Early November is always a time to remember the brave members of the armed forces who have fought for Canada around the world so that we can live with justice and peace.
This year, I was honoured to speak at two ceremonies that honoured our veterans.
The first was at West Bench Elementary School in Penticton. It’s always nice to speak there because I grew up on the West Bench and that school is my alma mater. But it’s especially poignant to go to that school ceremony because the West Bench neighbourhood was developed as a Veterans Land Act subdivision after the Second World War, providing inexpensive lots to returning servicemen so they could have a place to live and raise their families.
I also spoke at the Remembrance Day service in Oliver, a community that literally owes its existence to a government program to provide land and housing to returning veterans after the First World War.
These huge housing projects happened across Canada after the two world wars, part of the unwritten pledge between Canada and the men and women who offer to put themselves in harm’s way for us. If they leave home on dangerous missions of our devising, we will take care of them when they return, with health care, pensions and housing.
Too often we put veterans affairs as the lowest priority of government action, sometimes blatantly so. Indigenous veterans of the Second World War returned to find they’d lost their status and received no pensions at all. Successive federal governments over the past few decades have slashed veterans’ pensions, closed Veterans Affairs offices and cut hundreds of jobs for veterans support workers.
While the housing projects of the 1900s did well by veterans, too many now find themselves homeless in the present housing crisis. Homelessness is often intertwined with mental illness and addiction, two other crises that impact veterans and that have paralyzed governments at all levels.
We must do better. When we wear our poppies every November, we must not just remember the veterans who served our country and honour those who paid the ultimate price for that service with their lives, we must also remember and honour that pledge, that unwritten promise, that we will take care of veterans when they return home.
Just before the Remembrance Day break, the finance minister presented her fall economic statement.
Some of the items in the statement were expected, as they were part of the Liberal-NDP agreement and have been debated over the past few months. They include the dental care that will now be available for all children who need it, the doubling of the GST credit for low-income Canadians to help them with inflationary pressures and a one-time top-up of the Canada Housing Benefit for low-income renters.
Other announcements also reflected long-time NDP demands, including the elimination of interest on student loans and a pledge to lower credit card fees for businesses.
The latter issue has been an NDP demand since the days of (former party leader) Jack Layton, who pointed out Canadian businesses pay some of the highest credit card transaction charges in the world.
That issue was back in the news recently, as companies are now being allowed to pass on those charges to consumers. As the NDP critic for Small Business, in recent months I’ve met with executives from VISA, Mastercard, and Moneris to discuss this issue. I’m glad to see the government has finally agreed to seriously look into the matter.
Unfortunately, there were no announcements on other issues I’ve been pressing the government on, including a fairer excise tax system for producers of beer, wine and spirits and a living wage for our bright young researchers as they work on their graduate degrees.
I will continue that pressure to make sure these are dealt with in the spring budget.
Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan – West Kootenay.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.