An Act to amend the statute law in respect of benefits for veterans and the children of deceased veterans

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in November 2003.

Sponsor

Rey D. Pagtakhan  Liberal

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Government Orders

October 20th, 2003 / 1:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today, on behalf of the NDP, to Bill C-37, an act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

I am also pleased to join with members of all parties by way of indicating our support for the bill. I hope the bill will proceed expeditiously and that the benefits, which will accrue to members of the armed forces as a result of the bill, will come into effect as soon as possible.

Many members have already gone into detail, including the minister, the critic for the official opposition and others, as to what all is contained in the bill, and I see no need to repeat that.

It is important I think to highlight at least one of the changes, and that has to do with providing pension benefits to full time reservists. This is something that has been advocated for a long time and I am glad to see that the minister has been able to make this happen, as, I might add, he has been able to make a number of things happen since he has become the minister. I do not agree with the minister on everything, particularly when it comes to national missile defence--and I might have more to say about that later--but we have had some legislation come forward during the time of his tenure, shall we say, in which things that were long overdue are finally happening, and Bill C-50 is one of those things.

There are still other things that could be done to make life easier for those who are concerned about our reserve forces. Recruitment is still a problem and retention is a problem once they are recruited. I am sure the minister is aware of those problems.

I see the minister is in the House. Maybe afterward he could clear up something that came to my attention, because he may have an opportunity in questions and comments to say something. One of the rumours running through the reserves is that the program that provides some educational benefit to people joining the reserve, whereby they get help with their university education, may be cut. People who are in command positions within the reserve are concerned about this. They see this as an important recruiting tool to be able to offer young Canadians who may be considering joining the reserve.

When I asked that question this morning, when members of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs were at DND, I was told there was no thought being given to cutting that particular program. It would be good if the minister could confirm that and that it be communicated to people in the reserve. There is no sense having rumours floating around that are unfounded, but, if they are well-founded, we would like to know that as well.

The minister said that he wanted to make the forces, both regular and reserve, the employer of choice. Certainly bringing pension benefits up to par with that which is offered in the rest of the public service and the private sector would be part of that. The bill would go some way toward creating the context that the minister desires.

However I certainly would agree with the official opposition critic who talked about the quality of life for our Canadian Forces members while at the same time tolerating this increase in rent. If we kind of take with one hand what we have given with the other, people are not stupid. They do not come away feeling good about it. If the idea is to make people in the Canadian Forces feel more appreciated than they have over the last several years, and to respond to the quality of life report and to deal with some of the things that led in the past to Canadian Forces families having to access food banks, et cetera, then I would hope that the minister would reconsider this rent increase as other things have been reconsidered.

For instance, at one point it looked like a fait accompli that supply and other functions would be contracted out to a British company. I cannot remember the technical name. I know people in the forces called it kibbles and bits, or something like that. That decision was rescinded and the work has not been contracted out.

There is room for flexibility here. If the minister could see the wisdom of not proceeding with this, that would be great.

While we are on contracting out, although it is not quite relevant, I would hope that the Minister of Industry might see the wisdom of rescinding the contract to Lockheed Martin for the Canadian census. It gives one pause that if we can contract out the census to a big American multinational, it is a wonder we are not contracting out elements of our military to an American corporation. We hope we will never see that day.

Those are some of the things I wanted to put on the record. Other members have tried to turn this into a larger debate about defence spending. Of course that is appropriate to the degree that the Chair allows it. I certainly would not want to be the one who would try and do that given my longstanding respect for relevance.

Others have mentioned it and were not chastised. I might also want to put on the record that we too abhor the delay in replacing the Sea King helicopters. I was here when that contract was cancelled. The EH-101s were first proposed by the Conservative government. We had concerns about that contract.

I would hope that anyone who was here at the same time as I was would say that if we had any inkling of the fact that cancelling the EH-101 contract would mean that 10 years later we still would not be anywhere near obtaining a replacement for the Sea King helicopter, we would have said to buy the things. Whatever it was that was objectionable about them, in my opinion it has become far more objectionable to leave our Canadian Forces in the twilight zone that they have been in with respect to the Sea King helicopters for the past 10 years.

This is a dangerous situation. It is a situation that has nothing to do with helicopters and has everything to do with Liberal politics in terms of the original cancellation, but more blameworthy is the fact that the Liberals have taken 10 years and they still have not figured out which one of their friends will benefit from the contract. Until the Liberals can figure that out, it is the people in the Canadian Forces who have to fly this obsolete equipment. That is shameful.

At the heart of this is a very shameful reality. The reality is that defence contracts in this country can be held hostage to ongoing political manoeuvring of the sort that we have seen relating to the Sea King helicopters. It is not only with respect to helicopters that this happens, but this is one of the more glaring examples of how politics can hold up something which should have been proceeded with expeditiously.

If the Liberals want to cancel a contract, that is fine. However, they have to make up their minds about what the new helicopter will be like and get them on stream and into the hands of the people who need them.

The member from the Bloc Québécois said he could not resist the opportunity to speak highly and offer praise to the Canadian armed forces who were helping out during the ice storm in Quebec. I certainly welcome his remarks in that regard. Likewise, I want to take the opportunity to be praiseworthy of the members of the Canadian armed forces who were in Manitoba at the time of the flood in 1997. They were camped out in tents in the parking lot at the East End Community Club in Transcona. That is where they were bivouacked. I had an opportunity to visit with many of them at that time. I certainly want to add my commendation for the work they did at that time and for the ongoing work they do with respect to catastrophes, whether they be floods, fires, ice storms or whatever the case may be.

The minister did say in his remarks that the national missile defence system was on stream. What does on stream mean? We have made our opposition to Canadian participation in the American proposed and American led national missile defence system very clear on a number of occasions in the House. It is part and parcel of what the government has always said it was against, which is the weaponization of space. We are disappointed that the government seems to be proceeding on this without really making it clear what it is up to.

I would hope that members of the Alliance who seem to agree with national missile defence would agree that there is a procedural inadequacy here. If the government is going to participate in national missile defence, it should come before the House and make that absolutely clear. Perhaps it could bring forward a motion and have the House vote on it. It should do something which at least would nod in the direction of parliamentary participation, of parliamentary approval or disapproval of this very significant step.

As New Democrats, our main quarrel with the Minister of National Defence at this time is national missile defence by stealth. First of all the government was not going to have anything to do with it, then it was discussing it, and now it is on stream. This is not the way these kinds of major decisions should be made.

We certainly hope that the member for LaSalle--Émard, who is certainly on stream to becoming the next prime minister of Canada, will make his position clear on this issue so we can have a debate with him and with those who support him about the position that he has taken.

It is pretty obvious that the position of the new prime minister will be one of support for national missile defence because he is making noises that somehow we have to kiss and make up with Washington for our brief shining moment of independence when it came to the war in Iraq. This is one of the concerns that we have had and one which I notice the former minister of foreign affairs has. The price to be paid for our independence on the war in Iraq will be years of acquiescence, of making up, for that independence. It seems to us it was no coincidence that shortly after that the government began to move in the way it has on national missile defence.

I will end there. Perhaps the minister will have an opportunity in questions and comments to respond to one of the things that I raised earlier in my remarks.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

October 10th, 2003 / 12:05 p.m.
See context

Liberal

David Pratt Nepean—Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fifth report of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs.

In accordance with its order of reference of Thursday, September 25, 2003, your committee has considered and held hearings on Bill C-50, an act to amend the statute law in respect of benefits for veterans and the children of deceased veterans, and agreed on Thursday, October 9, 2003, to report it without amendment.

In addition, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the sixth report of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), your committee, during its consideration on October 9, 2003, of Bill C-50, an act to amend the statute law in respect of benefits for veterans and the children of deceased veterans, unanimously adopted a motion.

If I could have the indulgence of the House to read the two sentence motion involving veterans, I would be happy to provide it.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act
Government Orders

September 25th, 2003 / 4:55 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval West, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to rise today to take part in the debate on a bill that is important to a very large segment of the Canadian population.

As we all know, Veterans Affairs Canada has been serving the needs of veterans for almost a century now. In recent years its legitimate mandate to serve both traditional wartime veterans and modern era Canadian Forces members has been quite a challenge. The needs of the two groups are similar in principle but quite different in practice.

Although they are dwindling in number, the veterans who are still alive are increasingly making use of the services and benefits provided by the department, precisely because of failing health and complicated needs.

The changes proposed in this bill and the related regulations that are already in force or will be so shortly--we hope--will meet the most urgent needs of a few of our most distinguished senior citizens.

Bill C-50 speaks to both the past and the future. Let us first take a look at the new provisions for former prisoners of war.

I wonder how many of our colleagues know that Canada is one of the few countries in the world to provide compensation to former POWs. The relevant legislation was first introduced in Canada in 1976. At the time, the publicity campaign to reach out to eligible veterans generated more than 5,700 applications. Currently Veterans Affairs Canada provides benefits and services to about 4,000 former POWs to the tune of about $53 million a year.

We are taking additional measures today to help those special groups of citizens. We are increasing the benefits and broadening the compensation. The bill stipulates how the benefits are calculated under the Pension Act. The rate of the disability pension is based on the period of time the veteran was a prisoner.

Under the current legislation, veterans have to have been prisoners for at least 89 days to be eligible for disability benefits, as opposed to 30 days under the proposed changes.

Members will also note that, with this bill, the benefits for those taken prisoner in Europe will increase with the length of time they were held.

Thanks to these changes, groups like the merchant navy vets or the Dieppe veterans, who were taken prisoner at the very beginning of the war, will be entitled to enhanced benefits. And God knows that these people, because of their age, need more health care and more money.

I cannot imagine any opinion in this House, or anywhere else for that matter, against the addition to the compensation levels for this unique group of veterans whose experience of war included the terrible privations of war prisons.

In Laval West, the riding I represent in this House, there are two groups of veterans, one group in Chomedy and the other in Laval West. I know how proud these men and women are of the increased recognition this House and the Government of Canada are giving to their sacrifices as of today.

In a similar vein, I cannot imagine any objection to providing substantial financial assistance to children for their post-secondary educational needs where their veteran parents have died as a result of service. I believe that educational assistance for children of deceased forces members are part of the broader debt that the Government of Canada and all Canadians owe to those veterans who have died either as a result of military service or with a disability pension assessed as medium or higher. It seems to me that the bill is very fair in this regard.

A $4,000 yearly maximum is set for tuition in addition to a monthly $300 living allowance. The department expects that 70 eligible students will benefit from these increased tuition assistance and living allowance rates during the next five years.

I want to congratulate the minister on also taking care of the students who were unable to receive this financial assistance when the program was interrupted in 1995. We shall be sure to correct all obvious injustices caused by this interruption of the program eight years ago.

In the coming year, it is estimated that 60 former students will be eligible for financial assistance in respect of the education they undertook between 1995 and 2003, up to $12,000. This is substantial financial assistance and I hope it will help them pay back their student loans.

These changes to the Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act are a gift that speaks to the future. The children of Canadian Forces members who serve years from now and who subsequently die on duty or die with a pension disability of 48% or greater will receive this coverage. I am sure this resurrected and improved upon program will give great peace of mind to veterans and their families. It seems the least we can do for those who put their lives on the line for their nation.

The third amendment concerning eligibility for the war veterans allowance comes out of a case concerning an individual's right to WVA even though he never actually served in the Canadian armed forces. The matter was complicated and was eventually resolved by the courts in the client's favour when it was decided that he had to be considered a member of the armed forces.

As legislators, we do our courts, our judicial agencies and our citizens a service when we make the meaning and intent of our legislation crystal clear. What this amendment does is add clarity where perhaps it was missing in the current legislation and which gave rise, therefore, to the court proceedings I have just mentioned.

The minister has also mentioned the regulatory provisions that will soon be in effect to improve access for veterans or their dependants to health benefits. Survivors who need housekeeping and landscaping services, offered under the veterans independence program, or VIP, can now enjoy such services for life.

Veterans who receive a pension of at least 48% are now eligible for access to the health care programs, whether or not their health problems are related to a pensionable disability. Overseas service veterans waiting for access to a hospital bed will now receive VIP and health care benefits.

Moreover, allied veterans who have lived in Canada for 10 years or longer after the war will have access to VIP and health care benefits.

Finally, veterans who receive only POW compensation and are totally disabled will have access to VIP and health care benefits, where these are not available to them from provincial programs.

It is not difficult to imagine how these regulations and the amendments we are considering in Bill C-50 are going to make life a whole lot easier for these veterans and their families. When the minister announced his package of urgent needs proposals last May, Mr. Allan Parks, Dominion President of the Royal Canadian Legion, stated the following:

The Royal Canadian Legion welcomes this positive development in ensuring that the sacrifices of Canadian veterans will not be forgotten. In catering to the needs of prisoners of war, surviving spouses, and the long term care of veterans, Canada remains at the forefront of support to its veterans.

As legislators, I think we would all want to stay exactly in that position: at the forefront. Bill C-50 does just that. I join the minister in urging its swift passage.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act
Government Orders

September 25th, 2003 / 4:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Wendy Lill Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill C-50 and follow my colleague from Newfoundland on this important matter.

Bill C-50 is an important piece of legislation. It increases the benefits for veterans and the children of deceased veterans. Some of the things that I appreciate about the bill is it extends compensation for former prisoners of war, and it extends the health programs for war veterans with a pensioned disability regardless of whether their health needs are related to their military service.

The legislation also provides improvements to the veterans independence program and health care benefits to overseas service veterans at home when there is a wait list for a priority access bed. Health care benefits also are available for allied veterans with 10 years post-war residence in Canada. That is also an important point. The bill establishes an education assistance program for the children of deceased Canadian Forces veterans. These are all important things and the NDP is happy to support the bill.

I would like to take a minute to thank the veterans who live in this country and who continue to keep the flame alive about the issues of peace and their contributions to us and the world we live in today.

I come from the Atlantic region. I represent Dartmouth and many veterans live in my riding. They were young men and women when they left our shores many years ago to fight for our freedom, and although they all hoped to come back safe and sound of mind and body, the sad reality is that many of them returned with a disability. Also I would like to thank their spouses, in many cases women, who took on the role of caregivers for these veterans.

My riding of Dartmouth borders on Halifax harbour which was the staging ground for most of our overseas troops in World War I, World War II, the Korean war, and most recently the actions in the gulf. Every opportunity I have I go to see one of the ships that is either leaving on a mission or returning home. It is an awesome sight to see the families waiting for their loved ones to come back. It is a very elevating moment when they come home and a very sad time every time they leave.

In my job as an MP I have learned more about people in my riding at events like that and getting to know the military families than I have learned in any other area. I did not know the extent of their commitment to our country. I did not know the extent of the passion and commitment of our military and its families. That is a gift to me in this job.

One area that we are concerned about in this legislation is around the issue of veterans benefits and the veterans independence program in particular.

Earlier this year the Minister of Veterans Affairs announced regulatory changes to the veterans independence program so that veterans' widows would receive government help to maintain their homes after the death of their husbands with no time limits. Prior to those changes, a widow would be cut off from benefits one year after her husband's death. That part of the program was obviously inadequate and we are glad it was addressed.

Unfortunately, an arbitrary timeline has been put on this so that the government will be helping some widows, those whose husbands died after May 2003, but it will not be helping up to 28,000 partners whose husbands or wives died before that arbitrary cutoff date. It is no surprise and we can all understand what this actually means.

We will now see two classes of veterans' widows and widowers. There will be those who ironically I guess were lucky enough to have their partner pass away after that magic date of May 2003. Then there will be those who were unlucky enough, and they are all unlucky obviously, but they were unlucky to have their partner pass away on April 29 or 30 or on March 29 or 30.

If death occurred in April or March, those families are doubly grieving because there will be no support for them through the VIP. This is something that I cannot understand and certainly those people cannot understand.

I have heard from constituents whose fathers and grandfathers have died before May 2003. I know every MP in the House has also heard of this kind of situation. Now those constituents' mothers and grandmothers are struggling to maintain their homes without any help. At the same time they know that there is somebody else, possibly living next door to them, who will be receiving help from the government because their husband died after that cutoff date.

The grandchildren and the children feel that this is unjust and against the mission of Veterans Affairs Canada which promises to respond to the needs of veterans and their families. These regulatory changes could help these women stay in their family homes, maintain their independence and be a practical expression of our gratitude to these families. Instead, it is a slap in the face to up to 28,000 women and men and their families. Veterans Affairs Canada claims to be supporting these women but it is saying that it is too costly to move that date back or to try to accommodate these families.

The government has to be ashamed for telling these people that in fact they are too much of a burden, that there are other priorities, such as reallocating budget funds, and that there are more important things to deal with than elderly widows, widowers and vulnerable citizens. I do not find that acceptable. I do not know anyone in my community who would find that acceptable. I do not think members of the House find it acceptable.

We have to take care of people who have taken care of us and who are in need at this time. It is just as clear to me as the nose on my face. This has to be eradicated. This has to be fixed.

In closing I will read from the introduction to the proposed legislative changes:

Veterans are using services and benefits more extensively as they cope with deteriorating health and increasingly complex care needs.... As war Veterans are now at an average of 80 years, this need for change has become urgent.

The department is absolutely right in recognizing that fact, but it must also recognize the fact that the spouses are also deteriorating in health and experiencing complex care needs.

Veterans Affairs has a moral responsibility to extend the veterans independence program access to widows whose spouses have passed away before that date because they too are in critical need of health care and the kind of care that we have available.

I join with many others here in the House and I join with thousands of people in my riding who say that we cannot put qualifiers on this very important program. We cannot put time qualifiers on it. We have to make sure that this small and vulnerable portion of our population gets the care that they need at this point in time.

Although the NDP is generally supportive of other measures in Bill C-50, without an improvement to the situation of these 28,000 widows and widowers, these changes are simply not good enough.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act
Government Orders

September 25th, 2003 / 3:40 p.m.
See context

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to stand here today to speak to Bill C-50. Last Saturday night I had the privilege of meeting the group reunion of the South Saskatchewan Regiment in the city of Weyburn. As many know, the South Saskatchewan Regiment was one of those that hit the shores of Dieppe in 1942. Many of them were there.

If I think back and recollect the thoughts that were expressed by the veterans, by some prisoners of war and indeed by some widows who were there that evening, one gets a different look at the bill itself. I can appreciate the minister when he said that there was no new money in this bill within his department. It is simply a reallocation. I say to the people out there, I believe this minister struggled hard to fulfill all of this bill, but he did not get the money. That is a sad tale for our veterans and their dependants across Canada.

This party has long seen the results of what happened in 1995 when the budget cuts came in. They did not ignore our veterans, rather they hacked into what we were then paying to the veterans. The budget of 1995 also cut some of their programs.

I think of shaking the hands of the vets who were at the reunion. Their regiments was one that hit the shores of Dieppe on up to Pourville and suffered tremendous casualties. Then when I thought about how the federal government had so dishonoured the widows of some of these vets, it just about tore me to pieces.

I am old enough to remember the educational program that we had for the children of the vets of World War I. I can remember, in a previous occupation, signing their attendance to prove these people were at school. I am pleased to see this program continuing. That is a plus for Canadians. That in itself says we honour the dependants of vets.

There is one thing terribly wrong with the allocation of funding to the POWs. The oldest serving generals of our POWs were those who were captured in Hong Kong. Next came those who hit the shores of Dieppe. Many of the prisoners of war taken from D-Day on virtually served about one year.

I am not quarreling with the program itself. I am quarreling about this. Our military people were taught to escape, and escape they did. I want to say that being a POW in any of the camps was not Hogan's Heroes . It was a tough life. Those who escaped found their way back sometimes to their unit. Sometimes they were months and months trying to get back to Britain for medical attention and then they rejoined.

According to this bill and to my understanding, the POW pension is only for the days in which they were incarcerated. Does it include the other days as well? That is one question. We have to ensure that this is looked at very carefully because I have talked to people who did escape and then went back. However they are not receiving the pension and they should.

The minister alluded at some length to the veterans independence program. Many MPs within the House and most people in Canada simply do not understand for what VIP stands. We know it is “very important person”. I want to say there are no more important people than the veterans and their widows.

VIP in this bill refers to a program to help the veterans and their wives live independently in their home. This side has always supported that program. What we did not support, and what I repeated in the House and in committee a thousand times, was that if the veteran died, the spouse if she wished to remain in their home would only covered for one year under that program. My argument was always that if two people needed the program, surely one must. I congratulate the government for the extension of that program, I believe it was in June.

There are tens of thousands of veterans' widows. I have received thousands of letters. For widows prior to September, who did not qualify or whose spouse had died and the year was up, this payment is not retroactive. If I have to stand here until midnight to say that is a national disgrace, that is exactly what I would do. I held the hand of one of these widows last Saturday night who told me that her net income was $1,100 a month, but she had been cut off this program. That is wrong. That is not acceptable.

When I and Canadians look at the daily paper, we see $1.6 million going here, another $1 million going there, somebody else runs away with this or that, yet we have thousands of widows out there who do not qualify for the veterans VIP simply because their husbands died a year or two before. Not one member of the House, no one anywhere, would agree that making this a continuum for some and not for others is correct and just and right.

Without any hesitation, I beg, and I will be begging in the Veterans Affairs committee, that we re-examine this. I trust that the minister. The minister used the words “comforts and dignity”, and I believe he means that. I am looking at some 30,000 or more widows across the country who are not living in comfort and they are certainly not living in dignity.

It really hurts to know that in 1995, with the severe cuts, the veterans and their widows paid the supreme price. To members in the House and to anyone watching out there, let us do the right thing. These widows are not only mothers, they are grandmothers and, in many cases, great-grandmothers.

I think our Minister of Veterans Affairs has a deep concern. I can tell the minister that I will be supporting an amendment to make sure that we look at all veterans' widows across Canada and do not forget them. In the famous words of our most noted poem surrounding November 11, “Lest we forget”; lest we forget now when we have the opportunity to honour those widows out there who desperately need our help.

This is not a long term bill. At their age, hundreds are passing on every month. It will not cost the government very much money over a decade to do the honourable thing. If I were minister of veterans affairs, I would be running to step up front. I would want to take some credit for doing the right thing, as I am sure the minister wants to.

I have one comment I would like to make in closing. This is not related directly to the bill but it is related directly to Veterans Affairs. Our most revered day for veterans is coming up on November 11. I do not know who arranged for the different arrangements for the distribution of the wreaths that will be laid across Canada on behalf of veterans, but I can say, serving a rural community, that it will be very difficult for each one of my active legions to get to that wreath and pick it up at the member's office. My time is short but I will talk about this at another time.

I thank the minister for the work he has done. I know the fiscal pressure he has been under from cabinet and so on, but whatever happens let us hope that we do the right thing and honour our widows and our vets, and, in particular, those who have struggled throughout this life in Canada.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act
Government Orders

September 25th, 2003 / 3:25 p.m.
See context

Winnipeg North—St. Paul
Manitoba

Liberal

Rey D. Pagtakhan Minister of Veterans Affairs

moved that Bill C-50, an act to amend the statute law in respect of benefits for veterans and the children of deceased veterans, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed my honour and privilege to lead off second reading debate on Bill C-50, an act to amend the statute law in respect of benefits for veterans and the children of deceased veterans.

Indeed, the bill provides us with a unique opportunity, one, to offer financial assistance to the children of veterans who die as a result of their military service; two, to clarify the requirements for the war veterans allowance program; and three, to enhance compensation for both shorter term and longer term former prisoners of war. Concurrent with the bill are regulatory changes, to be found in a separate form, which will help war era veterans and their spouses, including eligible overseas and allied veterans, live out their remaining years in comfort and dignity.

In fact, these objectives reflect the most pressing needs and longstanding concerns of our wartime veterans as identified by national veterans organizations. We therefore wanted to accomplish these goals as expeditiously as possible. So timely are the proposed statutory and regulatory amendments that we in the department have come to refer to them as our urgent needs legislation.

One might think the bill is largely a technical one, subtracting or adding sections to existing pieces of legislation. The amendments appear to be technical indeed, but their effects are substantial and profound.

The first amendment re-establishes the children of deceased veterans education assistance act, the act that provided authority for my department's education assistance program from its inception in 1953 until its discontinuance in February 1995. With the enactment of Bill C-50, we will be re-establishing the act and substantially improving upon the program for children of Canadian Forces members killed in the line of duty or who, at the time of death, were pensioned at the rate of 48% or greater.

The program will assist eligible children attending a post-secondary institution, such as a university, a college or a trade school, with their living expenses and tuition fees. A monthly living allowance of $300 will be sent directly to the students, over and above any amount payable to them as surviving children under the pension act. Reimbursement for tuition fees will be made directly to the educational institutions, to a maximum amount of $4,000 per year, adjusted yearly as a function of the consumer price index.

In addition, education assistance will be given to former students who completed their education after the education assistance program was discontinued in 1995. This will be of particular importance to children of Canadian Forces members who were killed in the line of duty during this time period. This coverage will preclude any unfairness. They will be eligible for the education assistance rates that were in effect as of January 2003.

Also under this program, children who did not attend a post-secondary institution after the education assistance program was discontinued and who now choose to attend are eligible to receive up to four years of assistance at the new rates established with the passage of the bill. Eligible students can qualify for assistance until their 30th birthday.

The next amendment clarifies the wartime service requirements for members of the Canadian Forces. It will establish that a member of the forces must have enlisted, served and been discharged from that service to be eligible for benefits under the War Veterans Allowance Act.

Members may recall that as a result of recent Federal Court rulings, some ambiguity resulted with respect to the definition that had to be applied for the purposes of the War Veterans Allowance Act to a member of the Canadian Forces who served during the first and second world wars. I believe it essential, and most certainly veterans do, that this change be undertaken so that the legislation makes it abundantly clear this aspect of wartime service is a fundamental consideration under this particular legislation.

The third amendment improves coverage and compensation for former prisoners of war, POWs. This amendment will do two things. One, it will modify the current POW compensation scale to benefit POWs who were imprisoned for shorter periods of time than now currently called for; and two, it will increase payments plus the current maximum timeframe covered.

Moreover, concomitant regulatory changes will provide veterans who are only in receipt of POW compensation and are totally disabled with access to veterans independence program, VIP, services and health care benefits, where these are not available to them from provincial programs.

POW veterans have always occupied a special place in the hearts and eyes of the government and fellow veterans, and in fact in the hearts and eyes of all Canadians.

Speaking further of regulatory changes related thematically to the bill before us but to be found in separate form, there are four. First, we are extending health programs to war service veterans with a pensioned disability between 48% and 77%. What that does is it recognizes that these veterans now have multiple and complex health needs. It acknowledges the difficulty of differentiating between health care needs related to the pensioned injury and those that are due to the infirmities of old age. Thus, we are covering both eventualities for those health care requirements not covered under provincial legislation.

Second, we are also providing VIP and health care benefits to overseas service veterans residing in Canada and living at home because they are unable to access a priority access bed in a long term care facility due to a wait list.

Third, we are offering as well long term care and health benefits to allied veterans who have lived in Canada for 10 years or longer since the end of the war. Eligible allied veterans will have access to long term care in community facilities when they are admitted to such facilities for the first time. In cases where the allied veteran needs care that can no longer be provided at a community residence, for example, palliative care and dementia care, the veteran becomes eligible to receive care in a facility where veterans affairs has access to a priority bed.

These changes to the regulations will come into effect this fall. They are part of a continuum of changes that we see as crucial to our ongoing efforts to better the lives of our heroes who are now in their twilight years.

The fourth on the regulatory front of the continuum, and the most significant in its reach and scope, is the one affecting the spouses and partners, the survivors, of war veterans who were in receipt of VIP benefits at the time of their passing. Of all the issues that veterans groups have talked to me about, they regard this as one of the most pressing.

As hon. members know, VIP has been one of my department's most popular programs for veterans and their survivors. Its provisions for housekeeping and grounds maintenance services have helped keep very senior veterans living at home rather than in care facilities, likely for years longer than might otherwise be anticipated and made possible, no doubt, by the caregiver assistance of their spouses.

We recognize that in these later years the caregiving which the spouses provide their veteran partners is priceless indeed, not just for the veterans in a personal sense, but it is priceless to the Canadian health care system and taxpayers in dollars saved in helping keep them healthy and independent at home.

We have also come to recognize the physical and emotional toll such care places on elderly caregivers. For years now caregiver survivors have benefited from the continuation of such services for one year after the death of their veteran spouse.

Starting May 1 of this year, VIP is being extended to eligible survivors then in receipt of this benefit, along with the spouses of veterans who die after the new amendment is approved, not for just a year but for as long as they need the grounds keeping and all housekeeping services of the program. In fact approval of this regulatory change was accelerated and took place last June.

About 10,000 surviving spouses will benefit from this change in the next five years at a cost of $65.9 million, nearly half of the total financial resources we had, some $134 million, for all the urgent needs we had to fund.

As I had earlier alluded to in the House, we wished we had the capability to include recipient survivors whose one year VIP extension had ended before last May's announcement. In fact we raised and discussed this very issue with the leadership of the veterans' organizations. We were in a dilemma. Time was of the essence. Should we proceed with the package, knowing we could not include survivors whose VIP had ended? It was our collective and unanimous decision to proceed as I proceeded to announce the package in the House. Thus, it was not for lack of heart, it was not for lack of will, it was simply the case of limited resources. It was simply the case of reality.

May I at this juncture seize this opportunity to reiterate my thanks to Mr. Allan Parks, Dominion President of the Royal Canadian Legion; Mr. Robert Cassels, Dominion President of the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada Association; and Mr. Clifford Chadderton, Chairman of the National Council of Veterans Association for their leadership and participation at every step of the process as we were developing this package of initiatives as reflected in Bill C-50 and in the concomitant regulatory changes, including the funding mechanism. Their advocacy on behalf of veterans and their families is laudable and their insights have been most valuable to me and to my department.

Let me say a word on funding mechanism before I conclude. Altogether, the statutory amendments along with their regulatory counterparts will mean millions of dollars of additional benefits will go to the neediest of veterans and their family members. However, they are not adding millions of extra dollars to my department's budget, nor adding to the taxpayer's burden. Rather, we are reallocating funds internally within the department to address the high priorities of those veterans and other clients in the greatest need.

This funding mechanism will involve clarifying the attendance allowance program policy to bring it more in line with its intended target. As originally envisioned in the legislation, attendance allowance is a monthly payment which may be awarded to a veteran who is receiving a disability pension and/or prisoner of war compensation. The individual must also be totally disabled and in need of attendance due to his or her physical or mental state.

In existence since 1919, the attendance allowance program is closely guarded by veterans' organizations, and rightly so. They support changes to the program provided that savings realized are used to fund programs that meet their urgent needs without detracting from any other program. I should at once say that existing clients will continue to receive their attendance allowance benefits at their current grade level.

I believe the statutory amendments before us in Bill C-50, combined with the regulatory changes, will make eminent sense in the life of our veterans, and in the sad instance of their passing, in the life of their surviving spouses or dependent children.

I look forward to hearing my colleague's views on this very important matter. I look forward to our collective wisdom in this House. A speedy enactment of this bill would be one more expression of our nation's unending gratitude to our veterans who offered themselves, most in the prime of their youth, in the service of our country.

Truly, we are further honouring our heroes with the speedy passage of Bill C-50.

Business Of The House
Oral Question Period

September 25th, 2003 / 3 p.m.
See context

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member across is a little impatient with his future holidays. He will probably have to wait some time.

This afternoon we will continue to debate second reading of Bill C-48, the natural resources taxation bill. I understand that the bill is nearing completion.

When it is complete, we will then debate Bill C-50, the veterans' benefits bill sponsored by my colleague, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, followed by the consideration of the Senate amendments to Bill C-10B, the cruelty to animal bill.

If time is left, we would deal with third reading of Bill C-17, the public safety bill, and second reading of Bill C-46, the market fraud bill.

In the unlikely event that we do not complete all of that this afternoon, on Friday we would begin with a reference to committee before second reading of Bill C-41, the amendments and corrections bill. The opposition House leader and I have had a brief conversation about this

We would then proceed with Bill C-37, respecting improvements to Canadian Forces pension benefits.

We will then return to any bills already mentioned today in the unlikely event that some of them are not fully completed.

On Monday, we would begin with Bill C-17, the public safety bill, and then return to the list previously described.

Tuesday, September 30, and Thursday, October 2, shall both be allotted days.

Veterans Affairs
Oral Question Period

September 24th, 2003 / 3 p.m.
See context

Winnipeg North—St. Paul
Manitoba

Liberal

Rey D. Pagtakhan Minister of Veterans Affairs and Secretary of State (Science

Mr. Speaker, before the House is Bill C-50 wherein we have introduced amendments precisely to address the urgent needs of veterans. I would like the member, instead of speaking away from the issue, to support the bill.

The government can take pride that it is taking care of veterans and their families.

Government Expenditures
Oral Question Period

September 23rd, 2003 / 2:30 p.m.
See context

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, no one has mentioned any amount at all. The initiative in question is a private member's initiative that we vote on by a free vote in the House.

Insofar as improving benefits to our veterans is concerned, I ask the hon. member to support the excellent bill proposed by my colleague, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, Bill C-50, which hopefully will be before the House either today or the day after. We hope the Alliance will finally vote for something that will help veterans for a change.

Business of the House
Oral Question Period

September 18th, 2003 / 3 p.m.
See context

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I will be pleased over the following weeks to continue to elaborate on the program from now until December 12 for the benefit of the hon. member and for anyone else. More specifically, about the following week, I wish to express the following by way of the business statement.

This afternoon, we will continue with the debate on the opposition motion.

Tomorrow, the House will return to the motion to refer Bill C-49, the electoral boundaries bill, to committee before second reading. This will be followed by Bill C-45, the corporate liability bill, or Westray bill if you like, and Bill C-34, the ethics commissioner bill.

On Monday, we will begin with bills not completed this week, Friday in particular. We will then proceed to Bill C-46, respecting market fraud, Bill C-50 respecting veterans, Bill C-17, the public safety bill, and finally Bill C-36, the Library and Archives of Canada bill.

Tuesday will be an allotted day.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the House will begin consideration of Bill C-48, respecting resource taxation, and will then return to any of the business just listed that has not been completed.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act
Routine Proceedings

September 18th, 2003 / 10 a.m.
See context

Winnipeg North—St. Paul
Manitoba

Liberal

Rey D. Pagtakhan Minister of Veterans Affairs and Secretary of State (Science

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-50, an act to amend the statute law in respect of benefits for veterans and the children of deceased veterans.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)