Mr. Peter Stoffer (Sackville—Eastern Shore, NDP)
Mr. Speaker, I want to remind the House that I will be splitting my time with the great member for the beautiful riding of St. John's South—Mount Pearl.
Before I start speaking on today's motion, I want to give a plug for the Royal Canadian Dental Corps. It has supported the Canadian Armed Forces in every major combat, peacekeeping and peacemaking mission around the world for the last century, including World War I, World War II, Korea, the Balkans and Afghanistan. Its members have also worked with Kosovo refugees, trained mid-level providers for the Afghan National Army, provided oral health for Haitian earthquake victims and cared for under-served populations in the Pacific and Caribbean on U.S. navy missions.
These men and women have done a great service for our country, and today I would like to congratulate them on behalf of the entire House on the centennial of the Royal Canadian Dental Corps. As of May 13, it will have been in service for over 100 years. On behalf of all of us, I want to thank the Royal Canadian Dental Corps for its outstanding historic service, and for its many years to come.
We are here today to ask one simple question, which is what we do in opposition. We ask the government of the day a particular question. Ironically, this question has taken us all day, and we still have not gotten a confirmed answer. I myself have asked the following question probably 10 times to two different ministers, a prime minister and two different parliamentary secretaries, and even did a press conference on it with no response. We are asking the government a very simple question: Does it or does it not have a social, moral, legal and fiduciary responsibility to care for those it asked to put in harm's way?
It is funny, a former Conservative prime minister, Mr. Borden, once said that the government did. I wonder if the current Conservative Party does as well. However, we will find out soon enough from the votes here.
I will get back to the matter at hand regarding veterans' care.
First of all, I want to congratulate the new minister on his posting. There is no question that there is a different tone now from the previous minister. No offence to the previous minister, but it just was not his cup of tea I guess in this regard, to be completely frank, but it is not entirely his fault. The previous minister was following orders from the PMO and the PCO in how to run his department. However, the reality is, there is a different tone now and we see a different yard mark coming from the current minister.
The previous speaker is also on the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. We did a report that was unanimous. In this House, getting a unanimous report from a committee is almost impossible these days, but we did it. There were 14 recommendations that we all agreed should be done immediately; not tomorrow, not next week, not next year, not piecemeal, but all 14 recommendations should be done immediately.
In fact, three-quarters of those recommendations are now approaching five years in recommendations; not one year, not five months, but five years. Some of these recommendations have come from the Royal Canadian Legion, the gerontological advisory board, the government's own advisory board on Veterans Affairs, ANAVETS and many other veterans and individuals who had come up with these recommendations many years ago. We formulated them into a report, and what do we do get six months to the day of that report?
Well, the previous minister said that we were going to do this in a piecemeal approach. The thing is, he was telling the truth, because Bill C-58 that the government talks about now is dealing with about three or four of those recommendations. We have not had Bill C-58 even come up for debate yet in the House let alone before the committee, let alone before the Senate, let alone before royal assent. The government is telling us to push it forward, but we have not even seen it again yet.
Now if the government is amiable to some alterations and amendments to the bill, I am sure we can get it passed like that, because there are some good elements in that legislation. However, in typical Conservative fashion, it falls woefully inadequate on the recommendations that were in our report.
I want to thank the current veterans ombudsman and the previous ombudsman for the work they have done in advising our committee on many of these things.
Let us go to the history of the Conservative Party. The current minister is the 11th minister we have had in my almost 18 years of service here. The problems with Veterans Affairs and the RCMP and their families did not start with the Conservative Party. They started long before with the Liberal Party. However, these problems have been exacerbated by the current Conservative Party.
Let me take everyone back to a meeting in New Brunswick in 2005 when the current Prime Minister was in opposition and Greg Thompson was a former minister of veterans affairs. When the Liberals were in power, they said in the Agent Orange or chemical spraying in Gagetown debate that they were only going to cover people for Agent Orange in 1966 and 1967, for the one month each time, when the Americans were there. They said that was what they were going to do. The Liberals said that.
Mr. Thompson was brilliant in his advocacy against that. He said there was no way the Liberals could allow that and that the Conservative Party, if it formed government, would never do that. In fact, the current Prime Minister, who was then in opposition, said the exact same thing. At a meeting, he said that all people affected by the chemical spraying in Gagetown from 1958 to 1984 would be looked after and there would be a public inquiry.
What happened in 2006? Those words were out the door. In fact, thousands and thousands of people have died because of the chemical spraying in Gagetown and very little in compensation was offered. I think around 7,000 people actually received what I call a $20,000 kiss-off. Many people, like Basil McAllister of Burton, New Brunswick, had to fight three VRAB decisions, two court cases over 10 years, to get further compensation for the chemicals that were sprayed on him.
Fortunately, though, people can rest assured that when the NDP forms government in October, we will have a national public inquiry into the chemical spraying in Gagetown. That is unacceptable and that is what we will do.
The money from the offices closed by the government went into advertising during the Stanley Cup playoffs. New Democrats will reverse that. We will not only reopen the offices but make them better than they were before and ensure that many more home visits happen for veterans who may wish to have someone come to their homes and fill out the forms properly. That is what we will do when we form government. In fact, there are many other things that we will do when we form government. Right now, we just have to wait and be patient. Soon it will be time for the Conservatives to find the exit door. I say that with great respect, of course, to my Conservative counterparts.
Let us go back to another promise the Prime Minister made to Joyce Carter of St. Peter's, Cape Breton. He told her in a letter, which he signed, not to worry because when Conservatives form government, as prime minister he would ensure that every single widow or widower of a deceased veteran would receive VIP service, not some of them, not a couple, not from New Brunswick, not from Nova Scotia, not from B.C., all would receive the VIP treatment. What happened? Almost four years after that date, some of them got the VIP treatment, not all of them.
That was another broken promise to the widow of a veteran. If someone can mislead the widow of a veteran, imagine what else that person could do to this country. That means nobody else is safe. It is unconscionable that the Prime Minister could have done that, absolutely unconscionable. She actually even had to come here to get that benefit. Unfortunately, not all of them received it even though it was promised to them.
Just today in the House of Commons the Minister of Veterans Affairs was asked a question. By the way, I should let every Conservative in the House know that every single time I have ever asked a question in the House of Commons, I have always provided the question in advance to the minister. Even though my own party completely dislikes that, I do it out of respect for the position of the minister.
The question was quite clearly about a 78-year-old veteran who served many years in the military, is injured, does not have much to live on, and wishes to enter into Camp Hill veterans hospital, run and administered by the Province of Nova Scotia, as World War II and Korean veterans do now. The province pays a small portion and the Government of Canada, through DVA, pays the rest. Twice now the minister asked whether I have lobbied the province to get him in there. I remind my Conservative colleagues that I have yet to see any legislation from anyone that says the care of veterans is a provincial responsibility. It is a federal responsibility.
On behalf of my party, I hope the Conservatives and other parties will join us in supporting this motion because it is critical that we do this. I want to say, in conclusion, that we should never regret growing old because it is a privilege denied to so many.
Lest we forget.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Business of Supply