Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to join this important debate today and to stand up for the veterans of our country who were there for Canada when we needed them and deserve our being there for them once they have finished serving.
I want to congratulate my colleague, the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam, for bringing this motion to the House today, and I would be remiss if I did not mention the vast body of work undertaken by the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, who has been relentless with his work on behalf of the veterans of this country.
Surely most Canadians would agree with New Democrats when we say that we value the work and sacrifice of all Canadians Forces and RCMP veterans, along with those currently serving, in every aspect of the difficult jobs they have undertaken on our behalf. Whether they serve at home or in war or in peacekeeping missions, these individuals distinguish themselves with professionalism and honour at every turn. Sadly, their professionalism and honour have not been reflected in the actions of the government, which has set out to nickel-and-dime veterans while somehow convincing itself that it is being nothing but supportive.
The truth is that under the Conservatives' watch, we have witnessed injured and disabled veterans having to fight their own government in court for the compensation and care they deserve. It has become so bad that during the last few weeks that Parliament will sit, the Conservatives are playing politics with veterans in an attempt to woo back some voters in October. To do this, they have cynically included provisions to assist veterans in the latest omnibus budget bill. It is nothing but an attempt to force opposition parties who support those measures to vote against them when they oppose the larger reckless measures in this massive bill.
I want to make it clear right now that if the Conservatives truly stood behind veterans, they would hive off that section of the budget and bring it for debate as a stand-alone item. I am convinced that if they were to do that, our veterans would be able to witness members of the entire House working together on their behalf. However, the Conservatives do not care about anything more than their political fortunes and are therefore planning to use veterans as a wedge in the October election. In that respect, they are showing even more contempt for our veterans than they have so far, which is really and truly saying something.
In reality, the Conservatives are not serious about making the circumstances of veterans any better. If they were serious about improving the care that our veterans actually receive, they would stop fighting veterans in court and recognize the historic covenant that is the veterans charter.
What our veterans deserve is a government that is willing to work with them and respect them, a government that wants to hear their stories and find ways to repair the damage that has been done. Instead, veterans are getting some last-minute attention from a government that up until now has made it seem as if the country they served so proudly has abandoned them.
What has to change is the way the Conservatives view the Department of Veterans Affairs. They need to understand that Veterans Affairs should be run in such a way that veterans and their families are well cared for from the moment members sign up until to the moment they pass away, including being given a dignified funeral and burial. It may sound inconceivable to some Canadians that we have to stand in this place and fight for these things, but that is the sad state of affairs that defines the relationship between our veterans and our government.
In fact, it is so bad that after nine years of Conservative rule, too many veterans and their families still cannot access adequate health care, pensions, and other vital supports. Despite those challenges, the Conservatives have gone ahead and closed nine front-line veterans affairs offices. I am sure most people understand that Canadian Forces veterans and their families deserve our deepest gratitude and deserve to be taken care of. Closing the front-line offices these people worked with and relied on is no way to do that.
We knew that Veterans Affairs was among the very best of our departments and that when it came to using its resources, it did so efficiently. It was lean and effective and should never have had to deal with the across-the-board budget cuts the government dealt out.
New Democrats said as much at the time, but the government refused to listen. Conservatives have proven time and again that they have a tin ear when it comes to these issues. They would rather fight for budget lines than fight for our veterans.
We have seen this many times, and it has resulted in the Conservatives eliminating more than 900 jobs at Veterans Affairs since 2009. That is a very large number of jobs that have been eliminated, and that is very troubling. This amounts to staff cuts of 23%. These deep and damaging budget cuts show that the government's actions fly in the face of what it says it stands for. That is why many people are wondering if this government really supports our military and our veterans.
Veterans are realizing this. They came to tell us about their problems, and we did what the government is incapable of doing: we listened. That is why the NDP is bringing forward proposals that will improve programs and services for veterans and their families.
The government prefers to play games with its omnibus budget at the last minute. The Conservatives know that they have made life more difficult for veterans, and they hope that the games they are playing with this budget will deceive enough people—