to Canada two years ago. We have been talking a lot of about how he grew up, the life he led under a Communist dictatorship and how important the Pope was in helping them break free. We talked about how important the Pope was in helping the Polish people understand that they had freedom and could aspire to be better than they were. His stories of the importance of the Pope in helping Poland come out of Communism are very inspiring to me. It is another reason I am glad to have this opportunity today to talk about this bill.

A lot of speakers have already talked about all of the accomplishments of Pope John Paul II, but I think it bears repeating.

We know that Pope John Paul II led a difficult life. His mother and father died when he was quite young, and his brother thereafter. He lived through the Nazi occupation of Poland. During that time he started to understand and feel the call toward the priesthood. He was educated in secret, from what I understand, and was ultimately ordained in 1946. Despite being in a Communist dictatorship and despite all the challenges he faced, he was able to grow the faith in Poland. He was always able to grow the faith and give people the inspiration they needed while balancing what was obviously a very difficult government and a very difficult circumstance for the Polish people.

I remember being a young boy when the first Pope John Paul unfortunately passed away shortly after he became pope. It was a time when Catholics were very uncertain. I think the first Pope John Paul had a 30-day reign, and I remember watching for many hours as we waited to see who the next pope would be.

Being of Italian-Canadian descent, we assumed that the person who would be coming out would be another Italian pope, because that is just the way it had been for 400 years. I remember being in my home with an uncle who had come to Canada in the 1950s. He was a very proud Canadian but also a very proud Italian. I remember seeing his reaction to seeing someone who was not an Italian come through those doors and that momentary disappointment that the next pope was going to be Polish and not Italian.

I tell this story because many years later, I was sitting with this very same uncle watching a mass when the Pope was much later on in years and struggling to carry on his duties. I listened to my uncle explain how this Italian pope had made such a difference in the world. I reminded him that the Pope was Polish and not Italian. He said, “That all changed over the years. He has now become a very proud Italian pope.” That speaks volumes of how this pope was able to cross all kinds of boundaries.

The 1980s and 1990s were a difficult time period in world history. We were growing up at a time when there was a great deal of uncertainty. We still had east versus west, and much of the world and eastern Europe was under a Communist dictatorship. It was a time when the west was afraid of the east and the east was afraid of the west, but here was a pope who was not afraid to break down those barriers, who was not afraid to take on the Communist dictators of the east, because he understood how important it was and how important his role was to bring freedom to the world.

If we look back, despite all the incredible things that he did for Catholics and to help expand the Catholic faith, no matter what one believes, I think we all would agree that Pope John Paul II made a significant difference in changing the world because he was not afraid. During the Second World War, he was not afraid to struggle and fight for what he believed in. He became a priest despite Nazi occupation, after having understood all the difficulties that dictatorship and lack of responsible government meant to the people and how it was bringing the people down. He struggled and persevered, and when he had the opportunity when he became the pope, he made sure that he was going to make a difference.

No matter what one believes, we can all agree that this gentleman made an incredible difference in the world. I cannot thank my hon. friend from Mississauga East—Cooksville enough for bringing this bill forward so that we could take one day to recognize and honour how hard this person worked, the difference he made and, ultimately, the changes he made to help bring democracy throughout the world. We still have a long way to go, but if it were not for this person's example, for his leadership, for the strength of the Polish people who seized on the opportunity to break free, we would have a much different world today.

I am very excited to be able to support the member's bill. I want to again single out the member for Mississauga East—Cooksville. He is someone who can make a heck of a difference for all immigrants who come to this country who work hard and struggle the way my parents did.

I look at the example of my parents, and it is sad that neither of my parents was able to see me elected. They did not live long enough to see me elected to the House of Commons, but I look across the aisle and see people like the member for Mississauga East—Cooksville making a difference and becoming elected and bringing bills like this forward. I congratulate him, and I congratulate his constituents for having such an incredible member of Parliament.

Pope John Paul II Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, today, my speech is about Bill C-266, which seeks to create Pope John Paul II Day.

I wanted to make this speech because this bill really bothered me in the sense that it made me think long and hard about what I should do. As a Catholic, I recognize the tremendous contribution that Pope John Paul II made to humanity, if you will. However, I am choosing to vote against this bill, and I think that it is important to explain why.

First, one of the issues that led to my decision is that Pope John Paul II is not Canadian. He is an important international figure who visited Canada, but he is not originally from here. It is also important to remember that the Pope is a head of state. This day would therefore recognize a foreign head of state, and I am a bit concerned that this would set a precedent. I would like to point out that this does not mean that Roman Catholics or Polish Canadians cannot celebrate the late Pope. These people can do so in a more general way without necessarily having a national day.

It is also important to understand that the other national days in Canada that recognize individuals are those to recognize Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who, as we all know, were historic prime ministers. There is also Raoul Wallenberg Day. This man was a great activist during the Second World War and he was made an honorary Canadian citizen.

Another issue I had was that people are not religious in order to get glory. When a person makes a commitment to God, especially in the Catholic Church, he does not do it for recognition or glory. Religious work is done humbly, discreetly and simply. Humility is like the ground in which other virtues grow. The gospels present it as the fundamental virtue.

Pope John Paul II worked in many areas. We all recognize his wonderful commitment to peace and to opening the lines of communication between religions. He was a political activist who was against Communism and political oppression. He worked to help youth and to reform the Roman Catholic Church. In my opinion, it is more important to recognize and remember these achievements than the person himself.

For instance, we could decide to have a national interfaith dialogue day to pay tribute to the late pope and remember the message that he was trying to send. In my view, celebrating the individual per se is not consistent with the fundamental tenet of humility in religion. That is why the best way to remember Pope John Paul II is by remembering his battles and ideals, and by continuing to spread his message.

Another issue that came to mind as I was examining the bill is that he would become the only religious figure recognized in Canada. As we know, Canada is a secular country. Religious freedom is guaranteed, and the right to religion is recognized. Even the preamble to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states: “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law”.

However, I would like to point out that religious traditions in Canada are very diverse. We have Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Orthodox Christians and Baptists. We have the various traditional religions of first nations and Inuit peoples. We have atheists, Jews, Orthodox Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons, and the list probably goes on.

I think all we have to do is walk around our major Canadian cities to see that we have places of religious worship that belong to different religions in a number of places.

I do not think that recognizing a particular religious figure from a particular religion is necessarily the best way to celebrate Canadians in all their diversity. That might create some problems, if you will, or raise some concerns.

Everyone is free to celebrate their beliefs, but I do not think it is healthy or appropriate to recognize a pope or a particular faith more than another. That goes against Canada's religious diversity.

The problem is that I cannot see why we would celebrate one pope more than another. As I see it, every pope has contributed in his own way to building humanity and developing ideals and beliefs.

Choosing a pope in particular is as if we were not recognizing the work of the others. I take issue with that. In my view, a person becomes pope because he has worked very hard and has fought for many things. I do not like the idea of elevating one pope above the rest.

I also want to clarify that I really struggled with this bill. I spoke with priests in my riding and other people. I talked it over with them. I think they understood my views on this bill.

I come from a Catholic family. We even had a bishop in my family. My grandfather's brother was a long-time bishop of the diocese of Amos. Back home, people recognize him. They all know who he is.

I understand the idea of wanting to pay tribute to an important figure in this religion. However, I unfortunately do not believe that a national day is appropriate. I think that if we had truly wanted to celebrate his memory, we could have, for example, created a national day in honour of one of his ideals, such as peace. We could have commemorated the date that Pope John Paul II passed away. Someone advocated for that. I think it would have been important to acknowledge the ideals he fought for and not simply his name.

That is why I wanted to make this speech. I wanted to explain to people why I chose to vote against this bill, even though it was really difficult for me.

I recognize the work done by my colleague. I know that he worked hard on this bill and that he did it with the best of intentions. I sincerely hope that he understands or that he at least listened carefully to the issues and concerns I had regarding this bill.

Pope John Paul II Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand and support this bill. I thank my colleagues on both sides of the House for their contributions to the debate. If John Paul II were in this room or watching this debate, he would have respected very much the previous speaker's speech from the official opposition. Why he would respect it and support her opinion in this matter is because this is the consummate democratic place. He was devoted to a place like this that exists on the face of God's good earth. He would have supported this place because it is a democratic institution and he knew what it was like to live in an institution such as this where people could not have differences of opinion. It is for that reason that I think he would be proud.

He probably would ask us not to have a day just for him, but he is not here. However, we care very much about this man of tremendous faith, who put his arms around the very people who would have in the past not put their arms around him except to put them in chains. He was a humble man. Those of us who support this day are here and able to say for him, because we know he is watching from a better place, that we are prepared to do this as we feel in our bones that we must do it.

I want to congratulate my colleague from Mississauga East—Cooksville for bringing the bill forward that would designate April 2 as Pope John Paul II day in Canada.

As the member for Mississauga East—Cooksville mentioned, Pope John Paul II's work transcended the boundaries of the Catholic faith. He promoted values of peace, tolerance and religious freedom. He took a strong stand against human rights violations and respected and showed admiration for other religions. On John Paul II's passing, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated:

Quite apart from his role as a spiritual guide to more than a billion men, women and children, he was a tireless advocate of peace, a true pioneer in interfaith dialogue and a strong force for critical self-evaluation by the Church itself.

This self-evaluation led him to work to redress historical wrongs and ask forgiveness from the Jews for sins committed by the church. As a powerful example, on a visit to the Western Wall in 2000, he offered a prayer saying:

—we are deeply saddened by the behaviour of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.

John Paul II was the first pope to visit a synagogue in 1986 where he declared "each of our religions" wishes "to be recognized and respected in its own identity," beyond "any ambiguous appropriation." His strong messages to encourage inter-religious dialogue and freedom of speech are characteristics that, I will say so respectfully, John Paul II shared with this government. Not only did he believe that each of us should be able to worship as we please, but also that we should be able to worship differently and still co-operate and work together.

As my colleague stated, as a nation, Canada is recognized as a world leader in the promotion of international human rights. It is a defining characteristic of our foreign policy. John Paul II, too, made this a priority during his papacy. He was a man of courage and compassion. He did not believe that the fight for democracy was beyond our reach. His efforts impacted global politics and he inspired peaceful opposition to repressive regimes, eventually leading to the collapse of several stifling dictatorships.

In 1987, he met and pushed the dictator Augusto Pinochet to accept the return of democracy in Chile. In 1988, John Paul II visited Paraguay, which led to the collapse of the dictatorship of General Alfredo Stroessner.

Pope John Paul II's role in the spread of democracy in eastern Europe was profound. He himself endured the tyrannies of the Nazi and then communist regimes as he was only 19 when the Nazis invaded Poland.

In his 1979 visit to Poland, he said, “Be not afraid.” His simple words to encourage and inspire the people led to the peaceful opposition that can be said to have precipitated the fall of communism in Poland and the spread of democracy in all of Europe.

In the 1995 address to the UN, John Paul II touched on his experiences in the peaceful opposition he supported by saying:

The moral dynamics of this universal quest for freedom clearly appeared in Central and Eastern Europe during the non-violent revolutions of 1989. Unfolding in specific times and places, those historical events nonetheless taught a lesson which goes far beyond a specific geographical location. For the non-violent revolutions of 1989 demonstrated that the quest for freedom cannot be suppressed. It arises from a recognition of the inestimable dignity and value of the human person, and it cannot fail to be accompanied by a commitment on behalf of the human person.

Further to this, he played a large role in the collapse of communism. John Paul II himself endured Nazism and Communism, and devoted much time speaking out against such oppression and human rights violations. From Haiti to Poland, and around the globe, the visits from John Paul II foreshadowed the collapse of dictatorships and the end of oppression. Wherever he went, wherever he landed, peace and democracy followed.

We as Canadians should be proud of him for doing this, as the endorsement of democracy is, and has been for centuries, a strong belief in Canadian values. Canada is a nation built on a number of fundamental freedoms. These freedoms and values are part of what make our country such an attractive place for people to immigrate to. One of these core Canadian freedoms is the freedom of religion. In every region of this country, we have a multitude of people practising a multitude of faiths, and they are able to do so in peace without cause or incident.

However, we are fortunate, as in certain regions across the globe religious minorities are the subject of violence, oppression and hatred, which is why our government recently unveiled its Office of Religious Freedom. Working within the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, this office will oppose religious hatred and encourage the protection of religious minorities around the world so that those people too can practise their faiths without fear of repression. These nations are often a source of instability and civil strife, and combatting these qualities by protecting an individual's right to practise his or her religion is something which deserves to be championed. I believe that the work of John Paul II to promote inter-religious dialogue, and his acceptance and appreciation for other faiths and religions is such an important part of his legacy and something all Canadians can admire and appreciate, as religious freedom is a strong principle in our foreign policy. He once said:

Instead of marveling at the fact that Providence allows such a great variety of religions, we should be amazed at the number of common elements found within them.

As Canadians, we have a special connection with John Paul II, as he made three separate visits to our country, the latest being in 2002 at World Youth Day in Toronto. His message of acceptance, diversity, and equality is reflected in our Canadian values and multicultural landscape. As Canadians, we incorporate these values in our daily lives. John Paul II not only transcended the boundaries of faith, but he also sought to bridge generational gaps and invest in our future by fostering the values of compassion and tolerance in our youth, which is why in 1985 he established World Youth Day.

His visit to Toronto in 2002 attracted hundreds of thousands of youth, representing all faiths and cultures from around the world, who made the pilgrimage to Canada, uniting in one of the most diverse and multicultural cities in the world, just to hear him speak. Not only did he garner the attention of a multitude of religions, he was able to catch the attention of a young audience.

Much like Canadians, John Paul II did not believe that religious differences should instigate conflict. Rather, they should unite all people and celebrate our diversity.

I support the designation of April 2 as Pope John Paul II Day in Canada. I would like to thank my colleague, the member of Parliament for Mississauga East—Cooksville, for bringing this bill before the House. I would like to thank him for giving us an opportunity to celebrate and to reflect on a man who brought hope, peace and comfort to so many around the world.

Pope John Paul II Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


Kyle Seeback Conservative Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am also pleased to be able to speak today about the bill being put forward by my colleague.

It is an important bill, because it celebrates and brings recognition to a man who, in my view, rose above merely being a religious figure. Pope John Paul II was a living symbol of unity. His work was not just to disseminate the word of God but to share in the vital values that we as Canadians share: peace, tolerance and liberty.

Pope John Paul II was, of course, also a man of God. In that role he had many accomplishments. I am not a Catholic, and I was not raised in the Catholic faith. That is why when I rise today to talk about Pope John Paul II, it is because of the things he did as a religious figure, but not through religion.

Pope John Paul II accomplished incredible things in this world. If he had not taken his message, his simple message, his rallying cry, “Be not afraid”, into the heart of communist east Europe, where would the world be today?

It is simple to say that it would have happened anyway. However, I do not believe so. When he went to Poland for his first visit in 1970 for his nine-day pilgrimage, he warned communist authorities that the papacy would be watching them closely. Let us think about this. This is back in the times of the Iron Curtain. These were bold words.

Marxism in eastern Europe was a cult. Communist leaders wanted to eradicate the traditions of history in the name of a new kind of society and to shape a new kind of citizen. When the pope went to Poland, he did not speak only of God. He spoke of history. He spoke of the 600th anniversary of Poland's oldest university. He spoke of the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw uprisings.

This was deliberate. These were powerful words. These were words that inspired people in Poland. It is not a coincidence that a year later, Poles found the courage to stand in solidarity in the first mass anti-communist political movement. They began to organize themselves. Any student of history can look and see what happened next. Freedom came to Poland, and it spread. It spread to Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany, Romania and Bulgaria. The pope gave people confidence, the confidence to stand up.

This is an important legacy. It is why it is beyond his being a religious figure that we should recognize his contributions. Those contributions were not just there. We have heard about many of them from my friend who just spoke and from the member for Mississauga East—Cooksville himself.

Of course, he spoke out very strongly against apartheid in South Africa. He criticized the dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier in Haiti, and he visited. His visit led to protests and the end of a dictatorship. We could go on. We could talk about Chile as well. This was a man whose words inspired. They inspired people to stand up for themselves.

We can also talk about World Youth Day. My colleague talked about that as well. It is not just a celebration of the Catholic faith. He delivered important messages to people. In 2002, when he came to Toronto, he said, “The world you are inheriting is a world which desperately needs a new sense of brotherhood and human solidarity”.

That was his message. His message was to build bridges and come together in unity. It is a message that is so important. His hope of uniting those from diverse backgrounds and beliefs continues to be brought to fruition every time we have a World Youth Day.

I want to conclude with a few remarks.

In June 2004, President George Bush awarded the Pope the Medal of Freedom, which is the highest civil honour in America. The citation itself is so important, and it is another reason why I am so proud to stand here today. The citation said “...this son of Poland whose principled stand for peace and freedom has inspired millions and helped to topple communism and tyranny”. I could not have said it better myself.

Pope John Paul II embodied peace, faith, compassion and liberty. That is why I am proud to stand in support of April 2 as Pope John Paul II day here in Canada. I want to thank my colleague from Mississauga East—Cooksville for bringing this forward and for giving Canadians an opportunity on that day to reflect on the incredible legacy and the gift we received all across the world from this fantastic man.

Pope John Paul II Day ActPrivate Members' Business

April 18th, 2013 / 6:50 p.m.


Wladyslaw Lizon Conservative Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank members on both sides of the House for their participation in this debate.

As I have already mentioned, Pope John Paul II's legacy goes well beyond his role in the Catholic church. He stood for religious tolerance and freedom and he spent a great deal of time encouraging inter-religious dialogue. To me this represents a big part of what it means to be Canadian.

Canada is a country where so many traditions, religions and cultures come together in harmony, where each has supported and impacted the other, where mutual respect and admiration is of paramount importance. We live in a country where our children can grow up to have an understanding and an appreciation for other cultures and come to learn from the teaching of each. Our future looks bright. Younger generations will reiterate these messages and teach tolerance and harmony.

John Paul II once said:

To choose tolerance, dialogue and cooperation as the path into the future is to preserve what is most precious in the great religious heritage of mankind. It is also to ensure that in the centuries to come the world will not be without that hope which is the lifeblood of the human heart.

In addition to the respect he showed to other religions, Pope John Paul II recognized that today's youth hold the key to our future, and by imparting wisdom and values of compassion and tolerance on younger generations, we can ensure a better future. He showed our youth a great respect and sought to bridge generational gaps, which is why in 1985 he established World Youth Day. His visit to Toronto for World Youth Day in 2002 attracted hundreds of thousands of people. Youth from around the world representing all faiths and cultures came to hear him speak and to experience the wonderful multicultural society Canada has to offer. Each time we celebrate World Youth Day, we also celebrate John Paul II's legacy and his vision for our future and investment in our youth.

Pope John Paul II proved that nothing is impossible and stood up for populations who were oppressed by totalitarian regimes. He will be remembered for his role in the collapse of several stifling dictatorships and the way he inspired peaceful opposition to communism in Poland, leading to its eventual collapse.

Canada is a peaceful country and a safe country, and I strongly believe that the work of John Paul II and the values he spread truly resonate with what it means to be Canadian. In taking the time to remember Pope John Paul II, Canadians would also take a moment to appreciate what we are so lucky to have in this great country.

I bring this before the House today, not only as an opportunity to celebrate a man who did so much for millions of Christian followers around the world, but to celebrate a man who did much more to uphold values that we as Canadians cherish so deeply, values of justice, liberty and democracy.

I ask all members of the House to join me in declaring April 2 Pope John Paul II day in Canada, to honour and pay tribute to this great man.

Pope John Paul II Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Is the House ready for the question?

Pope John Paul II Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Some hon. members


Pope John Paul II Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Pope John Paul II Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Some hon. members


On division.

Pope John Paul II Day ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

EthicsAdjournment Proceedings

6:55 p.m.


Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, in the face of Peter Penashue's acceptance and expenditure of almost $50,000 in illegal donations, the Conservative government is attempting to cover up the true nature of his track record as the member of Parliament for Labrador.

As I speak, Mr. Penashue is campaigning in Labrador to regain the seat he disgraced. Meanwhile, Elections Canada continues its investigation of Mr. Penashue's unlawful election campaign, which could result in Mr. Penashue's being banned from running for the next five years.

Let me address some of the incorrect statements made by the Conservative government as it tried to hide the fact that Mr. Penashue had to cheat to get elected.

First, the Conservative government falsely claimed that Peter Penashue was essential to the establishment of thousands of jobs and the Muskrat Falls project in Labrador. The truth of the matter is that federal funding for the Muskrat Falls project was promised in 2011 by the Liberals and the Conservatives, before Peter Penashue was even elected.

Second, the Conservatives have falsely credited Peter Penashue with the paving of the Trans-Labrador Highway, a project that was primarily funded by the previous Liberal government. Between 1995 and 2005 alone, the Liberal government contributed almost $340 million to the Trans-Labrador Highway, and an additional $17 million was invested by the province. The fact is that during Peter Penashue's tenure as MP for Labrador, the Conservative government provided only $42.5 million in federal funding for the Trans-Labrador Highway. This is almost a 90% decrease in funding from the contribution levels established by the previous Liberal government.

Third, the Conservative government wrongly insists that Peter Penashue is responsible for increasing search and rescue capabilities in Labrador. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. However, Peter Penashue is responsible for failing to stand up for search and rescue services in Newfoundland and Labrador, even after the tragic death of young 14-year-old Burton Winters.

The Conservatives incorrectly claim that a new Griffon helicopter was added to the search and rescue facility in Goose Bay under Mr. Penashue's leadership, increasing its fleet from two to three helicopters. However, this contradicts reality. Under the previous Liberal government, Goose Bay was equipped with three Griffon helicopters. The Conservative government reassigned one of these helicopters to Canadian assistance in Jamaica under the condition that once missions were completed, it would return to Goose Bay. Now that this helicopter has been returned to its rightful place in Goose Bay, the Conservative government's continued claim to have added a new helicopter to the Goose Bay fleet is a blatant untruth intended to give the illusion that it responded to the tragic death of Burton Winters.

Against the advice of experts, Peter Penashue failed to oppose the closure of the vital maritime rescue sub-centre in St. John's. Since the closure of this facility by the Conservative government, emergency calls have been diverted to Italy, information has been misconstrued and lives have been unnecessarily put at risk. Even as the Liberal Party warned of the imminent dangers associated with this closure, Peter Penashue and the Conservative government failed to reverse their irresponsible decision.

While we continually asked the Conservative government to acknowledge its mistakes and its inadequate delivery of search and rescue in Newfoundland and Labrador, Peter Penashue failed to represent his constituents regarding search and rescue even once in the House of Commons. In fact, even as a Conservative minister used a vital search and rescue helicopter as a limousine, Peter Penashue remained silent.

I ask again, given Mr. Penashue's cheating record, how do we know that he will not attempt to do the same thing in this by-election?

EthicsAdjournment Proceedings

7 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering Ontario


Chris Alexander ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I think the poor quality of the words chosen by the member for Random—Burin—St. George's in the screed that she just delivered on the floor of the House of Commons, at a very uncommon time for partisan attacks, at this stage of our day, really speaks to the quality of representation Newfoundland has had in the House by confining itself to representation from the opposition. It also speaks to the reasons why the people of Labrador elected Peter Penashue in the first place. He brought a strong voice to this place and to the Government of Canada, not only for Labrador, but for all of Newfoundland and Labrador, which are sadly under-represented and misrepresented by members like the one for Random—Burin—St. George's.

Her question, if there was a question, was riddled with untruths, misunderstanding, and distortion of the record of Peter Penashue, which stands for itself. It is on full display to the people of Labrador as I speak and it will ensure that they have the opportunity to put a strong member of Parliament back into this place in very short order.

In two years, Peter Penashue delivered more for the great land of Labrador, and for the province through his work in Labrador, than the Liberals and his opponent had managed in 20 years. We really do not need to spend too much time highlighting those results. They have been aired here, in prime time as it were, in question period, and in debate over and over again. They are known nationally, not just in Labrador.

Peter Penashue secured federal support for the development of Muskrat Falls. It was not done under the Liberal Party. It was left in abeyance. It was mishandled and it was fumbled and now the member for Random—Burin—St. George's is reduced to heckling to try and prevent the truth from coming out. It was done under this government. It is moving forward, a loan guarantee, a partnership that is unprecedented for Labrador. It will bring more jobs to that great part of our country than any project heretofore.

He worked to increase Internet speed in Labrador. This is something that those in urban ridings and maybe those in other parts in Newfoundland may take for granted, but in Labrador it is a top priority. It is a question of work, of communication, and of a basic quality of life. Peter Penashue brought a faster Internet to the people of Labrador.

He has delivered federal funding to pave the Trans-Labrador Highway. Of course, that highway was begun in earlier phases, but we had never seen this era of improvement on a grand scale until Peter Penashue became the elected representative for Labrador. He worked, obviously, to scrap the long-gun registry. That is something we never hear from the opposition, obviously. Were their hand on the tiller, were they anywhere close to representing Labrador or governing our country again, the long-gun registry would be right back in place, with its immediate penalty to the traditional way of life for the people of Labrador. That is not to mention the seal hunt or the polar bear hunt, for which Peter Penashue not only stood up in the House time and time again, but advocated across the country and around the world.

We have results on all of those fronts. The opposition members can only point to the absolute opposite on all of those fronts. They oppose the seal hunt, they wanted the long-gun registry, and they would actually side with the enemies of the polar bear hunt around the world, outside Canada. For that reason, Peter Penashue is the legitimate representative of the people of Labrador. We look forward to seeing him back here.

EthicsAdjournment Proceedings

7:05 p.m.


Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, the facts speak for themselves. Having listened to my hon. colleague, he is clearly not apprised of the facts. We are, in Newfoundland and Labrador. Labradorians know that they deserve better. They need that strong voice. Where was that strong voice? The member speaks about all of the times Peter Penashue spoke in support of initiatives. We certainly did not hear it in the House of Commons. Labradorians were looking to hear from their member of Parliament.

Let me point something out, because there is one thing that really does gall me, and that is the suggestion by the Conservatives that the Liberal Party does not support the seal hunt. How can the member stand there and say such a thing when he knows that it is blatantly untrue? Let me tell the House what has happened since the Conservatives had Mr. Penashue there. In fact, under the Conservatives, the EU imposed a ban on the importation of seal products, and since Mr. Penashue became an MP, Russia, Belarus, Pakistan, and Taiwan have also banned seal import products--

EthicsAdjournment Proceedings

7:05 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

The member's time has well expired.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence.