Opinion Column

Private member’s bill on veterans follows UK

This week, I introduced my private member’s bill to enshrine into law the promise between Canada and our veterans, that those who serve or have served in the Canadian Armed Forces, and their families, are treated with dignity, respect and fairness.

 

Bill C-378, An Act to Amend the Department of Veterans Affairs Act (fairness principle), gives the Minister of Veterans Affairs principles to follow and be guided by in the course of their duty.

More specifically, a Minister of Veterans Affairs would follow three basic principles of a Military Covenant when making decisions.

Firstly, veterans, as well as their dependants or survivors, must be treated with dignity, respect and fairness.

Secondly, the government recognizes the uniqueness of the profession of our military and the obligations and sacrifices made by veterans and their families in their service to the nation.

Lastly, that any decision relating to care, treatment, re-establishment of civilian life or benefits to be provided to veterans must be dealt with in a timely manner.

In my previous role as Official Opposition Critic for Veterans Affairs, I travelled from coast to coast meeting with countless veterans, advocacy groups and stakeholders.

It was abundantly clear that delays in processing files were systemic, transitioning to civilian life was fraught with difficulties and there was universal sentiment of a serious disconnect with department officials.

By enshrining principles of respect and fairness into law, the process of changing the culture at the Department of Veterans Affairs can finally begin.

We have an obligation to our veterans and a Military Covenant with veterans does have precedent.

The United Kingdom entrenched a covenant into law under former Prime Minister David Cameron with the passage of the Armed Forces Act of 2011. The UK’s Armed Forces Covenant is “a promise from the nation that those who serve or have served in the armed forces, and their families, are treated fairly.”

Because of this pledge, an annual report is tabled outlining the successes and opportunities in assisting UK veterans and their families.

I am following the UK example and asking for Canadian law to be amended to include the principles of an Armed Forces Covenant.

A Military Covenant was first discussed in Canada by prime minister Robert Borden when he addressed troops in 1917 preparing for the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Former Veterans Affairs minister Erin O’Toole had legislation to improve transition processes that died with the 2015 change in government and 17 months ago, the NDP successfully moved a motion that a standalone covenant existed between the government of Canada and the Armed Forces.

The time to write this into law is now.

Ensuring every veteran and their family have fair and timely access to the services and benefits they need is a top priority for me and for our Conservative caucus.

We owe a duty of care to our veterans and I hope that when the time comes to vote on Bill C-378, all parties will stand together in solidarity to support this legislation.

Let’s take the first step to fulfill our promise to veterans.

John Brassard is the MP for Barrie-Innisfil and Deputy Opposition Whip.