Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the chance to speak on veterans' issues in the House. Every time I rise on this issue, I do so not only with immense respect, but with great honour.
The motion we are debating today would be relevant at any time, but it takes on a special significance this week, given that next Thursday, the 338 members of the House will leave for their ridings so they can attend remembrance ceremonies on November 11.
Why do we make it our duty to attend these remembrance ceremonies? My riding alone has three scheduled. Sadly, I have not yet figured out how to be in two or three places at once on the stroke of 11 on November 11, but one thing I can say for sure is that I am going to visit every legion branch. Each and every one of us has a duty of remembrance.
The ceremony on November 11 includes some deeply emotional moments. One especially moving moment that I would never miss, come hell or high water, is when they read out the names of all those who made the ultimate sacrifice. That can take a few short minutes or stretch over a longer time, depending on how many from the riding gave their lives. These people died so that we could have freedom of speech and the chance to live in a democracy. We owe them a great deal.
I am lucky enough to know some Second World War veterans in Trois-Rivières who have shared their stories with me and take it upon themselves to tell younger generations about the true reality of war. It is not at all like in the movies or video games, which are basically the only contact that our young people have with war, thank God. Since humankind has trouble learning from its own history, the fact that we have veterans who share their experiences with us is a priceless blessing.
When I hear the names of all the fallen read out loud, I always wonder what message they would have for us today. It is wonderful that so many of us, tens, hundreds, even thousands of Canadians take the time to remember them. What is their message? Perhaps this is a natural family instinct everyone has, but I always feel that those who made the ultimate sacrifice would ask us, in recognition of that sacrifice, to ensure that their loved ones have everything they need. They would ask us to take care of those they left behind because they fell on the battlefield.
We therefore have more than just a duty to remember. We owe them much more in return. We must pay it forward to those who have given so much and who, by chance, may still be with us today, or to their spouses and families who are still with us and who for years endured the absence of a loved one.
What is the best way to answer that call from the heart? It is by providing adequate services to our veterans and their families.
When I see the simplicity of the motion before us today, I have to wonder why this is not already a fait accompli. It is worth noting that this situation precedes the current Liberal administration. I sat in Parliament in 2011, and these very same issues were being discussed back then. For the benefit of those following our debate, I would like to reread the motion as it is written. Everything is there; it speaks for itself.
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should automatically carry forward all annual lapsed spending at the Department of Veterans Affairs to the next fiscal year, for the sole purpose of improving services for Canadian veterans, until the Department meets or exceeds its 24 self-identified service standards.
“Automatically” means stop debating this, stop asking questions, and just make this a priority.
Unfortunately, as we saw under the Conservative administration and are still seeing with the Liberals, there is a significant difference between the amounts announced and those paid out.
This begs a fundamental question: announcing extraordinary amounts even thought they do not have the money, thinking that it will make them look good by showing good intention, and then in the end spending less than what was announced since they know they do not have that money—is it all a political show? It would be even worse if they announced amounts that they do have and then chose not to spend the money, returning it to the consolidated revenue fund so it can be allocated to other things or used to pay down part of the deficit.
In the past, the Conservatives often used this strategy when they made their grand announcements. The Conservatives had the largest infrastructure program ever. However, the real amounts invested were nowhere near those announced. The Liberals are using the exact same strategy, which is outrageous, to say the least.
I will cite a few examples of how the transfer of these lapsed funds could achieve a certain number of objectives. I will name a few so that people have an idea of what we are referring to.
Most of the time when a veteran calls the National Contact Centre Network, they hear, “your call is important to us, please stay on the line for...” three hours, four hours, three days, two weeks, a month? It takes a lot of patience to get a response. According to the service standard, you can expect to be connected with the next available analyst within two minutes. The target is 80%. The result is 66%.
I have a problem with 80% as a target. That is like saying if analysts respond within two minutes 80% of the time, then that is not so bad. However, the point of having a service standard is to serve all veterans. The target cannot be anything less than 100%. The result might be 80%, and then we would say that is not so bad, almost everyone was served within the service standard—but no, we are setting 80% as a target.
That would be like me taking an exam or asking my daughter who is studying for an exam not to aim for 100% but rather for 80%, and if she gets 70% then that would be good, or if she gets 66% then that would be fine. Give me a break. We have to always aim for the best outcome. How can we set 80% as a target for a standard, an approach or a federal government and think that that is okay?
I am running out of time and cannot give more examples, but perhaps I will be able to share some during questions and comments. This makes absolutely no sense. This approach at Veterans Affairs Canada is nothing new. You can find it with many government services, including immigration and EI. Anytime a Canadian needs to call the government, the target is never 100%.
I would have liked more time to talk about the ombudsman's report, in which he made some very important recommendations that have not yet been implemented. I may be able to revisit this, but in the few seconds I have left, I would like to say that I truly hope this motion will get the unanimous support of the House. That seems to be the likely outcome, which would be a good thing.
I also hope that once this motion is adopted, the government quickly implements it. Too often, motions are adopted unanimously or by a majority in the House, but nothing comes out of it. With all the respect we owe our veterans, I cannot even imagine that happening.