Mr. Speaker, thank you. I appreciate that, and I will withdraw it. It was an absolute fabrication. In fact, the envelope was so stretched that it was incredible.
This is a disabled veteran from Niagara Falls who runs the Canadian Veterans Advocacy, and what does he do? The disability scooter that he has is paid for the Department of Veterans Affairs. He plugs it in to a socket in my office so he his battery is charged every time he comes up to Ottawa.
I have offered him the opportunity to put it in the hon. member for Durham's office, who has a much larger office than mine two doors down. However, I do not see the hon. member for Durham offering the same opportunity for a disabled veteran to park his scooter in his office.
That is quite offensive. For one veteran to attack another is simply unconscionable and he should be ashamed of himself. As a person who was born in Holland and whose parents were liberated by the veteran community, I have always thought that every veteran, regardless of when he or she served or how, should be treated with the utmost respect. Just because certain veterans disagree with other veterans who happen to be on the government's side, the disagreement should not result in slander in the House of Commons.
I invite the hon. member, whenever he wishes, either privately or publicly, to apologize to Mike Blais and the Canadian Veterans Advocacy.
There is another thing going on that is simply unconscionable. We heard the member say that the Canadian Veterans Advocacy actually accepted funding from “unions”. The fact is that it is an Internet veterans group that gets its funding from all kinds of people. One union gave it $2,000. That was one union, one time, yet the member said “unions”, which basically tried to make the slant that the Canadian Veterans Advocacy was just a union front. If, indeed, it is a union front, long live the union movement. However, the fact is, nothing could be further from the truth.
I only wish the hon. member for Durham, for whom I have great respect, could get his facts straight and understand that when veterans disagree with the government, it does not necessarily mean they disagree with him personally. It just means they disagree with the policies coming from his government.
That is fair. That is why they wore the uniform. That is why they stood on guard for thee. It was to be able to tell Canadians that even though we might disagree on political fronts, we at least had the right to agree to disagree.
Without hesitation, the last couple of months have not been a very good time for the Minister of Veterans Affairs. First, there was the meeting that he blew off and then came to Room 130-S. He completely embarrassed himself, the Government of Canada and all parliamentarians, for that matter, when he literally verbally abused veterans.
Then there were the events of the other day. The reality is that we heard the excuses that he did not hear the woman or that he was late for a vote. It was absolute nonsense. The reality is that I left the room five minutes after the minister and got here six minutes before the minister and still had ten minutes to spare.
He could have stopped and said that he was sorry, that he had to go to a meeting or a vote. He could have given her his card and suggested they meet in the future, but no. Not only did he not do that, but the parliamentary secretary rushed right past her. We can see that in the video.
During her press conference, two members of the minister's staff were watching her speak. The deputy minister walked by. Other staffers walked by. We would think that for one second, one member of the government or the department would have stopped and asked if there was any way that they could help her. However, no, they completely brushed her off.
What an absolute embarrassment. I, as a member of Parliament, was absolutely embarrassed that our government, even though I did not vote for it, treated her in this fashion. That is twice. Those members do not get a third time.
I can assure members not to worry. There will not be a third time, because when the election comes around, this party, the NDP, will be over on that side and we will ensure that veterans get treated with the respect they so rightfully deserve.
For example, every time I ask the minister a question, I give him the question well in advance. Today I asked the Minister of Veterans Affairs, who I have great respect for, if he would he you at least meet with this woman at a time that was convenient for both of them for her to discuss her issues about her husband. The answer was that he would take it under consideration. In the House of Commons, the question was not answered. A member of Parliament from the opposition has the courtesy to give a minister the question in advance but does not even get a response.
What are people watching this expected to believe? I was not playing for political points. I was not playing any opportunism. I gave the minister the question in advance, as I always have done for 17 years. All I asked for was a respectful answer and I did not get it. What is Jenifer supposed to think now? Her husband has severe post-traumatic stress disorder and all she has asked for is a little help. Did she get it? No. She got the back of the hand of the Government of Canada, and that is shameful. Every member over there should hang their head in shame for that despicable behaviour. It is unbelievable and it goes on and on.
I have so many files on my desk from veterans across the country who are disappointed with the government.
Having said that, I hope tomorrow will be a very proud day for Canada. The Veterans Affairs committee, which I have been member of for many years, is releasing its report tomorrow. Although I cannot divulge what is in that report, I have to give the parliamentary secretary, the members of the Conservative Party, my colleagues from the Liberals and my hon. NDP colleagues as well, kudos for working together to come up with recommendations that hopefully the government will accept and move on very quickly.
This will be a start. If the government accepts and adopts the recommendations, then the committee has done its work. The Veterans Ombudsman has done his work. The Canadian Veterans Advocacy, the Legion and the vets, all those other groups that have come forward to the government over the last eight years with recommendations to improve the new veterans charter have done their work.
This will require an investment from the government not only financially, but personnel as well. I cannot say if the report is unanimous or not, but I am very proud of it. I am very proud of all the members who serve on that committee. I am very proud of all the witnesses who came before us. We heard some very heartfelt stories.
One story on the public record is about Corporal Mark Fuchko, a double amputee who took over nine months to get the paperwork done for renovations to his home. Brian Forbes of the National Council of Veterans Associations said it very clearly and succinctly: “A double amputee shouldn't have to fill out any forms”. Think about that. It should not have taken him nine months to get the help he needed; it should have taken nine minutes. The minute he was a double amputee, the department should have asked him what he needed. It should have said that it would get his house renovated and ensure that he would get everything he needed so he could move forward to a positive life.
If after the report is tabled tomorrow, we can see that kind of action, the committee under the great chair, the member for West Nova, then we will have done something really well. I, and I am sure all members of the committee, will be very proud of that.
However, as I have said before, I have been here for 17 years. I have been on a lot of committees and I have worked on a lot of recommendations. An awful lot of them are still sitting on the shelf. Just because these are recommendations does not necessarily mean the government will adopt them.
However, it will be our job in opposition, and I would hope that of the members on the back bench of the Conservative Party, to encourage their government to listen to these recommendations, to understand what was said, and be able to adopt them in a sincere and expedited manner so that those most seriously disabled and their families will get the help they need, and get it right away. We will wait and see how it turns out in that regard.
Getting back to the bill, it is a noble effort for the government to introduce legislation for the priority hiring of veterans. Again I say that I hope the government will accept the NDP's recommendation in committee to include disabled RCMP members as well. We also have to look at the fact that in many cases there are spouses of veterans who may also want to work in the public service because of their experience. I am not saying that is something we need to adopt, but it is something we should seriously look at. Many spouses of veterans have a lot of experience dealing with disabled members, whether it is psychological or medical. I believe that an awful lot of family members can provide an awful lot of assistance to us as members of Parliament, to senators, or to the Government of Canada. Hopefully, this is something the government will look at when this bill eventually gets to committee.
At the end of the day, the reality is that we need to treat every single member of the military and the RCMP and their families with the utmost respect. Bearing in mind that not every Legion, not every individual member of the military, not every member of the RCMP, or their families, are going to agree with the government of the day. I can tell the Conservatives that as a member from 1997 to 2006, I received just as many complaints when the Liberals were in power about veterans' issues and benefits, access to them, and everything else. The reality is that the complaints have not gone away.
There are new complaints, but there are some similarities. One similarity is access to benefits. When people becomes disabled, either psychologically or medically, they go through what I call the Gordian knot of bureaucracy in order to achieve those benefits in a timely manner. That is one of the biggest problems within the Government of Canada. This is why the hon. member who spoke before talked about reducing bureaucracy, basically saying 1,500 public servants will be laid off by the time the government is done.
It has only barely touched the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. This is my hobby horse that I have been on for many years. If I were sitting in the minister's chair right now, there would be no Veterans Review and Appeal Board and there would be no Bureau of Pensions Advocates. Why? It is because veterans are the only citizens who get a lawyer from the government to fight for a benefit against the government.
There is something called benefit of the doubt, the compassionate clause. We respect our veterans. An entire system is set up that costs millions of dollars to catch the possible 3%, 2%, or even less, who are trying to cheat the system. Every veteran is included in that. The Veterans Review and Appeal Board, in my 17 years, is one of the biggest problems the minister and the Government of Canada has. I hope that they will seriously look at the Veterans Review and Appeal Board and understand very clearly that if a veteran comes forward with a concern of some kind, has a doctor's note that says his or her condition may be related to military service, has a second note from a specialist that qualifies and quantifies the first note and says, yes, there is a high probability this condition may have been caused by military service, that veteran should be entitled to the benefit.
What happens is veterans go through the appeal board and are denied, they go again and are denied, they go again and are denied. It is called the no-go policy. We know it very well. If the board says no long enough, the veterans go away. There is old 3D policy that I have witnessed many times. It is called the delay, deny, and then die policy. Mr. Art Humphreys of Musquodoboit Harbour had to go through that experience. Get this. He was an 87-year-old veteran who lived in his house for many years. All he asked for, because he could not go down the 13 steps any more, was a lift for his house, so he could go down to his basement to be entertained. It was where his big screen was and his friends would come.
They sent in a 25-year-old VON nurse on contract to DVA, who said, in her opinion, that all the qualities of life he needed were upstairs and that he did not need to go downstairs anymore. He was denied the lift.
I made the argument to the minister of the day and unfortunately on the day of my argument, that veteran passed away. For $425 and $30 a month rent, they could not give a World War II veteran a lift. Let us think about that.
Having said that, we will support the legislation. Hopefully our amendments will be brought in. I plead with the government and I plead with the minister to streamline the bureaucratic process to ensure that when a veteran calls in, the only thing that person on the other end of the phone should say is “How can we help you?”