Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Brandon—Souris.
I rise today to speak to the motion of the hon. member for Brantford—Brant. This is an important issue for me personally and for my riding of Sturgeon River—Parkland. My constituency has one of Canada's largest military installations at the Edmonton Garrison and the community surrounding the garrison are the homes of many who serve and have served Canada. In communities like Morinville, Bon Accord, and Gibbons, one is likely to run into a member of the Canadian Armed Forces at the local Tim Hortons and it is not surprising to see a military vehicle or tank driving down our streets. I am proud to represent a military community full of military families.
Many young men and women join the Canadian Forces because they want to be part of something greater than themselves. They want to be part of an institution that has kept Canada and Canadians safe for generations. They want to be part of an institution that is founded on the principles of duty, honour, integrity, and discipline. These are values that all members of the Canadian Forces live by. They are values that they hold dear beyond their term of service to this country. These are values that we, as politicians, should remember when we make promises and when we are called upon to fulfill them.
Much can be said about the covenant we hold with veterans. It began in the Great War when tens of thousands of Canadians died in the trenches of Belgium and France. Confronted with the prospect of declining manpower in a war where the fate of many great and ancient nations was held in the balance, Canada faced a crisis and the government of Sir Robert Borden made a difficult choice to introduce conscription. It was a necessary move that threatened to split our country in two. Remarkably, Conservatives and many Liberals joined together in support of conscription and in 1917, a Unionist government was elected with a smashing majority. This election was a pivotal moment because it affirmed that the government would take any action necessary to fulfill a covenant made to our men and women in uniform: that in war and peace, the government would always have their backs.
I bring up this history because the idea of a covenant was not one enshrined in legislation or our Constitution, but instead in a deeply held value, a value I mentioned previously, that being honour. It was so unthinkable of our leaders that they would betray our veterans that they did not see the necessity to enshrine that covenant in our laws.
To a member of the Canadian Forces, honour is the highest value. I remember while training once, a master corporal told me that if I lawfully ordered him to take an enemy position, even though that order could lead to his certain death, he would carry out that order. That is what honour and duty mean. That responsibility weighs on me tremendously, because as legislators, we have the political authority to order our men and women in uniform to go to war, in some cases to their almost certain death. That is why I am disappointed with the Liberal government. I am disappointed with the Prime Minister, who does not seem to understand the gravity of his responsibility and obligation to our men and women in uniform.
At a recent town hall near my home in Edmonton, the Prime Minister was asked a question by one who offered his life to this nation in Afghanistan. The Prime Minister was asked why he had broken his promise to veterans. This was a veteran who we later learned had lost one leg to an improvised explosive device and had lost 80% of the use of his other leg. The Prime Minister's response was that veterans “are asking for more than we are able to give right now”. It was a shameful statement made by the Prime Minister, a statement that no previous prime minister would ever dare to make. His response exposes a deep disrespect for our veterans.
Is the Prime Minister implying that our veterans are being greedy, that they ask for too much because they are being unreasonable? I cannot imagine those venerable wartime leaders, such as Borden and King, passing through the packed hospital wards of those rendered disabled, maimed, and permanently scarred from war and telling them that they were asking for more than the government could give.
The fact is that successive Canadian governments have asked our soldiers and their families for all that they can give: their lives and the lives of their loved ones. They have been asked, and they have given in full measure with their blood, their sweat, their toil, and their tears. For our Prime Minister to say that veterans “are asking for more than we can give right now” is an insult. It is an abdication of the responsibility and obligation that he holds as Prime Minister.
In our past, the economic devastation and sheer loss of life after two of the most intense wars in human history left their mark on Canada. Yet, despite the obstacles and challenges of the hundreds of thousands of physically and mentally wounded, not to mention those who lost their lives, through it all the government upheld its sacred obligation to veterans. It was not a bond maintained by legislation, but a bond maintained by honour and respect.
Today, we live in a free and secure society paid for by the blood of those who came before us. There are wars to be sure, but nothing on the scale of those fought in days past. With this age of relative peace, prosperity, and freedom, we have an economic dividend afforded to us by those who gave their lives.
Billions not spent on arms have been beaten into ploughshares, and the standing armies of millions of men in ages past have given way to small, professional armies that require a fraction of the resources to maintain. The fact is we must uphold our obligation to Canada's veterans, because we owe them for all we have.
When the Liberal government runs tens of billions of dollars in deficits, it does so because it has the choice to do so. In the tempestuous past, our ancestors had no choice when they went into deficit, because their only choices were victory or death. The peace paid for by those who served allows us the prosperity and flexibility to spend on making a better world and a better Canada. We have billions to spend on the Prime Minister's and the Liberal Party's pet projects, yet the Liberals choose not to fulfill this sacred covenant to our veterans. Rather than spending millions in court to settle with terrorists, perhaps the Prime Minister should spend millions to settle with our veterans and show them the respect they deserve.
The Prime Minister made an election promise that no veteran would be forced to fight the government for the support and compensation that the veterans earned, and he has broken that promise. Consequently, the Prime Minister has dishonoured himself, his office, and this country. It is not about the money. It is about respect and integrity. When the Prime Minister stood in Belleville and wrapped himself in the flag and made a promise to those veterans, those veterans placed their trust and faith in him that he would keep those promises, and he broke that faith.
This is why I am supporting this motion. The Prime Minister has compromised the trust that must exist between those who defend this country and those who are elected to lead this country. The Royal Canadian Legion has since called the Prime Minister's response at that town hall “extremely insensitive”. The Prime Minister must do the right thing and apologize to veterans for the disrespect and lack of integrity that he showed them.
I am reminded of the poem which is read every Remembrance Day:
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
It is not enough for the Prime Minister to stand every November 11 to recite this creed of our nation. It must be followed with action and integrity. I stand here today to hold the Prime Minister to account and demand that he uphold his sacred covenant with those who offer to give the ultimate sacrifice.