Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by reading the motion again. The Liberal member for Halifax West seems to have a real issue with the motion. He is indicating that the Liberal government has an issue with the motion. I want Canadians to hear the motion and let them judge why the government should have an issue with this motion. The motion says:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should acknowledge the historic inequality of treatment and compensation for First Nations, Métis and Inuit war veterans and take action immediately to give real compensation to these veterans in a way that truly respects their service and sacrifice.
How could the Liberal member for Halifax West, how could the Liberal government, how could the Liberal Prime Minister who says he is out there to make things better for first nations people, that he is going to treat them fairly, and how could the Indian affairs minister come out there and say he is going to treat first nations and aboriginal people fairly and then have a problem with this motion? How is that possible?
Obviously there is an issue with the unequal treatment of aboriginal war veterans. It is recognized. Numerous studies have been done and reports have come out that have recognized that there was not fair compensation given to all war veterans. Those who did not receive fair compensation were the aboriginal veterans. Yes, some may have received fair compensation. The reality is that a good number did not.
When there is an issue with the words “real compensation”, I guess “real compensation” would be the rightful compensation that other non-aboriginal veterans received. One would simply say they should have received the same type of compensation and the same respect that was due.
For a variety of different reasons, the first nations members went back to a reserve and to their Indian affairs agent. Quite frankly, anyone who would stand in this House and justify the actions of Indian agents and the treatment of first nations people is unconscionable.
If we look historically at the wrongs that were placed on first nations people by the Indian agents acting on behalf of the Canadian government, it was unacceptable. To somehow not accept responsibility for that as a government is wrong.
The Liberal member for Halifax West, who has issue with this motion, is saying that the government offered them a package of $20,000 and a good number took it. Quite frankly, if a person is lying on the ground and two hours away from death, and someone is going to put a little bit of water in that person's mouth, that person will take it because there is no fight left in that person. It should not have reached that point.
I say to the Liberal member for Halifax West, who has an issue with this motion, that he needs to consider why they took it and be honest about it. A person would have to be really misreading the situation to think it was all right, that 1,700 have taken it because they thought it was a good package.
That was not the reality. It was because these people had no choice and they were reaching the point in their lives when they were not going to have that much longer to live. They wanted to have some quality of life with their families.
How many of those aboriginal veterans, that have taken what little they had been given at this point in their lives, are living in luxury? How many have the health that a good number of us have who do not live in aboriginal communities? How many have had their families receive the same education that others have? That is the realistic view of why they would have taken that compensation. It was the last drops of water that they might get before their death in order to give something back to their families. It is unacceptable to somehow suggest that this compensation picture was acceptable.
My riding has a good number of first nation communities. I have met with a number of aboriginal veterans who very willingly gave of their lives at the time. For some, as with many people, it was an experience. It seemed like an exciting time to go and fight for one's country. Others felt they had no choice because it was a situation that was deplorable.
It is difficult to imagine, but some actually left their reserves because they found those conditions more deplorable than going to war and putting their lives on the line. There were a variety of reasons why people went. I would be willing to say that the majority went because they believed in Canada and they wanted to fight for their country.
I grew up in the community of Labrecque for most of my life. I picked up a Labrecque history book and there was a speech that had been given by the head priest at the Labrecque Residential School to the Regina Canadian Club one year. In it he mentioned that these Indian men were going off to war to fight for their country because they were committed to their country. When they came back, he said they would expect to be treated as equals.
The fact that they would want to be treated as equals was a problem for the priest and a problem for the government. Heaven forbid. Why should they not be treated as equals? Somehow in the mind of the government of the day and in the mind of those running the residential school, they were not equals, but to their colleagues on the battle lines they were equals.
I have spoken to a number of aboriginal veterans. My father-in-law fought in the war along with numerous relatives of his. There was no issue when individuals went to fight.
I recall a Métis fellow who worked on what was called the Labrecque Inuit and Métis farm which had been set up by priests in Labrecque to give work to Inuit and Métis. This fellow had fought in the war. He was injured and became disabled, but he was able to work. He had to fight to get compensation. After years of having worked, he finally realized that he should have been given some benefits, but he had to fight for them. My father was involved in this. This man had to fight for benefits that others had been given freely because they were white, not aboriginal. That is unacceptable.
How can anyone sit in the House today and not agree with the motion before us? How can we not go beyond the rhetoric of saying we will treat aboriginal people fairly and then do nothing? Why would we not provide compensation to these individuals and at least provide them with an opportunity to have some quality of life?
I am not surprised by this. I have also had numerous conversations with people who were in residential schools. I dealt with a first nation family that was trying to get compensation for their mother who has unfortunately passed on.
If the Liberal government keeps this up, enough of these people will be gone, so it will not have to pay out anything. More money will be available to spend on Liberal ad scams or whatever. The money will be gone and the government will not have to pay out. That is unfair, unjust and unconscionable.
There is support among all opposition parties for this, but the Liberal government is responsible for making this happen. There has to be more than just rhetoric for aboriginal veterans and residential school victims.
Imagine being part of a family whose parent went to war and the children were put into a residential school. Imagine suffering grave abuse.There have been those who told me they suffered no physical abuse, but those individuals were few and far between. More have had issues with residential schools. Imagine being the parent who went off to war and upon arrival back not being treated equally. Imagine being mistreated at a residential school. Imagine not receiving any compensation. That is unacceptable.
The Prime Minister, all members of his Liberal cabinet, and all Liberal members in general have a responsibility to ensure that compensation is paid fairly, timely and justly.