Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by extending my condolences to the family of Catherine Campbell. I can only imagine the heartbreak that they have gone through.
As members know, we are supporting the motion.
I want to start by referring to question period earlier today when we had a very theatrical performance by the Minister of Veterans Affairs which I thought was entirely inappropriate, quite shameful in fact. I have been in this House for 15 years almost, and I have not seen a performance that was so inappropriate for any minister, as bad as the performance we saw this afternoon.
I wanted to cite that because after question period, we saw another indication of the complete disarray and chaos reigning within the Ministry of Veterans Affairs. What we saw, in complete contradiction to what the minister said in question period, was an announcement by Veterans Affairs that the department will no longer pay benefits for incarcerated relatives of veterans.
That is not what the motion calls for. The motion calls very specifically for Veterans Affairs Canada to pull the benefits that have been extended to Chris Garnier, and yet what the government and the Ministry of Veterans Affairs did was actually pull all of the benefits to all of the relatives of veterans who are either in a provincial or federal institution, whether it is as a result of the possession of marijuana which will soon be legalized or as a result of shoplifting, all of which are potentially impacted by PTSD as we know. The Ministry of Veterans Affairs reacted by pulling all of the benefits, but when questioned, Ministry of Veterans Affairs officials said that they could not confirm whether Mr. Garnier, who is the principal focus of the debate today, would actually have his benefits withdrawn.
We had the sad spectacle of the Minister of Veterans Affairs and then an announcement by the Ministry of Veterans Affairs, which seems to have impacted we do not know how many relatives of veterans, yet the government does not seem to be dealing with the fundamental issue that we are debating here in the House. I say that is sad because I believe our nation's veterans deserve much better than the kind of improvised service and talking points and the theatrical performance that we saw from the Minister of Veterans Affairs.
I come from a community that deeply appreciates our nation's veterans. On the cenotaph before the city hall in the city of New Westminster are the names of many of our nation's veterans who participated in a whole series of conflicts dating back to the Boer War, the First World War, the Second World War, and the Korean conflict. Two of my relatives' names, those of my grandfather and my uncle, are on that cenotaph before the city hall.
On Remembrance Day, New Westminster turns out in remarkably strong numbers, 3,000, 4,000, 5,000 strong. The city of New Westminster turns out to remember our nation's veterans on Remembrance Day. Whether it is pouring rain or there are high winds, it does not matter; the community turns out in the thousands to commemorate our nation's veterans.
Just up the hill from the city hall and the cenotaph that I spoke of is the headquarters of the Royal Westminster Regiment. That armoury is always filled with 1,000 or 1,500 people celebrating at a service prior to the Remembrance Day ceremony at the city hall. The 1,000, 1,200, or 1,500 people who are at the armoury then walk down in silence toward the cenotaph to commemorate with thousands of other citizens of New Westminster on Remembrance Day. A number of the veterans of the Royal Westminster Regiment have given their lives over the years, and New Westminster remembers.
The other community I represent is the city of Burnaby. On Remembrance Day there is always a service that is completely full which is held at the veterans hospital, the George Derby Centre. Members will remember just a few years ago under the former Conservative government that this hospital facility was cut of its funding and the hospital was passed over to the provincial government. What we have seen since then, as I go to George Derby frequently to honour our nation's veterans, is that the services for those veterans at the George Derby Centre in Burnaby have been severely cut over the years. We are seeing more and more frequently veterans calling for better services. The services that existed before had been slashed by the previous government and those cuts have continued under the current government.
There is a lot of rhetoric in the House of Commons and often we will see members of the government stand up and read talking points that are provided to them. They are supposed to put forward a strong argument about why the government has been doing everything it is supposed to do. However, I know from first-hand experience, and I think my colleagues in the NDP caucus can say the same thing, that it is very clear the benefits, programs and supports that should be going to our nation's veterans simply are not. It is simply that.
Peter Stoffer, the former NDP veterans critic, made a reputation nationally for speaking out for our nation's veterans. He always said that the government has an ongoing fiduciary responsibility towards all of our nation's veterans. However, whether it is the previous Conservative government or the current Liberal government, that is simply not the case.
This should not be a partisan issue. This should be something that we all unite on. There is no doubt if we ask 100 Canadians from coast to coast to coast that 100% of them would say that providing those benefits to our nation's veterans has to be a priority regardless of which government is in power. Yet as my colleague, the member for London—Fanshawe, just mentioned, hundreds of millions of dollars over the last few years, and over $1 billion over the last 10 years, has gone wanting at the same time as we are seeing our nation's veterans not being able to access programs, not being able to access housing, and often being left aside. That is simply unacceptable.
No Canadian would find it acceptable that there are veterans in our country who are homeless. No Canadian would find it acceptable that there are veterans who are trying to access addiction facilities and simply are not being provided with the supports that they need. No Canadians would find it acceptable that mental health services or employment services are not being provided to veterans or that they would have to wait months at a time before they could even access primary services.
Getting beyond the rhetoric, the question is simply this: Is the government doing nearly enough for our nation's veterans? The answer is no. The answer is that it is simply not. The answer is that there are veterans who will be sleeping outside tonight. That is unacceptable in a country as wealthy as Canada. Canadians support our nation's veterans and that any veteran would have to sleep outside is simply unacceptable. That veterans who struggle with mental health issues do not get the services they need is simply unacceptable. That veterans who struggle with addiction issues are not given access to long-term addiction programs that will actually provide them with the supports they need is simply unacceptable.
I have spoken about this in the House before. The Last Door in New Westminster provides long-term addiction services but has not been able to get access from Veterans Affairs so that veterans could be referred to its very effective program.
These are all signs of a ministry that is not doing its job, a minister that is not doing his job and a government that is not responding to the needs of our nation's veterans, regardless of the talking points. I understand that talking points are handed out to Liberal MPs, that they do not have a hand in drafting them, that they are supposed to read what is printed before them. Surely there is an MP in the Liberal caucus who is willing to stand up and say that the short-changing of our nation's veterans has to stop and that we have to go by the principle that all Canadian veterans are entitled to housing, mental health support and services, full stop. That is what should be happening.