Mr. Speaker, the fact that I am able to stand here today with my democratically elected colleagues from all parties and freely debate this motion is a testament to the service and bravery of our veterans and active military personnel. I thank them for all they have done, and will do, for our country.
New Democrats believe that the service and sacrifice of veterans and their families is something that must be remembered and honoured. We believe that it has earned them a safe, affordable place to call home, but sadly, for too many veterans that is not the case.
Only two things are required to end homelessness among veterans: a government that makes it a goal and that has a plan to achieve it. Sadly, up until this point, the government has had neither. Therefore, I want to thank the hon. member for Bay of Quinte for tabling this motion and for making the ending of homelessness among veterans a priority. I would like him to know that it has my support.
Once upon a time, a veteran without a home was absolutely unthinkable. Before it became the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the CMHC was founded as the Canadian Wartime Housing corporation. At that time, Canadians and our federal government believed that in return for their service and sacrifice, veterans and their families deserved a safe, affordable place to call home, so we built them one.
Today, our successive federal governments have gotten out of the business of building homes. Frankly, some would say that our government has nearly gotten out of the business of serving veterans as well. To no one's surprise, when the federal government stopped building homes and supporting veterans, we saw a sharp rise in homelessness among veterans. The good news is that we can eliminate homelessness among veterans and all Canadians.
I have no doubt that this motion was inspired by the testimony and proposals put forward by witnesses at the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, which has studied this very issue over the last six months. On behalf of the NDP, I would like to take a moment to thank the 22 individuals and groups who shared their experiences with that committee and for their work on behalf of veterans and their families.
I would like to read a quote from testimony at that committee, which I think sums up the challenges of eliminating homelessness among veterans quite well.
At one of those committee meetings, Debbie Lowther, chair and co-founder of VETS Canada, said the following:
We know that there are many pathways into homeless, such as poverty, lack of affordable housing, job loss or instability, mental illness and addictions, physical health problems, family or domestic violence, and family or marital breakdown. What sets veterans apart is that they not only deal with all of these same issues but they also struggle with their transition from military to civilian life. I talked about the military being a unique culture. Well, now the veteran is trying to adapt to a new civilian culture, feeling as though they have lost their identity and doing so without the social support network that was always so important.
Veterans of different ages, genders, regions and personal experiences have their own unique individual challenges that can create the conditions in which homelessness becomes a possibility. Tim Richter, the executive director of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, understands this fact as well. He stated this:
I believe that with a focused effort and a sense of urgency, veteran homelessness in Canada could be eliminated within three years or less.
We have to document the names and unique needs of every veteran experiencing homelessness and have an ability to share that information among those in the community who can house and support them. We have to be able to monitor performance, notice fluctuations, identify problems and respond in real time.
We should carve out of the new Canada housing benefit a federally administered veteran housing benefit....
In other words, we need a plan, which brings us to this motion. Motion No. 225 calls upon the government to do three things to help end homelessness among veterans: set a goal to end veteran homelessness in Canada by 2025; table a plan to achieve this goal in the House of Commons by June 2020; and, when formulating the plan, the government should consider whether a national veterans housing benefit, similar to the one in the United States, would be a good fit for Canada.
This motion is well informed, but will it actually make a difference? I do not know the answer to that question. It is certain that we could, and it really could be a game-changer. However, up until this point, I do not believe that the government has been serious about ending homelessness, for veterans or anyone else. Some may think that is a harsh statement, but there is evidence to support my claim.
First, the government has no formal goal or plan to end homelessness in Canada. Its goal is only to cut chronic homelessness in half over 10 years. This past fall, in the week before Remembrance Day, this place unanimously adopted an NDP motion to end lapsed spending at Veterans Affairs. Lapsed spending is the portion of the money that is approved by Parliament for Veterans Affairs, but that is left unspent by the department for one reason or another. This leftover money is then returned to the treasury, never to be seen again.
It does not have to be that way. Our motion called upon the government to reinvest this money into improving services for veterans in the following year, and to do so until the department eliminates wait times and can meet all of its 24 service standards. Averaging about $124 million per year, this money would be enough to double the staff at Veterans Affairs; speed up the processing of disability claims, applications for the earnings loss benefit and career transition services; and for every other program or service provided by the department to veterans. As this money was already approved by Parliament, there would be no additional cost to taxpayers, just better service for veterans.
Our motion was passed unanimously and was openly supported by both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance. However, as we heard, here we are in June, with yet another federal budget behind us, the fourth of this government, and there is no end in sight to either the lapsed spending or the enormous wait times and poor service at Veterans Affairs. In so many ways, this is a government of somewhat empty gestures and determined inaction. This lack of integrity hurts people, vulnerable people, people who need and deserve better from their government, people like veterans.
While I appreciate the member for Bay of Quinte bringing this motion forward, I do not want anyone listening today to be misled into thinking that this government has done something simply by tabling this motion. At the moment, they are just words on a page.
In closing, I want to reaffirm my support for this motion and again offer my thanks to the member who sponsored it. Ending veterans homelessness is possible, and this member has provided the Liberal government with a plan, a way forward, the means to end homelessness in Canada. Veterans need and deserve a government that prioritizes ending their homelessness.
With the tabling of this motion, the Liberal government is now on notice. There are no more excuses for inaction on ending homelessness for veterans. In fact, this motion is a call to action for the government. As I have said before, the government needs to take a page from the Nike playbook and just do it.
My NDP colleagues and I will support this well-meaning and thoughtful motion, and will continue to work with anyone in this place who seeks to improve the lives of veterans and their families. We will continue to demand more than words. We will demand action by the government to end veterans homelessness in Canada.