Mr. Speaker, I stand in support of the opposition motion, the New Democratic Party motion. I do not usually read out the whole motion when it is a long one, as it takes up precious speaking time, but I will in this case because I find it hard to believe we are actually debating it, that this subject is actually up for debate in the House of Commons.
The motion reads:
That, in the opinion of the House, a standalone covenant of moral, social, legal, and fiduciary obligation exists between the Canadian people and the government to provide equitable financial compensation and support services to past and active members of the Canadian Armed Forces who have been injured, disabled or have died as a result of military service, and to their dependents, which the government is obligated to fulfil.
It is hard to believe that we have to dedicate an opposition day, that we have to dedicate a day to debate what should be a no-brainer, what should be common sense, common Canadian sense.
Our veterans stood on guard for us. They stood on guard for Canada. Our veterans stood on guard for democracy. They stood on guard around the world in conflict zones like Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Libya. They stood on guard for us in humanitarian missions like Haiti, after the earthquake in January 2010, and in Newfoundland and Labrador, after Hurricane Igor that same year.
Our veterans stood on guard for us, and we must stand on guard for them. That is the essence of the sacred covenant that exists between the Government of Canada and our Armed Forces. Our responsibility, our duty, is to be there for soldiers and veterans in their moment of need, not to abandon them to budget and service cuts. I call that the ultimate insult. Too many give the ultimate sacrifice and the government gives the ultimate insult.
There have been too many examples where the Conservative government has failed to stand on guard for our veterans.
The NDP MP for Sackville—Eastern Shore, Nova Scotia, who just spoke, this party's veterans affairs critic—and an outstanding critic he is—has a quotation on his office door by a U.S. senator, “If you can't afford to take care of your veterans, then don't go to war”.
The Conservative government has not been taking care of our veterans. It was not taking care of our veterans when it closed nine Veterans Affairs offices across Canada, including one in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, my home province.
I was told just today of a Newfoundland veteran who served in Bosnia. He had to drive eight hours from Corner Brook, his home, to St. John's, the closest office, so that the staff there could start a profile on him. He drove for eight hours across the island of Newfoundland.
The Conservative government was not taking care of veterans when it cut 23% of the Veterans Affairs workforce, or 900 jobs, since 2009. The Conservative government certainly was not taking care of veterans when it spent more than $700,000 fighting Afghan veterans in court to deny the existence of the social covenant I mentioned a moment ago.
Lawyers for the government have argued that it has no obligation or social contract with veterans. Those same lawyers also argued that is unfair to bind the government to promises made nearly a century ago by another prime minister.
That social contract was struck in 1917 by then Conservative prime minister Robert Borden:
The government and the country will consider it their first duty to see that a proper appreciation of your effort and of your courage is brought to the notice of people at home that no man, whether he goes back or whether he remains in Flanders, will have just cause to reproach the government for having broken faith with the men who won and the men who died.
Not only has the Conservative government failed to take care of our veterans, to respect that sacred covenant, but it has also been playing the worst sort of politics, the sort of politics that rots faith in our political system.
The latest massive omnibus bill, Bill C-59, is the budget implementation bill. It is 167 pages, which is short by omnibus standards, and it obviously includes measures on the budget. That is the same boutique budget that we will be voting against because it would cater to the wealthy, among other reasons. It would put the needs of the more affluent and more influential people first. However, Bill C-59 contains much more than this year's budget measures. The bill touches on almost two dozen other bills, from the federal balanced budget act and the prevention of terrorist travel act to public service sick leave and Canadian Labour Code changes.
The Conservatives have also cynically included provisions to assist veterans in that omnibus bill. They do this all the time. Such a move will force opposition parties who support those measures to help veterans to vote against the bill and then—and you can take this to the bank, Mr. Speaker—the Conservatives will throw in our faces that we voted against veterans. That is the kind of government we have in power, a government that is morally spent. I can definitely get much more creative, but I do not want to cross the parliamentary line. After nine years of Conservative government, too many veterans and their families cannot access adequate health care, pensions, and other vital supports.
I had a conversation just this morning with Jamie MacWhirter. He is a Newfoundlander and he is also a veteran. Jamie MacWhirter survived a seven-month tour in Afghanistan's most volatile war zones. He survived. He drove a refuelling truck loaded with 10,000 litres of diesel. His nickname was Fireball, for obvious reasons. Near misses for Jamie included rocket attacks, the horror of a suicide bombing that killed several children, fire fights, and roadside bombs. Jamie MacWhirter survived Afghanistan in one piece only to battle a different type of nightmare back here in Canada in Newfoundland and Labrador. Jamie MacWhirter has post-traumatic stress disorder, and the battle here at home was, and still is, for help.
Jamie MacWhirter says there is some help for veterans, some services available, but too often veterans do not know about them. Too often soldiers are afraid to speak out for fear of being kicked out of the military. They are afraid to ask for help. Soldiers do not feel safe in asking for help. When they do, too often the help is not there.
Jamie MacWhirter and others have formed a support group, PTSD Buddies, to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder, to help them share experiences, and to lean on one another for support. Veterans should lean on one another. It is good that they are coming together to support one another. That is what the best kind of soldiers do. However, veterans should also be able to lean on their own government.
I mentioned earlier that the Conservative government is fighting Afghanistan vets in court to deny the existence of the social covenant. Those vets are in a group called the Equitas Society. That group states:
A veteran, whether regular or reserve, active or retired, is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank cheque made payable to “the Government of Canada,” for an amount of “up to and including their life.”
One hundred and fifty-eight Canadians were killed in combat in Afghanistan. I say this with great respect for their families, for the loved ones they left behind. Even more personnel, an estimated 160, have died from suicide since returning home from Afghanistan.
The Government of Canada has a sacred obligation as the holder of that blank cheque to stand and deliver, to stand on guard for the men and women of our forces when they ask for help.