Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech.
Indeed, if there is one thing that everyone in the House can agree on, it is the importance of recognizing the contribution of our veterans, the men and women who have fought for our country over the years. I am especially proud to rise today to speak to Bill C-311 sponsored by our colleague, the member for West Nova.
I would also like to commend the work of my colleague, the official opposition critic for veterans affairs, the member for Barrie—Innisfil. He is doing a fantastic job as our veterans affairs critic and on top of that his French is excellent. He spent the weekend in Quebec City speaking with members of associations and other people in the region, all in French. His hard work and his efforts to use both of Canada's official languages deserve recognition. I thank him for that.
Bill C-311 before us today is quite interesting and has quite a background. This is the seventh time this bill has been introduced in the House since 2004. This is therefore not the first time members of the House have the opportunity to speak to such a bill. Although interesting, some aspects of it need some improvement, or at least some clarification. That is more or less what I will be talking about today.
First, as I said at the outset, it is important to acknowledge the service of our veterans. Since Confederation, more than 110,000 Canadian soldiers have died in combat defending our freedoms. Canada is the free country we are so proud of today because of the sacrifices of these soldiers and their families, whose children were lost in battle to defend us on foreign soil. They fought abroad for Canada's freedom and the modern world we live in today.
The purpose of Bill C-311 is to make Remembrance Day a legal holiday and everything that entails. We absolutely must discuss this bill further in committee. Although this bill seeks to honour veterans, it does not have unanimous support as it is currently worded. In fact, the Royal Canadian Legion has concerns over the effects of this bill on the significance we place on Remembrance Day, and that is what I will be talking about.
We celebrate Remembrance Day on November 11 for a very simple reason. Historically, people have gathered together every year on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month to mark Remembrance Day and pay tribute to all those who died while serving their country. This important day gives meaning to and allows us to express our gratitude for the sacrifices that were made by those who came before us.
However, not everyone has a day off for Remembrance Day. This day of commemoration is a holiday in some provinces but not in others. That is the case in Quebec, where Remembrance Day is not a statutory holiday for all workers. As a result, most of the time, Remembrance Day is not celebrated on November 11 but rather on the weekend before or after, so that more people can attend the commemoration ceremonies at the cenotaphs. They voluntarily attend these ceremonies and commemorate the service of our veterans.
The Royal Canadian Legion is the reason we have ceremonies in every region, even those without military bases. I would like to tell the House about the Legion. It was founded in 1926 when 15 veterans' organizations united. There were also a number of regimental associations representing former service members.
Despite all their efforts, none of them had much influence individually. They did not have the means to become an association that represented all veterans. That is why the Royal Canadian Legion was founded in 1926. I encourage anyone who wants to know more about the Legion to visit the organization's website, which is nicely set up and does a great job explaining its history. According to the website, initially, the principal objectives of the Legion were to provide a strong voice for veterans and advise the government on veterans' issues.
The Legion was founded after World War I, and it was very busy after World War II because of an influx of new demands. That war was a very hard one, and the Legion had to increase its efforts to help veterans and returned service members in addition to those who continued to serve their country abroad.
The Legion has changed a lot since then. We have the Legion to thank for a few special initiatives, including the two-minute wave of silence in 1999, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier initiative in 2000, and the declaration of 2005 as the Year of the Veteran. Those are just a few examples of what the Royal Canadian Legion has achieved.
For over 90 years, the Legion has been an advocate for veterans and has been providing financial assistance to active military personnel, veterans, and their families, whether they are members of the Legion or not. I think that is one of the things that explains why certain veterans associations and the Royal Canadian Legion do not necessarily agree with the objectives of the bill before us.
These days, a majority of the representatives of the Royal Canadian Legion are from civil society and not necessarily veterans. Some of them are family members, relatives, brothers, and sons of military personnel who have served their country, who have passed away or been wounded in combat. These people have decided to volunteer their time to help veterans.
I would like to talk about something that happened in my riding. This year, in Thetford Mines, we came close to not being able to mark Remembrance Day, Armistice Day. Unfortunately, the Royal Canadian Legion in our community had to close its doors after 70 years because of a lack of volunteers. Claude Nadeau, the president of the branch, worked hard to ensure that a ceremony was held every year. He put a lot of effort into bringing together veterans and serving members from our community.
However, since there are not very many veterans or serving members in Thetford Mines, it was becoming increasingly difficult to bring these people together for a ceremony. Our veterans from the last great war have almost all passed away now. We have one or two active members. These people were deeply saddened when they learned that there might not be a Remembrance Day ceremony. That is why, despite the fact that Branch 201 of the Royal Canadian Legion shut down, Mr. Nadeau and a few volunteers still organized a commemorative ceremony.
The same sort of thing happened in another town in my riding, Lac-Mégantic. For the first time in a long time, no Remembrance Day ceremony was held because of a lack of volunteers. If Canadians want an association that helps preserve the memory of our veterans, then they need to understand the essential role that civilians play in the Royal Canadian Legion.
We therefore need to take into consideration the Royal Canadian Legion's views of Bill C-311. We need to listen to what it has to say and find out whether it thinks it is important to pass this bill to make Remembrance Day a legal or statutory holiday. By sending this bill to committee, we would give the Royal Canadian Legion the opportunity to express its views. We owe a great debt to our veterans and also to those who serve them, like the Royal Canadian Legion.