Mr. Speaker, as this session comes to a close, I cannot think of a better way to end my first term as the member of Parliament for Yorkton—Melville than to rise and speak to our veterans community on issues that so deeply impact veterans' quality of life following service and their sense of being valued and appreciated by Canadians.
I am humbled and grateful that I have had the privilege of serving as deputy shadow minister of Veterans Affairs and also on the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs for these four years.
In that time, individual veterans and veterans organizations have reached out to me through committee, social media groups, emails and face-to-face meetings at round tables and town halls as I travelled across Canada and then over to France to celebrate Canada's Hundred Days. The time I spent with the veterans who travelled with us was very precious. They have also reached out to me by getting together informally at restaurants and in homes.
What I have appreciated more than anything is how patient veterans have been with me while reminiscing, documenting experiences and providing their perspectives on how things could be done so much better than they are.
I am sure members can appreciate that veterans do not tend to sugar-coat the issues. They are pretty direct. They speak very frankly and passionately. I am not surprised or, quite honestly, offended by the intensity they sometimes express. After all, they have been trained to be intense, to fight against injustice and to fight for us.
Long overdue is the government's recognition of duty of care implied in the promise that whatever happens when enlisting, the government will take care of veterans and their families. The recommendations on transition, mental health, homelessness, medicinal cannabis, abuse of mefloquine as an anti-malarial drug and financial support for the treatment of physical and mental repercussions of war, just to name a few, are reasonable and achievable.
Motion No. 255 provides the opportunity for the Government of Canada to respond to veterans' recommendations on the need and the possibility to end veterans homelessness in Canada: first, by setting a clear target for eliminating homelessness among Canadian veterans; second, by maximizing Veterans Affairs Canada's capacity to deliver key benefits; and, third, by co-partnering with national veterans organizations to employ their existing capacity, peer-to-peer networks and bonds of trust established with veterans in order to accelerate the delivery of this program nationally.
Truly, these organizations have such a capacity already. They have good peer-to-peer relationships and they have bonds of trust that come through the relationships they have among themselves with veterans. Therefore, their role in this is very significant. It is undeniable that the level of bureaucracy and the long-standing culture of mistrust and denial within VAC needs to be purged.
There is no question that this uneven playing field has added much frustration to an already challenging life change for our veterans. Quite often, mental illness, family dysfunction, physical pain and suffering, suicides and homelessness have been increased as a result of their frustrations in trying to work with VAC.
To ensure opportunities for the government to respond, I have heard the following from veterans' advocates. They feel that the role of VAC should be mandated in three ways.
First is to provide sufficient funding for clearly delineated, simple, efficiently administered programs of care for injury and lifetime benefits, with the benefit of the doubt going to the veteran and his or her family.
Second is that beginning with enlistment and throughout their service, VAC must facilitate future veterans and their families in choosing and implementing their own path for life beyond service, in other words, for VAC to be involved early in the beginning stages of the veterans' service and be there to facilitate and encourage them to realize that they can make decisions to determine in advance their own paths once their service ends and that they can have a lot of understanding before they face that very difficult time when they no longer serve.
Finally, VAC should identify and support veteran and community organizations that veterans and their families can access for delivery of services. In polite terms, affirm, enable and empower those organizations to do what they do best, and the things they do best that VAC would be better giving them the responsibility for.
I was honoured to represent my Conservative caucus at the press conference announcing Motion No. 225 on veterans homelessness in Canada. There are very good elements in this motion put forward by this government. However, as the member mentioned, because of the lateness of its introduction, we are now days away from this session ending. Therefore, it is only a first step. It is a motion that will depend on the next government to implement.
I was very pleased to also recognize at that press conference the role of Tim Richter with the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, Dave Gordon and Ray McIinnis with the Royal Canadian Legion, Matthew Pearce with the Old Brewery Mission, and Jim and Debbie Lowther with VETS Canada, for their involvement in the making of that announcement. Truly, they were very pleased to see a focus on homelessness going forward from our government.
Along with other veteran and community organizations, they are the heart, hands and feet that advocate for and work directly with veterans and their families. They successfully implement the quality of care that our veterans deserve and need. They are all unique in their approach and provide a variety of options for services that tackle many issues, including veterans homelessness.
For example, VETS Canada has opened up a care centre five blocks from where I live. In the course of its first year, it has serviced 365 different veterans with emergency needs, and it has done it without any direct funding from VAC.
ln testimony at our committee on the study of veterans homelessness, they all had excellent contributions. I would encourage all veterans and people who are viewing today to take a look at the study from the veterans affairs committee on homelessness and listen to what they had to say.
I can focus on only one veteran today, and so I am going to talk about Tim Richter. He is the president and CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness. I would like to share some of his recommendations. He has solid experience in preventing and ending homelessness, including experience in developing housing programs for homeless vets. He also served for just over six years in the Canadian Forces and is a Veterans Affairs client. Clearly, he is capable and well positioned for this. Veterans homelessness is a concern that is very close to his heart, and he is rightly pleased to see us working together on an initiative. He said, “The first [thing] is that veterans homelessness in Canada is readily solvable. The number of homeless veterans in Canada is relatively small. It's unknown, but it's relatively small. We know what to do and we know how to do it.”
He went on to say, “We have a strong veterans network. We have solid expertise in communities like Homes for Heroes. We have proven models to follow, and I think we have strong public support.”
I can affirm that they certainly do. He continued with, “What's missing is federal leadership and decisive action. We need a federal government prepared to make a clear and unequivocal commitment to ending veterans homelessness and to invest the fairly modest additional resources needed to get the job done.”
Ending veterans homelessness is possible if government does its part, and, in doing its part, realizes that there are others, not politicians, not public service employees, but others who have served or are dialed in to assist veterans on the ground where and how they need it most. There are people available to be the feet, the hands and the hearts of this particular focus to end homelessness.
To quote Tim one more time, “We know what to do and we know how to do it.”
Following October 21, 2019, the incoming government will do its part to enable and work with stakeholder communities and organizations to ensure that every veteran has a home.