SPEECH: RECOGNIZING & HONOURING THE VETERANS COVENANT

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to address today’s NDP motion calling on the government to formally recognize the existence of a standalone covenant of moral, social, legal, and fiduciary obligation, between the Canadian people and the Government of Canada to provide equitable financial compensation and support services to past and active members of the armed forces who have been injured, disabled or have died as a result of military service, and to their dependents.

Canada’s New Democrats recognize this social covenant as the foundation of a respectful relationship between our government and our veterans. When the Conservatives deny this sacred obligation, they undermine the relationship with those who have fought for all of us. We call on all parliamentarians to stand up for veterans by supporting this motion.

To begin, I would like to thank my honourable colleague from Sackville-Eastern Shore for the tremendous work he has done, and continues to do, on behalf of Canada’s Veterans and their families. His tireless efforts championing the needs of our brave men and women are unrivalled and deserve the recognition of all members of this House.

Our country has a long history of standing up for the rights and freedoms Canadians hold dear. The men and women who join the Canadian Forces know they may be called upon to risk their lives on behalf of Canada to uphold peace, security or human rights here at home, and around the world. For those who answer the call, we honour their service and are grateful for their personal sacrifices, including those sacrifices made by their families.

The social covenant with veterans was first openly recognized in our country by Prime Minister Robert Borden in 1917. He said, “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.”

This historic social covenant acknowledges that our nation and its government and citizens will support our men and women in their missions, honour their service, and look after them and their families when injured, disabled, or die in the service of their country.

New Democrats recognize the covenant between the Canadian people and the government to provide equitable financial compensation and support services to past and active members of the Canadian Forces who have been disabled or have died as a result of military service, and to their dependents, which in turn the government is obligated to fulfil.

Yet rather than recognizing the covenant, this Conservative government continues to do damage control rather than live up to their obligation to Veterans.

They have made piecemeal funding announcements that only apply to a limited number of permanently injured veterans while so many more, remain unserved.

While all parties voted for the New Veterans Charter in 2005, the Conservatives have implemented it in a way that denies essential pension and support services that veterans deserve.

In response, the veteran’s group Equitas is suing the government claiming this change in benefits violates the covenant that exists between the government and veterans. Shockingly, the government’s own lawyers claim no such covenant exists despite modern legislative and constitutional legal precedent otherwise. 

Let me quote directly from Equitas’ statement of claim against the government, as it I believe it lays out the foundation for why formal recognition of this sacred covenant is so important. It says:

“When members of the Canadian Forces put on the uniform of their country they make an extraordinary personal commitment to place the welfare of others ahead of their personal interests, to serve Canada before self and to put themselves at risk, as required, in the interests of the nation. 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.”

Military experts and veterans advocates agree with New Democrats that the government must honour its moral, social, legal, and  fiduciary obligation to Canada’s veterans and their families.

For instance, The Royal Canadian Legion, representing more than 300,000 members, “firmly believes this country has a solemn obligation owed to our military members” and that “the Veterans Bill of Rights must be included in the New Veterans Charter and in the Pension Act, and that a modified version of section 2 of the Pension Act be incorporated into the New Veterans Charter, and read as follows: The provisions of this Act shall be liberally construed and interpreted to the end that the recognized solemn obligation of the people and Government of Canada to provide compensation to those members of the forces who have been disabled or have died as a result of military service, and to their dependants, may be fulfilled.”

Further, when asked at the Veterans Affairs Committee whether he believes the government has an obligation to honour this sacred social covenant, Dr. Stéphanie Bélanger of Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research testified: “There is a social covenant….There is lots of evidence of that social covenant existing in every country where the government will task people with a clause of unlimited liability, and because of this clause there is an obligation to serve back.”

Tragically, in spite of the compelling case made by veterans’ advocates, after nine years of Conservative government too many veterans and their families still cannot access adequate health care, pensions and other vital supports.

$1.13 billion of the Veterans Affairs budget has been returned to the federal treasury since 2006 –over a billion dollars Mr. Speaker – that is shocking! This is money that should have gone towards improved benefits and services for veterans and their families.

Veterans and their families are dealing with the closure of nine frontline Veterans Affairs offices and the reduction of more than 900 jobs from Veterans Affairs since 2009, amounting to 23 per cent of the department’s workforce!

Mr. Speaker, this is unacceptable!

Canadian Forces veterans and their families deserve our deepest gratitude and deserve to be taken care of. Injured and disabled veterans should not have to fight the government in court for the compensation and care they rightly deserve. Canadians expect Parliamentarians to ensure our veterans and their families are well cared for, from the moment they sign up to the moment they pay the ultimate sacrifice, including a dignified funeral and burial.

If the Conservatives are serious about improving Veterans care, they will stop fighting veterans in court and recognize this historic social covenant to provide comprehensive and compassionate care for the brave women and men who have served on our behalf.

They would also not have hastily included the entirety of Bill C-58, into their latest budget implementation act in a cynical move to force the Opposition to vote against legislation it would support if presented as a standalone bill and we would have attempt to improve it on behalf of veterans and their families. This move underscores the political games the Conservatives’ are playing with veterans issues, and is exactly why today’s motion is so important.

It is Canada’s New Democrats who have led the way on proposals to improve the programs and services available for veterans’ and their families. An NDP government will end service pension clawbacks, to re-open shuttered Veterans Affairs offices, and to widen access to quality home care, long-term care and mental health care services.

Today we repeat the call for government to repair our country’s relationship with our veterans to one that is based on respect, rather than neglect, by supporting our motion to recognize this sacred social covenant and taking immediate action to enshrine it.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.