A special gift for veterans

[attach]3297[/attach]My experience as the Official Opposition Critic for Veterans Affairs led me to the conclusion that Canadians have a constant and growing respect and admiration for returning members of the Canadian Forces.

They want to ensure that veterans do not have to face a bureaucratic maze and huge legalistic hurdles to get the services and benefits that they have earned and deserve when they leave the Forces.

Members of Parliament are fond of arranging Christmas gifts for our soldiers, particularly those in active duty in Afghanistan at this time of year. For me, an effective and independent Veterans Ombudsman to help them when they leave the Forces, especially if they are injured, was the best possible gift to give them in 2010.

Late in December, I introduced my third Private Member’s Bill since being elected two years ago. The bill, entitled the Independent and Effective Office of the Veterans Ombudsman Act, would give the Veterans Ombudsman independence from departmental and ministerial control, and would shift the reporting requirement to parliament.

This bill provides veterans with an independent voice that can effectively advocate on their behalf. At the same time, the bill makes significant changes to the scope of the ombudsman’s ability to investigate problems, offer mediation services and comment on systemic issues using the same resources now committed to the current office.

These new powers, and a new reporting relationship, will significantly strengthen the ombudsman’s effectiveness at no additional cost to the taxpayer. It is a serious bill for a serious problem.

This government has made a habit of silencing their critics. By removing control over the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman from the minister of veterans affairs, I hope to give the ombudsman the freedom to do the job veterans expect without the fear of reprisals. At the same time, strengthened investigative powers, and the ability to bring the officials from Veterans Affairs together with the veteran who is attempting to find a solution to his or her problem, will ensure fairness and justice for the veteran.

It is my hope that the government welcomes this bill. I am of the strong belief that a good government never needs to be afraid of an effective and independent ombudsman. In fact, they should welcome an ombudsman in the spirit of constructive criticism. To their credit, they initiated the office just over three years ago. Col. Pat Stogran, the first ombudsman that they appointed welcomed this legislation as a way to improve the original intent of the government.

Parliament works best when members of the official ospposition offer constructive propositions, rather than just standing in opposition to whatever the government does. This bill is propositional in nature, not oppositional. It is meant to help parliament help veterans. We are the ones who send Canadian soldiers into harm’s way. We must be there to help them, especially when harm comes to them.

I believe that parliament is at its best when we work to strengthen government’s ability to help all Canadians, especially our veterans, participate fully in the economic, social, cultural and recreational life of this country. In a modest way, this bill will help to accomplish that.

This is the sort of holiday gift that Canadian soldiers and Canadian veterans want and deserve. I take this time to wish them and all a safe and happy new year.