Mr. Speaker, I am grateful to be speaking to this motion today calling for the Prime Minister to apologize for his insensitive comments toward Canada's veterans.
I have to start with a simple comparison. During the last election, the Prime Minister said, “If I earn the right to serve this country as your Prime Minister, no veteran will be forced to fight their own government for the support and compensation that they have earned.” However, only a few weeks ago, when a young PPCLI vet in Edmonton asked the Prime Minister why the government is fighting veterans in court, the Prime Minister said that veterans are “asking for more than we are able to give right now”. Is it any wonder that veterans are marching today in Ottawa, in Vegreville, and in Bonnyville, in Lakeland.
Like many Canadians, members of my family were and are veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces, and I am blessed to have gotten to know many veterans throughout my life. Canadian veterans are not always in uniform, but for those who still wear a uniform, and those who do not, they are and were Canada's best. Canadian veterans deserve the best from their country and eternal gratitude from all Canadians. They deserve the highest level of care and dignity from their government and from the department whose mandate is to serve them. I know that Lakeland constituents, like all Canadians, believe passionately that veterans deserve dignity and respect.
William McGregor, now in his 90s, served on the European front in World War II. William is from Bonnyville. He served Canada by helping to liberate France from the Nazis. William's distinguished service as a medic earned him the highest national order of France, a Knight of the Legion of Honour. Although William and one of his brothers survived storming the beaches of Normandy, his other brother did not and is now buried in France. William did not enlist as an 18-year-old to ask his country to give him anything in return. William still does not ask anything of his country.
The veterans who have been forced to ask a court to give them the help they need are not asking for more than Canadians are willing to give. The Prime Minister's rebuke to veterans is shameful, and it simply does not at all reflect the concern, compassion, and respect of Canadians toward veterans. It is especially disappointing, given the Prime Minister's own lofty promises, and sadly, what were clearly empty words during the campaign.
What I hope we can all agree on is that we should not insult Canada's veterans when they are simply asking the Prime Minister to account for the difference between what he says and what he does.
Canadian soldiers owe us nothing. They have served us well. They and their families have a sacred bond with Canada, which is responsible to them in turn. Our job is not only to see those with whom Canada has made the sacred covenant be generally or usually treated with respect and dignity but to do what we can to ensure that this ethos informs every interaction between veterans and the government, on Canadians' behalf. However, yesterday, the Prime Minister and every Liberal member defeated a private member's bill that would have required the government to ensure that veterans and their families were treated with dignity, respect, and fairness, with consideration given to their unique experiences and sacrifices, and that any decisions regarding their care or treatment be made in a timely manner. This is a covenant that is in place in the U.S., the U.K., and other countries.
I would remind my colleagues that the House of Commons even unanimously supported a motion in 2015 that recognized the standalone covenant of moral, social, legal, and fiduciary obligation between the Canadian people and the Government of Canada to provide the care and financial compensation needed by members of the Armed Forces who have been injured or disabled or who have died as a result of their military service. However, the Liberals defeated it.
The Prime Minister should, at the very least, always treat veterans and their families with dignity, respect, and fairness if they are not going to support putting those actions into law. The motion does not require anything unreasonable or burdensome for the Prime Minister. It is a simple request. It should be an easy decision.
Now, I want to be fair. Every member in this House has, and will, from time to time, make a mistake when speaking. There but for the grace of God go I. However, when we make a mistake, as the Prime Minister has clearly done, we should own up to it, and we should apologize.
My constituents who are veterans deserve this apology. They are veterans like Fred Roddick. Fred is from the border region between Lakeland and Battle River—Crowfoot. Fred flew Catalinas for the Australian air force and fought Nazi U-boats off the southern tip of Africa. In one engagement, six hours from the nearest land, he destroyed a U-boat and his plane took damage. With great determination and bravery, he piloted his damaged plane all the way back to land, a six-hour flight, carefully landed it using only half the landing gear, and returned his crew to their base safely.
There is also the story of Cliff Espetveidt, a farmer from Marwayne. He and his brothers signed up to serve because they saw what Hitler was doing in Europe, and they felt that they had to do something about it. The brothers were initially stationed in England and were supposed to have gone to Dieppe as reinforcements, but they ended up in the Sicily campaign. Cliff tells of how his brother was shot twice, once by a sniper. He survived, but with scars and a hand that no longer worked. When the war ended, Cliff's unit was in Holland. The happiness and celebration eventually finished, and Cliff and his brothers returned to Marwayne. Life eventually went back to normal, but Cliff still keeps his memories, and his brother still keeps his wounds.
There are countless other veterans from across Canada and in Lakeland with stories just like Fred's, William's, and Cliff's, such as John Karmandy from Vegreville and Jack Leighton from Kitscoty. Their amazing stories only marginally reveal the nature of what Canada's soldiers experience in combat.
These men and women undergo terribly demanding training and evaluation preparing themselves mentally and physically for combat to put themselves at risk and to fight to prevent the loss of their own lives and the lives of their comrades. That is before a soldier, pilot, or sailor even arrives in a combat zone. To face daily the possibility that they may take a life or lose their own would undoubtedly leave a permanent mark on anyone. To then witness and experience horrors only seen on a battlefield, to personally lose limbs, senses, or the ability to fall asleep are experiences only others who have gone through it too can truly understand.
Canada asks this of members of the armed forces, and Canada needs people to serve. Canada asks them to suffer abroad so that we may not suffer at home and so we can live freely and safely. Veterans serve without asking to know the details or to know how everything will turn out. They do not even know to which combat zone they might be deployed. They simply sign up to serve.
There is no legitimate reason any member should oppose this motion. The Prime Minister said he would not force veterans to the courts to get the help they needed, and then when veterans were forced to the courts and asked him about it, he said they were asking for too much, saying that they were trying to take something that was not theirs. He must apologize.
I would like to offer my sincere thanks and gratitude to the member for Brantford—Brant, the member for Yorkton—Melville, and the members for Durham and Barrie—Innisfil for their dedication to Canada's veterans. I will support this motion, and I encourage all members of this House to join me in that effort.