I'm not sure which Canada to celebrate this year. In the past I celebrated John Diefenbaker's Canada, the one that introduced the Canadian Bill of Rights, Pierre Elliot Trudeau's Canada, that birthed the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and Mulroney's Canada that fought to end Apartheid. But in Stephen Harper's Canada, what is there to celebrate? In Harper's Canada, citizenship, now considered a privilege, has two tiers.
When Canadian soldiers returned from World War II, local business and community leaders formed committees to ensure vets had jobs and the support they needed to start a new life. It's time to re-examine that idea. Soldiers deserve more than a handshake when their service ends. "Support our Troops" must be more than an empty slogan on a bumper sticker.
Being a soldier is a great career as long as you don't get injured or sick. Even when the military has cases of medical malpractice they do not take responsibility for their actions. If you don't believe me ask Robyn Young or the thousands of others like her who suffer at the hands of a company with no accountability. It is the only organization not obliged to take care of its injured employees.
For the Minister to forego meeting with some of the preeminent experts on mental health in the country gathered over three days discussing the very topic his department was deservedly admonished for is truly regrettable. There is a mental health crisis ravaging our veterans and the Minister needs to show more leadership in solving it. It's patently obvious Minister Fantino has lost his moral authority to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. We need someone who actually gives a damn about the lives of our country's veterans. It's time for him to resign!
Taking this time to reflect on the dedication of our armed forces is not the same as blindly supporting war. Remembrance Day is really about being present to the experiences of those who sacrificed their mental and emotional well-being in the name of our country. It's about expressing gratitude to those who gave up their dreams so that the rest of us can pursue ours. After all, while the poppy historically symbolizes the blood of fallen soldiers, it also represents a flower that was able to grow in land too infertile for much else; transforming from a mere community of poppy seeds while simultaneously converting the land into fertile and beautiful possibility.
The past week has been a horrific one for Canada. As targets of two separate fatal terrorist attacks, two Canadian soldiers -- Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo -- are unfortunately no longer with their family, friends and nation as a whole. Canadians, and anyone who is a friend of Canada, can show their support by making a donation to the Stand On Guard Fund.
The Canadian Forces situation is dire. Our compensation system woefully decrepit. Our government spends 1 per cent of the GDP on defense on par with Lithuania and Latvia. The equipment that soldiers use is in such a poor state that the probability of sustaining casualties is much higher. Casualties that veterans affairs can't possibly handle given the current state the department is in. The truth of the matter is Canada is about as ready for another war as the Hapsburgs were in 1914. I implore upon those deploying to Iraq to take care. I understand how much you want to deploy. You must understand that the current government support to you are hollow promises and even though you have given a blank cheque for this country the feeling is far from mutual if you return home missing pieces.
One day of organized remembrance does not undo the actions -- or lack thereof -- of our government on every other day. If it were not for the Canadian Veterans Advocacy, I would have had no idea how to even sign up for the Day of Honour parade. The government made no attempt to contact me. When I arrived at the ceremony I did not anticipate having to march on parade. I was conflicted, and yet I fell in to ranks. They began to call out drill, but I could not bring myself to follow the word of command. Being called to attention, after all of the grief my injury caused me, was too difficult. I believe that no one is safe from a government able to do this to veterans.
Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino's behaviour towards a group of veterans last week disgusted me. And, when he blamed his behaviour on the actions of a union I became outraged. The union may very well have told the veterans a one-sided story about how their poor members are being hard done-by. That doesn't excuse the minister's behaviour. As a free public service for cabinet ministers and others in leadership roles, I'm going to offer up some completely unsolicited advice, right here, right now, at no charge. When a veteran is angry with you for being late, you say, "I'm sorry."
There continues to be a constant barrage of misinformation regarding Canada's Veterans. In total, our Government has invested almost $5 billion new dollars that has been put towards rehabilitation, re-training, and medical and financial benefits. I will continue to seek to fully pay homage to the depth of sacrifice of Canada's Veterans.