Mr. Speaker, it is a true privilege to stand today and speak to this private member's bill from the member of Parliament for Barrie—Innisfil.
Recently in Victoria I was privileged again to meet with veterans at a veterans' round table. We had a fairly lengthy discussion about the issues that they were facing, and these were people who have been advocates for veterans and assist in their dealings with Veterans Affairs Canada. There was one word that was said over and over again, and then right at the very end when we were wrapped up, one of the veterans' wives said, “If you have heard anything, please remember one word, and that is respect.”
Recently at a town hall with our Prime Minister, he basically delivered the message to veterans of the reason they are in court. During the election campaign the Prime Minister stood with veterans and promised them that they would never have to fight their government in court. That is a broken promise that shows an utter disrespect to veterans. In terms of this particular private member's bill that my colleague has tabled in the House of Commons, he has referred to it as the military covenant bill, but it is an extension of a sacred covenant that goes back to 1917 and our prime minister, Sir Robert Borden, who after the First World War, the Great War, said that Canadians have a special bond with veterans and are responsible for veterans' health as they returned home from that Great War. He was the first person to express in this place that sacred covenant.
What my colleague is trying to do with this bill is to use his accumulated knowledge in the role of veterans shadow minister or critic as he travelled across the country and listened at various round tables to veterans. When I took the role on, I got the three eight-inch-thick binders with every comment that was made and transcribed during those round tables. The common thread that weaves through those discussions when listening to veterans is the fact that they were promised by the current government not to go back to court, yet we have veterans right now appealing to the Supreme Court of Canada to be able to take the government to court on a class action lawsuit for failing to give veterans what they have so rightfully earned, in many cases the equivalent of pre-2005 pension benefits, and not scale it so that some who are more moderately injured and have been injured in their duty to this country would receive far less than they would have received through that pension plan that once existed.
The other part of their application to the Supreme Court that the advocates have told me is that they are asking the court to consider the sacred covenant, the covenant that my colleague is talking about here. It has been done in other countries. The United Kingdom in 2011 put into place through legislation the Armed Forces Covenant. It goes so far as to require the government to report annually on the treatment of veterans in the U.K. Bill C-378 aims to have similar fairness and unique principles in the legislation as that which created the Department of Veterans Affairs in the first place.
We are looking at something here that wants to put three principles into legislation that puts obligations on the government. My colleague from the NDP read them and I want to add them to my transcript today.
Veterans and their dependants or survivors are to be treated with dignity, respect, and fairness. We need to recognize the uniqueness of veterans' duties and sacrifices and the impact on their lives. Decisions regarding care, treatment, and transition to civil life should be made in a timely manner The member has coined it in the legislation as a “military covenant”.
This has been talked about in this place on many other occasions. This is the first occasion we as legislators from all parties will be able to do the right thing for veterans.
I am going to go back to the word “respect”. I am going to talk not with my own words, but with the words of people who every day are involved in the veterans community, to describe where they are today and what the landscape is today on the Liberal broken promises.
The first quote is on fighting our veterans in court. Don Sorochan, the lead counsel for Equitas Society, said on CBC News on January 31, 2018:
The position taken by the government was astonishing. For them to stand up and say we don't have any special obligation to veterans was completely contrary to everything they had been saying in Parliament, on the election campaign.
Mark Campbell, a veteran and Equitas plaintiff, and a member of the Minister of Veterans Affairs' policy advisory group, said on restoring lifelong pensions, “The new pension for life is nothing more than a shell game.” He was advising them what to do, and they took an opposite direction.
Here is another quote relating to lifelong pensions. This was said by Sean Bruyea, a veteran and veterans' advocate:
[T]he government merely resurrected the ghosts of Christmases past with a hodgepodge of benefits that amount to recycled, remodelled and repackaged programs that already exist.
Here is another quote from a different individual:
It's fair to say the disappointment (with the new plan) has been immense because it just didn't do the trick.... If you're going to make a promise to provide lifetime pensions, then do it.
That was said by Brian Forbes, the executive director of War Amps Canada and chairman of the National Council of Veterans Associations of Canada.
The Prime Minister told veterans that they are asking for more than the government is able to give right now. The Prime Minister said that to a veteran during a town hall meeting. The veteran lost one leg in Afghanistan to an explosive device and 80% of the use of his other leg, for which he has been having all kinds of surgery to even get 20% of its function. He looked back at him and said that veterans are asking for more than the government is able to give right now. In commenting on that, the Royal Canadian Legion said, “These sorts of words are extremely insensitive”.
Colin Saunders, a veteran and veterans' advocate said this about the Liberal record. “The reality is veterans aren't seeing that money”
I will wrap up quickly and underscore what I believe everyone in the House should, without reservation be voting for, and that is respect for our veterans. Let me repeat that everyone should be voting for respect for our veterans.