Mr. Speaker, I want to thank everybody who contributed to this fulsome debate on Bill C-378, my proposed amendments to the Department of Veterans Affairs Act.
I want to make clear right off the start that this was not intended to coincide with the unfortunate comments of the Prime Minister, which he made in Edmonton a couple of weeks ago. This bill was introduced in October 2017 after I and my colleagues travelled the country to talk to veterans. One of the things we heard over and over again was the sacred obligation, this covenant, that the Government of Canada and the people of Canada should have, which mirrors exactly what Sir Robert Borden spoke about in advance of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. He spoke about the sacred obligation and military covenant that our country has to its veterans.
I am intending to put that into the legislation by amending the Department of Veterans Affairs Act so that it does not become an aspirational thing for members of Veterans Affairs in Charlottetown to be looking at. It is for the current and future governments to be reminded of that sacred obligation that we have to our veterans, and it is being done with the sincerest of attempts.
I will remind everyone again of the covenant. There is only one elsewhere in the world, and that is in the United Kingdom, which has the military covenant act. It deals with veterans, as well as their families and survivors, that they be treated with dignity, respect, and fairness. Veterans and their duties are unique among Canadians, and I think all of us in the House can agree with that. There is an obligation to care for veterans because of sacrifices made by them, and that obligation must and should extend to their families.
One of the areas that I know needs some work, and when it gets to committee we can look at this in a fulsome way, is that the care, treatment, and transition of Canadian Armed Forces in and to civil life are dealt with in a timely manner. That is the kind of work that the committee can do to deal with what exactly is a “timely manner”. I will remind the House that the backlog right now is about 29,000 cases for disability claims, and that number is going to increase as we move forward.
We talk about sacred obligation, and the Prime Minister has spoken about sacred obligation several times. On December 9, 2014, he said in Hansard, “Mr. Speaker, we have a sacred obligation to our veterans who chose to put everything on the line for their country.” Again on December 9, 2014, in Hansard, he said, “Mr. Speaker, we have a sacred obligation”. On August 24, 2015, when he stood in Belleville with his hand over his heart and made the promises we have talked about, he said, “We have a social covenant with all veterans and their families—a sacred obligation we must meet with both respect and gratitude.”
On November 25, 2014, the Prime Minister said, “Mr. Speaker, we have a sacred obligation to our veterans, but too many are struggling”. Over and over again, not only the Prime Minister but the current Minister of Veterans Affairs and the former minister of veterans affairs all talked about this sacred obligation that we have to our veterans. What I am trying to do with this bill is to enshrine that in legislation, so that not just the current government but future governments, future prime ministers, future ministers of veterans affairs, and future employees at Veterans Affairs Canada understand that it is the will of Parliament and the Canadian people to make sure that we live up to and fulfill this sacred obligation that we have to our veterans.
I was elected in 2015 and have had the privilege of coming into this place as one of 338 members across this country. Since Confederation, only 4,000 of us have sat in the House of Commons. When I sit here and think of the sacrifices, I think of the blood that has been spilled, the lives that have been lost, the lives that have been decimated by war, those who fought for this country, fought against tyranny, fought against oppression, fought against Naziism, and who fight against Islamic jihadists to allow us the privilege and honour to sit in our symbol of democracy. We owe them no less than this sacred obligation and I am calling on the government to live up to that obligation and support Bill C-378.