Last Post Fund
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise today to reaffirm our government’s full support for a program that is so important to Canadian veterans and their families.
I am proud to rise today to reiterate our government’s support for this program, which is so important to veterans and their families.
I am also rising in the House today with some serious concerns about the use of the last post burial fund and, ultimately, the motion brought to the House by the member for Random—Burin—St. George’s.
On one level, as a veteran, I am very happy whenever parliamentarians express pride and support for our veterans and current-serving Canadian Forces. Part of me believes that the hon. member has that intent with this motion. She has served on the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs and I believe that she has respect for our veterans. However, I also have some serious concerns about the circumstances giving rise to the raising of this issue by the member. This has led me to believe that her intentions have not been quite as noble as she likes to represent.
To explain my concern, some important context is needed. I had the honour of joining the House after a by-election six months ago yesterday. By-elections for three vacant seats were called on October 21, 2012, which resulted in the fact that the campaigns would be taking place during remembrance week. I see my friend, the member for Parliament for Victoria, in the House and I congratulate him on his six-month milestone.
On November 6, the member called for an independent task force on the Last Post Fund and sent out a press release on this issue that she claimed she was promoting along with her Liberal colleagues. I have consulted Hansard and the member for Random—Burin—St. George’s had not raised this issue previously in the House, nor had she raised it during her time in committee, from what I could find in my research.
The very next day, on November 7, the Liberal Party candidate in Durham, my by-election riding, raised the same issue as the member for Random—Burin—St. George’s and launched a website under the banner Durham4Vets.org. This website had the appearance of being a grassroots third-party website in Durham at first glance, but closer examination showed that it was actually a misleading website used by the Liberal Party to raise funds for its political campaign in Durham.
The same day, just one day after the member issued her release on this subject, the Liberal Party rolled out election signs in Durham that featured an image of a soldier and further promoted the Durham4Vets website that was actually a front for raising money for that campaign. The Liberal Veterans Affairs critic, the member for Charlottetown, travelled to Durham to support this Liberal campaign strategy.
Worse still, a few days later, on Remembrance Day, the Liberal campaign laid political wreaths at cenotaphs in the small towns across my riding of Durham. These wreaths featured a slogan from the Liberal Party’s website and its political campaign. In between the Brownies, Cub Scouts, schools and community groups from Durham showing their respect for veterans by laying a wreath at the local cenotaph, there was the Liberal Party of Canada and its shameful campaign.
Needless to say, veterans in Durham and, indeed, across southern Ontario were outraged by this conduct and the shameful use of remembrance week as a political tool by the Liberals. Not only were veterans disgusted by this campaign, but the Durham Liberal riding president himself actually removed the Liberal sign from his lawn. People in my riding saw this campaign for what it was: the politicization of a solemn week in our country.
Accordingly, I can never be sure whether the issue the member for Random—Burin—St. George’s first raised on November 6, which ultimately led to this motion before the House, was brought out of genuine concern or part of a disconcerting political campaign orchestrated by the Liberal Party.
It is also important to note that the shameful campaign in Durham was run by Quito Maggi, a paid Liberal organizer, who is now advising the new Liberal leader. That leader, the member for Papineau, came to Durham as part of this deceitful campaign. While there, he did not disavow the tactics being used by his party, even in the face of heavy criticism from my community.
With my concerns about the underlying motive for the motion on the table, in my remaining minutes I would like to address the key issues related to the Last Post Fund, particularly because the entire funeral and burial issue being discussed is just one aspect of the fund and because it is either not well understood by many in the Liberal Party or is purposely glossed over when people are discussing this fund.
To begin with, Canadians need to be reassured that all veterans who pass away as a result of a service injury will have their funeral and burial costs covered by their country, full stop. That is an obligation Canada owes to the men and women we place in harm’s way. It is an obligation that transcends politics and one that has been met by our government and, indeed, by previous governments.
The motion on the Last Post Fund then boils down to two things: first, the cost of the funeral and burial services covered by the program; and second, the means test applied to determine which veterans are in need of assistance from the fund.
Economic action plan 2013 increased the coverage of funerals from $3,600 to $7,376. This is being done at the same time that we are covering the actual cost of the burial. This level had not been adjusted in many years. The minister listened to veterans groups on this issue, it was examined by the department and the amount was doubled in the budget.
Therefore, the central thrust of the member’s motion has been addressed. The issue of the means test is one the Liberals try to gloss over, as it was their government that established the present means test. In fairness to the member for Random—Burin—St. George’s, she was not part of that Liberal government, nor was their current veterans affairs critic. It is critical to note, however, that many members of their caucus were part of the team that put this in place. This must be remembered amid the feigned outrage from their caucus.
The Last Post Fund was established decades ago to help the families of indigent veterans with the costs associated with the funeral and burial. That is exactly what the program does. Veterans of all conflicts are proud Canadians, and in so many ways our World War II and Korean veterans built the tremendous Canada we have today. They want their impoverished comrades and their brothers in arms who died from their injuries to be taken care of, but they do not expect this special fund to apply to all veterans. This was not the objective of the Last Post Fund funeral and burial program.
It is also important to remind Canadians that the Last Post Fund also directs other important initiatives to honour our fallen and our veterans. I would like to thank them in the House for all the work the Last Post Fund does for Canada. It manages the National Field of Honour in Pointe-Claire, Québec, a national historic site. This cemetery opened in 1930 and is a sombre reminder of the cost of war and Canada’s commitment to the world.
The Last Post Fund also runs the unmarked grave program to mark the place where some of our fallen have been laid to rest. This is important work, particularly as we approach the centennial of World War I.
As someone who served in uniform, I am proud to be part of a government that supports the men and women of the Canadian Forces and our veterans. Amid very challenging economic times, our government has identified veterans as a key priority.
In the coming year alone, as outlined in our latest main estimates, the Government of Canada is planning to spend almost $785 million more in veterans affairs compared to when we took office, which was the last year before the new veterans charter was implemented.
In closing, I would like to thank the legion branches in my riding that have steadfastly worked to support our veterans and that raise constructive input on funerals and burials, much like they do on a range of issues.
I also hope that my concerns about the origin of the motion are incorrect and that the member for Random—Burin—St. George’s was not part of a shameful Liberal Party campaign strategy from last fall. Maybe she did not know about the campaign signs. Maybe she did not know about the misleading website. Maybe she did not know about the political wreaths at cenotaphs in Durham and the timing of raising this issue in that campaign. There is a lot of maybes there.
If that was the case, I would ask her to work with her colleague, the member for Charlottetown, to urge their new leader to abandon such tactics in the future. All of us in the House need to support our veterans. We do not need to use remembrance week as a tool to further political interests on either side of the House.