Monday, May 11, 2015

Harper Cons failed to stand on guard for veterans

I gave the following 10-minute speech on Monday (May 11th) in the House of Commons on an Opposition Day Motion to support past and active members of the Canadian Forces.

Mr. Speaker,

I stand in support of this Opposition motion, this New Democratic Party motion.

I don’t usually read out the whole motion when it’s a long one, Mr. Speaker, it takes up precious speaking time.

But I will in this case, because I still find it hard to believe we’re actually debating it, that this subject is actually up for debate in this House.

The motion reads:

“That, in the opinion of the House, a standalone covenant of moral, social and legal fiduciary obligation exists between the Canadian people and the government to provide 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 fulfill.”

Hard to believe, Mr. Speaker, 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, Mr. Speaker.

Our veterans stood on guard for us, Mr. Speaker, 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 and 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, Mr. Speaker.

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, Mr. Speaker — not to abandon them to budget and service cuts.

I call that the ultimate insult, Mr. Speaker.

Too many give the ultimate sacrifice and this government gives the ultimate insult.

There have been too many examples, Mr. Speaker, where this Conservative government has failed to stand on guard for our veterans.

Mr. Speaker, the NDP MP for Sackville Eastern Shore in Nova Scotia — this party’s Veterans Affairs critic, and an outstanding one he is, Mr. Speaker — the MP for Sackville-Eastern Shore has a quote on his office door from a U.S. Senator.

And the quote is this, Mr. Speaker:

“If you can’t afford to take care of your veterans then don’t go to war.”

Mr. Speaker, this Conservative government has not been taking care of our veterans,.

It wasn’t taking care of our veterans, Mr. Speaker, when it closed nine Veterans Affairs offices across Canada — including one in Corner Brook, Newfoundland.

I was told just today, Mr. Speaker, of a Newfoundland veteran who served in Bosnia who had to drive eight hours from Corner Brook, his home, to St. John’s, the closet office, so that the staff there could start a profile on him.

This Conservative government wasn’t taking care of veterans, Mr. Speaker, when it cut 23 per cent of the Veterans Affairs workforce or 900 jobs since 2009.

The Conservative government certainly wasn’t taking care of veterans, Mr. Speaker, 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 this government have argued that it has no obligation or social contract with veterans, Mr. Speaker.

Those same lawyers also argued that it is unfair to bind the current government to promises made nearly a century ago by another prime minister.

Mr. Speaker, 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 hasn’t this Conservative government failed to take care of our Veterans, Mr. Speaker, to respect the sacred covenant, it’s also been playing the worse sort of politics, Mr. Speaker.

The sort of politics that rots faith in our political system.

The latest massive omnibus bill, Bill C 59, is the budget implementation bill, Mr. Speaker.

It’s 167 pages, Mr. Speaker (short by omnibus standards), and it obviously includes measures on the budget.

That’s the same boutique budget that we’ll be voting against, Mr. Speaker, because it caters to the wealthy, it puts the needs of the more affluent, the more influential first.

But this bill, Mr. Speaker, Bill C 59, contains more than this year’s budget measures — much, much more.

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 Canada Labour code changes.

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives have also cynically included provisions to assist veterans in the omnibus bill.

Such a move — and they do this all the time Mr. Speaker — 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 it in our faces how we voted against veterans.

That’s the kind of government we have in power, Mr. Speaker.

A government that’s morally spent.

I can get much more creative, Mr. Speaker, but I don’t want to cross the parliamentary line.

After nine years of Conservative government, Mr. Speaker, too many veterans and their families cannot access adequate health care, pensions and other vital supports.

Mr. Speaker, I had a conversation this morning with Jamie MacWhirter, a Newfoundlander and a veteran.

Jamie MacWhirter survived a seven-month tour in Afghanistan’s most volatile war zones, Mr. Speaker.  

He drove a refuelling truck loaded with 10,000 litres of diesel and his nickname was “Fireball” for obvious reasons.

Near misses included rocket attacks, the horror of a suicide bombing that killed several children, firefights, and roadside bombs.

So Jamie MacWhirter survived Afghanistan in one piece only to battle a different type of nightmare back here in Canada, in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Jamie 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 don’t know about them, Mr. Speaker.

And too often soldiers are afraid to speak out for fear of being kicked out of the military.  

Soldiers don’t feel safe in asking for help, Mr. Speaker, and then when they do ask for help it’s not there.

Mr. Speaker, 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 lean on each other for support.

Mr. Speaker, veterans should lean on each other. It’s good that they’re coming together.

But veterans should ALSO be able to lean on their own government, Mr. Speaker.

I mentioned earlier, Mr. Speaker, how this Conservative government is fighting Afghan vets in court to deny the existence of the social covenant.  

Those vets are in a group called Equitas Society.

I have a quote from that group, Mr. Speaker:

“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.”

… a blank cheque to the government for an amount of up to and including their life.

Mr. Speaker, 158 Canadians were killed in combat in Afghanistan.

And I say this with great respect for their families, for the loved ones they left behind.

But even more personal — an estimated 160 — have died from suicide since returning home.

Mr. Speaker, 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.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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