Mr. Ron MacDonald (Dartmouth):
Mr. Chairman, I want to echo the comments of my hon. friend from South Shore. It is not very often that we get the chance in this House, particularly these two Nova Scotians, to agree on very much in this place, but the comments that he just made are ones that I want to echo. I also want to congratulate the minister and all the members of this House who have worked so hard to bring this bill to the floor and to committee today.
Being a member from Dartmouth, the old riding being Dartmouth-Halifax East, makes this bill even more important. My hon. colleague from P.E.I. indicated in the history lesson he was giving in his speech that it was way back at the beginning of the war that the first group of merchant vessels steamed out of Halifax harbour. There are a lot of people a little older than I am who remember all of those vessels steaming out of Halifax Harbour.
There are a lot of veterans still down there and a lot of new veterans created by this bill, those merchant mariners who served for Canada and served for the Commonwealth during World War II. It is indeed fitting that finally they have received the recognition due them.
We must remember that the individuals who served in the merchant marine were not just regular or normal veterans. Most of the veterans who we sent over were trained in the military. They knew how to operate offensive and defensive weaponry.
When dealing with merchant mariners, these are individuals who ran supply vessels. When these vessels left and went across the ocean even with an armed convoy to protect them, many times they were the slowest boats because they were supply vessels.
When the German U-boats went after them, those vessels would be the first to be sunk. You also have to remember that they really did not have any heavy armaments on them. As a result of this, the men who served in the merchant marine and the merchant marine generally suffered the highest casualties of any branch of service in the armed forces during the Second World War.
We know that as each year passes the number of veterans diminishes. They are getting older and each year there are more and more who die. I think it is extremely fitting at this point in time that this bill looks at the whole aspect of recognition of the service that they have given to this country, not only by the provision of additional benefits but also by conferring on them a new status and a new title, "merchant marine veterans".
The word veterans means a lot to those who are still left and who served in the merchant marine. It means an awful lot to the sons and daughters of those who are gone, those fathers who served in the merchant marine.
I want to join with everybody in this House in saying that every member of this place, no matter what political affiliation, is extremely pleased to see this bill: I want to commend the minister for his stick-to-itiveness to get to this point and to bring it forward.
I also want to give some recognition to my hon. colleague from Regina-Lumsden. I think one of the first times that I can remember hearing about this issue was well before I was a member of Parliament. I was watching a debate on the parliamentary channel. That member was up very clearly and articulately stating the case for full recognition of the contribution of the merchant mariners as veterans. I am sure that it is an extremely proud day for him that this House is seized with this issue today and hopefully at the end of the day that for which he has fought so long will see its way into legislation.
Subtopic: CIVILIAN WAR PENSIONS AND ALLOWANCES ACT
Sub-subtopic: MEASURE TO ENACT