Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to stand today to speak in support of Bill C-378, an act to amend the Department Of Veterans Affairs Act.
I want to make a short comment on the speech made prior to mine. The MP for London—Fanshawe is on the committee representing the NDP and I want to say what a pleasure it is to work with her. As the member for Barrie—Innisfil said, the work going on in that committee is significant and although at times it does become frustrating as we work from our various perspectives, the amount of work being done is significant, and it is a pleasure to serve there.
The new veterans charter, we must remember, was brought in by all parties within 48 hours through the Senate and back, with the unanimous consent of the House. Therefore, it definitely needs to be labelled a “living document” and there is a great deal more work to be done. I want to commend the member of Parliament for Barrie—Innisfil for putting forward such a significant private member's bill that seeks to put into law Canada's sacred obligation to our veterans, their families, and dependants.
Specifically, the Canadian definition of “military covenant” that the member is seeking states that the military covenant “is a promise by the nation ensuring that those who serve or who have served in the armed forces, and their families, are treated fairly.” This covenant recognizes that there is no equivalent profession to that of service in the Canadian Armed Forces and the uniqueness of military service extends to the experiences of military families.
I have no connections to the military myself. I have always seen myself as a Canadian who truly supports and cares for our military. Having had the privilege of being part of the Veterans Affairs committee and serving as deputy shadow minister, I can say that my depth of appreciation and awareness has only grown, and this statement regarding an equivalent profession not existing is very true.
The bill also recognizes the obligation of the people and the Government of Canada to provide dignity, care, and respect to those members of the Canadian Armed Forces who have been disabled or have died as a result of military service and to their dependants in a timely manner. Since Prime Minister Robert Borden addressed the troops in 1917 who were preparing for the Battle of Vimy Ridge, stating, “you need have no fear that the government and the country will fail to show just appreciation of your service”, the terms “military covenant”, “sacred obligation”, or “sacred covenant” have been used off and on by governments and the government of today, and yet the term has not been entrenched in legislation as a form of respect to the members of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Just yesterday, at the Veterans Affairs committee, the Minister of Veterans Affairs spoke about the investment made into developing our armed forces members into the best soldiers they can be and that the same level of commitment must be made in assisting them to integrate into civilian life when they choose not to, or can no longer, serve. The words that he spoke have been echoed in that committee over and over again over the course of the two years of the current government in leadership. This is not something new. It is something that we all agree to and our obligation expressed in Bill C-378 is seen as an absolute expectation by Canadians. It is a value that should be and can be documented for all to see. It should be formally entrenched in legislation as a form of respect to the members of the Canadian Armed Forces.
During the member of Parliament for Barrie—Innisfil's time as shadow minister for Veterans Affairs, I had the pleasure of working on committee and travelling with him this past summer, as he mentioned, on a veterans tour. Having the opportunity to go to Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Brandon, and then on to Dundurn, Saskatoon, Regina, and Moose Jaw with my Saskatchewan colleague MP for Souris—Moose Mountain, we heard first-hand from so many veterans about the challenges that they face. Some of it was very heartwarming; other parts of it were very heartbreaking. There is no question that a great deal more needs to be done, and veterans hold us accountable to that. Quite honestly, after talking to them face to face and getting to know them, they really do not care who is in power. Whoever is in power is going to hear from them and those who are not in power are going to work with them to encourage the government to move on with the next steps that need to be taken.
I just want to share a few stories that I had an opportunity to hear.
I met a veteran in Edmonton who had served for many years. His father had served in World War II and was not well when he came home and desperately tried to get the care that he needed. The veteran was the eldest of eight children. His mom was at home trying to take care of them, while his dad took care of the family financially. The veteran's dad was very ill and clearly not getting better. Thinking he had to do something, he enlisted, and began to serve. Within a year of his enlisting, his dad passed away. He told me it became his responsibility to care for the family. He gave $25 of his paycheque from the armed forces to his mom, which I imagine was a considerable amount of money then, so she could take care of his siblings,
What he told me next, I cannot even fathom because I assume that most of the problems we hear about today are from our newer veterans, while this was some time ago. He said that when the chain of command learned that he was giving his mother $25 a month, they indicated that they would be reducing his pay by that same amount, as he clearly did not need it.
What we have here is a culture that has gone on for some time. This again expresses why we need to put this into law. We need this covenant there to hold us to another level of accountability.
As sad as that story is, there is another side to it that I think reflects what I heard everywhere we went. Yes, there were frustrations and circumstances that were unfair in many circumstances, as well as situations in which the government was providing poorly and not doing the best it could do. Despite that, the veteran continued that he never regretted a day of service and was proud to serve his country. He is now in his early eighties and works at Home Depot. To this day, he wakes up at 5:30, shines his shoes, creases his pants, and goes to work. This is the kind of person we want to put this covenant in place for to show them respect for everything that they, our service men and women, do.
We are probably wiser and better off as a result of much that we do not understand or comprehend. That is why I encourage this entire House to move this bill to committee. Let us make it happen.