Mr. Speaker, if passed, Bill C-378 would amend the text of the Department of Veterans Affairs Act to require that, in exercising his or her powers and in performing his or her duties and functions, the Minister of Veterans Affairs take into account certain principles in relation to, among others, persons who have served in the Canadian Forces or merchant navy or in the naval, army, or air forces of Her Majesty as well as in relation to their dependants or survivors.
It is somewhat ironic that this bill was tabled by a Conservative member, given that it was the former Conservative government that abolished lifetime pensions and shuttered Veterans Affairs offices across Canada. Veterans who need help in my riding of Jonquière are still suffering the consequences. Furthermore, the Conservatives laid off 900 staff at the department, forcing veterans who were leaving the department to scramble to reach case managers and receive services and benefits.
Like all my NDP colleagues, I am proud to support these changes that would enshrine respect for veterans in law, especially as it related to timely access to benefits. Far too many veterans have to wait to receive benefits because their applications can take months to process.
Currently, when wounded veterans are discharged, their benefits, services, and medical care are often still being processed, which puts them and their families in a precarious financial and emotional situation.
It can take several months before they start to receive their benefits and before they can access medical care. It is important that these women and men who fought to protect our freedom be treated with dignity. I think that their service has already caused them enough stress, so let us not make things worse for them. The government should do its duty; veterans have already done theirs.
Canadians will recall that the Conservatives are the ones who took veterans to court, refusing to admit that the government had a sacred obligation to ill and injured veterans. It is very disappointing to see that the Liberals have hired the same lawyers to make the same arguments in court.
Despite the rhetoric from a number of members on both sides of the House, both Conservative and government members, we must give our veterans all the support they need. After all, real action is worth more than words.
As a member of Parliament, I have the honour of meeting veterans and members of the Royal Canadian Legion in my riding at all of their events. With them, I travel back in time to be reminded of what transpired, whether we are talking about the great wars or about missions they may have carried out throughout their careers. This is also an opportunity to discuss their work experience and what they went through. The stories are sometimes sad, but they can also be happy.
It is also always a pleasure to participate in the Remembrance Day ceremony. I was very proud that this year, on November 11, we were able to attend a parade of members of the army, air force, navy, the Saguenay naval reserve, and the cadets. A number of veterans were there to commemorate Remembrance Day. This parade took place in Arvida, where my riding office is located. I am very proud to speak with them as their member of Parliament.
While I am at it, I want to talk about the work that members of the Arvida branch of the Royal Canadian Legion are doing. These men and women are very involved in their community. They take part in Remembrance Day ceremonies and other activities, and they make a difference in the lives of veterans and their families by helping and supporting them every day.
I want to emphasize the family part because family is important to people who are facing hardships or whose health no longer allows them to do day-to-day or work activities.
Veterans' main focus is on working with the Legion to promote Remembrance Day, but they also support serving men and women in uniform. I would like to take advantage of the opportunity I have today as we debate Bill C-378 to acknowledge all the work Arvida's Royal Canadian Legion Branch 209, with its president, Steeve Brown, and his whole team, has done. I would also like to acknowledge the work of the women's auxiliary members, who are always present at the activities and who also support veterans. I am proud to recognize their president, Annie Drolet, who is a constant presence.
I am talking about the Legion because the branch will be celebrating its 70th anniversary on December 3. That is extraordinary. I would like to share a little story. Arvida's Legion building needed some renovations and one veteran even mortgaged his home to get the money needed to redo the roof of the building where we still celebrate many events today. These are good people who are very committed. I am sure I will hear more of their stories on December 10 at the brunch celebrating the branch's 70th anniversary.
To come back to the bill, I would like to quote the Royal Canadian Legion, which said the following with regard to Bill C-378.
The federal government’s budget has checked off a couple more priorities from the Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) mandate letter, but it certainly has missed the opportunity to deliver on key recommendations brought forward by the VAC ministerial advisory groups, specifically, the need for lifelong financial security for ill and injured veterans. Budget 2017 provides vague promises and no clarity on how the government will deliver lifelong financial security for our veterans and their families.
It has to be said: this bill is a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough.
In conclusion, the NDP supports the improvement of services and pensions for veterans and their families. These changes are welcome, but they are nowhere near enough to give them what they desperately need. Action must be taken immediately to bolster pensions and mental health programs, increase the assistance offered to families, and improve career transition services for medically released veterans.
The NDP would like the National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces ombudsman's report entitled “Simplifying the Service Delivery Model for Medically Releasing Members of the Canadian Armed Forces” to become policy at the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada.