Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak to Bill C-568 today. As other hon. members have already said, we owe a great deal to our brave men and women in uniform, both past and present, who have served our country and sacrificed so much.
That is why I am baffled by the hypocrisy from the Liberals. I lived through the decade of darkness and before and their experiments with trying to make sure it was just a peacekeeping army. They almost destroyed our entire military. It was this government that rebuilt the pride and the combat capability of our forces, and that was the Conservative Party of Canada.
Our men and women in uniform have sacrificed so much for what they have done, and they have made Canada what it is today: a free and democratic nation admired around the world for its values and its great riches. Indeed, Canada's veterans personify so many of the things that we hold most dear: courage, commitment, honour, and service.
That is why our government is so proud to stand with each of them every day, and why we are so proud to recognize their service and honour their sacrifices with the care and support they need. Indeed, that has always been our record.
As the parliamentary secretary has noted, our government has increased Veterans Affairs Canada's annual budget to almost $785 million more this fiscal year than in 2005. In total, our government has invested nearly $5 million in additional funding to enhance veterans' benefits, programs, and services.
Budget 2014 builds on this record of investment by committing $108.2 million over three years to expand eligibility for the funeral and burial program.
Additionally, budget 2014 invests $2.1 million in 2014-15 to enhance our delivery of online services to veterans and their families. It provides veterans with greater access to rewarding jobs in the federal public service and it ensures this country properly recognizes the historical significance of Canada's mission in Afghanistan. In fact, our Prime Minister has declared May 9 the national day of honour for our brave Afghanistan veterans.
As these measures demonstrate, we have made sure, without exception, that programming for Canada's veterans continues to evolve with the needs of the men and women and families we serve. In fact, that is one of the primary purposes of our cutting red tape initiative for veterans. It is about constantly streamlining and simplifying the way Veterans Affairs Canada operates in order to provide veterans and their families with better and faster service in more modern and convenient ways.
The measures implemented through this cutting red tape initiative have reduced wait times, eliminated unnecessary bureaucratic processes, increased transparency, and introduced new technologies that have made it easier for veterans and their families to access benefits and programs.
What has been the result? Turnaround times for processing veterans' disability benefits have been significantly improved and the approval time for access to rehabilitation services has been reduced by nearly half.
Quite simply, our government has been implementing a comprehensive new approach to serving veterans that is responsive, inclusive, and flexible. It is based on a commitment, indeed a pledge, to Canada's veterans that their hard-earned benefits and services will be delivered quickly and efficiently.
The minister has repeatedly said that there is all kinds of room for improvement. There is an initiative on the Veterans Affairs committee to examine all of these issues, and these improvements will continually, constantly be made over time. It does take time to implement some of these changes that are identified as time goes on. This government has responsibility for the changing situations and circumstances of our veterans. Our minister is doing a tremendous job making sure that all of those pieces are falling into place and that this government maintains the initiative and ensures that our veterans get everything they need.
What has been the response by the other side? On March 10, 2013, the NDP voted against $39.1 million in funding for the veterans independence program, and on March 20, 2013, the members opposite, the NDP, voted against $1.1 billion in health care funding for Canadian veterans. However, the parliamentary secretary has already mentioned the opposition's shameful record of support for Canada's veterans by voting against more than $1.5 billion for veterans' pensions on June 6, 2012, the anniversary of D-Day. The irony is certainly not lost on me. It is absolutely shameful that they voted against these tremendous initiatives for our veterans, but this government, our Prime Minister, and our Minister of Veterans Affairs stood up for veterans.
A recent opinion piece in The National Post on February 6, 2014, offered this assessment:
It’s almost pathetic to witness the NDP seeking to capture the military constituency, with their defeated motion to keep those veterans’ affairs offices open, after they have systematically opposed a host of Conservative military spending bills. The same goes for the Liberals, who in the last election proposed to return Canada’s peacekeeping to its Pearsonian glory days, without committing the necessary resources.
I will say it again. The Liberals have had ample opportunity over the decades to do right by our men and women in uniform, and they have failed each and every time.
That is the state of affairs in our country when it comes to veterans and the issues that matter the most to them. We have every reason to be proud of our record, but we have no plans to rest on our laurels. That is why the minister has asked the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs to conduct a comprehensive review of the new Veterans Charter. We want to hear what Canadians have to say, particularly regarding care for our country's most seriously injured veterans and what more we should be doing for veterans' families.
As a veteran myself, I have a keen interest in the work of the committee. Members of the committee have heard a wide range of comments and suggestions, and I am proud to continually contribute to this initiative.
There is a robust debate going on, and as a veteran, I personally appreciate the carefully considered opinions that have been rendered.
Bill C-568 is meant sincerely as another way Canada could be there for our nation's veterans, but unfortunately, it really misses the mark. This private member's bill would force the government to completely rewrite its veterans health care regulations, an exercise that, on its own, would be a time-consuming, unnecessary, and potentially expensive proposition. Furthermore, it would entirely change the department's focus from assisting those who most need our help to creating a new health care provider, with a duplicate bureaucracy, which would needlessly cost Canadians millions of dollars. It is a redundancy that is absolutely not needed, and it would force us to intrude into provincial jurisdiction.
Perhaps this would be justified if there were some pressing need to do so, but as colleagues have already demonstrated, the existing eligibility criteria for our veterans' programming are working and do not need to be overhauled.
For example, the new Veterans Charter and related mental health services provide a comprehensive sweep of wellness programs for veterans, a comprehensive approach that helps restore and maintain their health, independence, and quality of life. Thousands of veterans and their families are accessing these programs and are getting the help they need.
We do not need to spend millions of dollars to create a duplicate bureaucracy, as I just said, in an area of provincial jurisdiction.
Simply put, Bill C-568 would only do a disservice to those veterans most in need of help, adding additional bureaucratic red tape, not reducing it, and barriers to the care and support they so richly deserve. For these reasons, I most certainly cannot support Bill C-568.