Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank all the members taking part in this debate.
Each of us here should feel a sense of honour when we realize how privileged we are to be able to assume public office, to live in a country where freedom and democracy are fundamental values, and the supremacy of law is valued and respected. It is a way of life which I enjoy—which all Canadians and Quebeckers enjoy—thanks to veterans.
I have the privilege of being able to talk about a great country free of tyranny and oppression. A country devoted to values dear to all Canadians: freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
Freedom is not free of cost, however. It never has been. We acquired freedom at the expense of huge sacrifice on the part of our veterans, their families and their companions.
Surveys conducted in recent years have revealed that Canadians of all ages, especially young ones, are not very familiar with our military history and heritage. Many of them do not know that over 116,000 Canadians made the ultimate sacrifice in the past century to protect our values and way of life.
What can we do to raise the young Canadians’ awareness of the importance of the times that have marked the history of our country? How can we help them better grasp the great courage of these volunteers, who risked their all for their compatriots? How do we explain to them the acts of extraordinary courage performed in terrible circumstances? The challenge is a big one.
All commemorative activities of Veterans Affairs Canada are designed chiefly to encourage young people to discover the military history of their country. The young representatives who have taken part in overseas activities have told their stories in some particularly touching accounts and reports they have written.
After her experience attending the ceremonies that marked the 60th anniversary of D Day, Catherine MacNeil, from Cape Breton, wrote: “I always try to make the best of the travel times by sitting with the veterans and I am amazed how quickly I have made friends with them. During these short rides, some of them have told their stories to me, piece by piece.” She concluded as follows: “I understand the importance of these stories, and I realize that the veterans themselves will not always be around to tell their stories themselves. That is why it is important for the youth, like myself, to pay careful attention to these stories, to learn as much as we can and then to pass it on to others we know to keep their memories alive”.
Canadians have also gathered veterans' stories, stories of young Canadians from previous generations who left their loved ones, stories of their courage under enemy fire, of their determination in the face of insurmountable obstacles, and of their fallen friends. These stories bear witness to their extraordinary valour and perseverance.
On the front lines of two great wars, in Korea and in troublespots around the world, our soldiers have prevailed—shoulder to shoulder—against such threats.
The Canadian way of life has prevailed because these men and women refused to be defeated by such evil. They remained committed to our ideals, and a better vision of the world.
Still today, liberty does not come without its price. I am referring to the loss of our young soldiers, those heroic Canadians, who are making a tremendous sacrifice and risking their lives to protect our way of life.
The Prime Minister talked about that vision recently when he spoke to the nation about the need to confront the menace of terror. As he said, “the horrors of the world will not go away if we turn a blind eye to them, no matter how far off they may be”.
Of course, we can also take comfort from knowing we are prepared to meet these challenges. We have the best-trained soldiers in the world, the most professional and disciplined soldiers in the world, and they commit themselves to their missions 100%.
What is new is simply this: we now have a government that is equally committed to supporting them in return.
We make sure that our soldiers, men and women, also have the equipment and resources they need. As well, our government is prepared to support them and their families when tragedy strikes. That is the least we can do for them. We owe our veterans our profound gratitude for their sacrifices and their deeds. We owe them our unflagging support.
That is why I am proud to be part of a government that not only acknowledges this debt, but also is committed to honouring its obligations to veterans. For example, I know that health care is a matter of particular importance to veterans. The government is committed to ensuring that they will never have to worry about access to the health care that they need and they deserve. We want to be sure that the new veterans’ charter continues to measure up to its commitment to providing the essential support and services for the courageous young Canadian men and women who are serving their country today.
As well, there will be a fair resolution of the issue of agent orange at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick. We will also be preparing a bill of veterans rights and we will appoint a veterans ombudsman, two measures that will ensure that no veteran will be denied the respectful and dignified treatment he or she deserves.
I want to be sure that no Canadian ever forgets the actions taken by our veterans to deserve that respect and dignity. I want to thank them for the legacy of freedom that they have bequeathed to us.