Brian Masse Speaks in Parliament on Veteran's Issues

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, obviously this motion will go to a vote. Sometimes governments follow through on motions and sometimes they do not. It is one of the problems we have with our current democracy where the spirit and the will of the House of Commons vote on an issue, such as this series of veterans improvements, some that affect the parliamentary secretary's department in particular, is not respected.

Will the government respect this vote? Will it ensure the proper legislation and action immediately takes place? This chamber is protected by our veterans. It is one that has been created through a democracy with a history of vibrancy. Is the member going to live up to the vote on this issue?
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to be discussing this issue. I wear my poppy with both humility and pride, humility for being the recipient of the generous gift of freedom and democracy. Over generations, many people fought for this nation. I have pride for a country that is often found to do the right thing when it comes to world safety and security. In many respects, it has often been the leader of building a better world. Although we may sometimes disagree with some of the directions our country takes, there can be no doubt that Canada has played a significant role across the globe. It is my hope we will continue to do so in a progressive way.

I come from the riding of Windsor West, which has a long established military history. The member for Sackville—Eastern Shore has come to Windsor West to see that history. In fact, the first organization of military units in a formal context was in 1701, given our relationship with the United States and the proximity there. Following that, we have participated in the War of 1812, World War I, World War II, Korea, the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Afghanistan and as peacekeepers across the globe.

Also, we have a very spirited revelry with regard to our veterans. We even have ceremonies commemorating the Canadian veterans of the Vietnam war. These Canadians went abroad and served in the American military. In all our ceremonies, whether it be for the Battle of the Atlantic, the Cenotaph service for November 11, or other types of initiatives such as Veterans Week, we commemorate and celebrate those who continue to contribute in our society.

I can speak from first-hand experiences. My grandfather, John Clifford Addison, died when the HMCS Scorpion sank in the fall of Burma. I did not know my grandfather. I do not know what music he liked or what food he liked. I do not how he lived much of his life when my mother was an infant. All I have is some soccer medals, some war medals and a few photographs of John's life. His body was never recovered. I was fortunate, though, that my grandmother remarried. She married Fred Attwood, who then served in the merchant navy and the Royal Navy as well.

It was at the kitchen table that I learned the lessons of our veterans and their contributions to not only Canada, but to the United Kingdom and across the globe as well. I heard about my grandfather and how he served in East Asia where they shipped materiel to different areas, everything from combat missions and merchant expeditions from Halifax to the United Kingdom. I head about the degree of commitment and the cost of one's life. It was fortunate that Fred and Irene came to Canada after the second world war and settled in Windsor where my family remains to this date.

Our area has provided significant contributions to the military operations of Canada, not only in the past, but the current and will in future as well. We have great reservations when we hear the daily news about what could potentially happen to some of our men and women in the service, who we all support wherever they are. We need to do everything possible to ensure their lives are protected abroad. More important, when they return, we need to provide support to them and their families, professionally and appropriately. The motion is all about that. It is about setting a series of rights in a system that has some wrongs.

The motion can be criticized in some respects for not being a complete picture. We know for a fact that we must improve things. We did that with the veterans charter. It has a series of issues that need to be corrected, but it was a profound step. I am very proud that my leader, the member for Toronto—Danforth, took this initiative and presented it to the other leaders, when they were travelling back from veterans ceremonies in Europe. We established something of which we can be proud. Passing this motion would be a bold step forward in improving some of the injustices of our system.

I want to ensure I do this in a non-partisan way. I want to congratulate the Minister of Veterans Affairs for supporting an initiative with the Essex and Kent Scottish Regiment. Last summer we returned to Dieppe. Many Windsor and Essex County veterans contributed to our country's attempt to invade Europe to liberate France, but it was a disaster. We have learned lessons from that. There was a lot of debate about the mission and its background, but what cannot be debated is the cost paid in human life.


Also, a Windsor regiment in my riding celebrated its 70th year, once again dating back to the founding of our country. It contributed to the safety of our country in a number of different war efforts. It was a tank battalion a number of times. The black insignia, which it had for a number of years, has been adopted by the entire department now. It is something of which we are very proud.

We also have the HMCS Hunter, which is naval operations. It has conducted training for sea cadets, servicemen and women for many years.

The motion in front of us are very important and it contains various recommendations.

The first is to:

amend Section 31(1) of the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act so that second spouses of CF members and veterans have access to pension rights upon the death of the Canadian Forces member or veteran;

That is a social justice issue, in my opinion. It is about righting a wrong and ensuring that their surviving spouses will be in a better situation.

The second is to:

extend the Veterans Independence Program (VIP) to all widows of all veterans, regardless of the time of death of the veteran and regardless of whether the veteran was in receipt of VIP services prior to his or her death;

As an aging population, these supports are important. People are healthier and are able to stay in their homes longer. We certainly can contribute to something like that.

We also want to increase the survivor's pension to 66% from the current 50%. A number of different people come to our office in Windsor West for support. Often the number one issue is pensions. We believe this modest improvement is one that is reasonable. It would ensure that people do not slip into poverty.

The fourth is to:

eliminate the unfair reduction of Service Income Security Insurance Plan...long term disability benefits from medically released members of the Canadian Forces;...

This is very important because of stress and other types of issues. When people re-emerge into society, their convergence back has to be done in a way that can be productive for them. It is incumbent upon us to provide the proper supports and environment for people to be successful.

As someone who has worked on behalf of persons with disabilities and as someone who has been in this field in the past for a number of years, I cannot understand why we do not do more to assist individuals to become contributors and to ensure there is fairness and justice, especially after we have asked them to perform a service in the name of our country.

The fifth is to:

eliminate the deduction from annuity for retired and disabled CF members.

It is important as well to put a human face on this. One of my heroes is Earl Scofield. He was a senator with the Métis nation of Ontario. He and his six brothers served in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He flew 17 missions, on behalf of our country, for our democracy. Earl, as well, is a founding member of the NDP and attended our convention recently. I was so proud to see Earl stand and talk about issues of democracy and also to provide the leadership that is necessary for younger people coming through the system. They need to understand the important contributions our veterans have made for our democracy and the lessons that should be learned from that.

We have seen this in a number of different situations. When our veterans have returned from overseas, they have not always been treated fairly, and that is a shame. However, this is something we can change. The motion before us offers a simple, practical solution to right some wrongs to ensure that our veterans are properly respected.

It is nice for all of us to stand here and say that we support our troops and veterans, but what are we going to do about it? It is my hope the government takes this to heart. If the motion passes in this chamber, I hope it will respect the will of Parliament and make these things happen, not note and file it like it often does on notices of motions.

Mr. Brian Masse:
Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague raises a good case example of some of the unfair practices that are currently happening.

I would like to note to my hon. colleague, and I am sure he has experienced the same thing. I have encountered or we have worked with different veterans and other service personnel on issues related to how they have been hurt or injured, or they are dealing with some of the programs that had been cut in the past. It is interesting that they never have any malice for their service and commitment to this country.

Continually, we refuse to fix these problems. It is important to note that we have the financial capability to do so. This country has gone through record tax cuts and giveaways. We have had a series of surplus budgets. The moneys that would be allocated to individuals to better their lives, raise them out of poverty and deal with some of the problems that they face as ordinary citizens right now almost exclusively go back into the economy. It is not money lost. They are not hiding money in Barbados because the finance department does not want to close down a loophole. That money stays in our communities, benefits the individuals and their families, and provides some dignity and integrity for a commitment back to our country.

Mr. Brian Masse:
Mr. Speaker, the minute this passes, it solves a particular problem right now. I know that the member has served our country ably and that needs to be noted, but quite frankly, if he has other suggestions or amendments or ways to improve the motion, why does he not pass this motion and get it into a process where we can make some of these changes?

He can continue to ask these questions today, but why do we not have some solutions from the member, so that he can fix the problem he has identified because I think we would all be open to those suggestions.