Bill C-50 (Historical)
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.
Rey D. Pagtakhan Liberal
This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.
Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act
October 24th, 2003 / 10:55 a.m.
Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON
Mr. Speaker, there are many good things in Bill C-50 and we want it to pass as quickly as possible.
The member himself said that this is a matter of changing regulations and this can be done by cabinet at any time. Why has that not been done? What are we waiting for?
All veterans and widows are concerned that if the bill goes forward, the government will forget about it after November 11. These people will be forgotten again for another year. That is why we want to ensure that the issue is addressed now, not after November 7, but now.
Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act
October 24th, 2003 / 10:55 a.m.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am here today primarily because of Bill C-50. Like many members of Parliament, I have been seized with the issue of widows' pensions.
As members know, the bill was tabled at first reading on September 18 and it would amend a number of acts. Therefore, to find some continuity to it, we have to look at the existing acts. In the current act the date at which widows become eligible for pensions is in the regulations. The bill therefore would not amend the regulations; it would amend the acts.
I want to assure members, and I would ask the member if she would agree, that the effective date of widows' pensions is a matter which is incorporated in the regulations which can be changed by order in council at any time. Therefore, it is still possible for cabinet to make the announcement of an amendment to the regulations without any further amendments to the current bill. If the member is not sure of that, she may want to at least consider asking that formally of the minister in writing.
Would she agree that if it is by regulation, this can still happen by November 11?
Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act
October 24th, 2003 / 10:25 a.m.
Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak to Bill C-50 on behalf of the official opposition and more particularly, on behalf of the official opposition critic for veterans affairs, the member for Souris—Moose Mountain.
After what the minister said, I am overwhelmed on behalf of the widows across Canada who will not be receiving the same life benefits as other widows. There is an overwhelming sense of betrayal. The widows who will be without benefits have the same grief that the widows of Corporal Beerenfenger and Sargeant Short feel today. There is no difference, but because of a decision, which can be changed, those women will be left out in the cold.
There was opposition to Bill C-50, even though by all accounts it appeared that the bill was going to further the cause of all veterans and widows.
Cliff Chadderton, chairman of the National Council of Veterans Associations, had concerns and wrote to the media. He talked about being scheduled for laser surgery on one eye and being unavailable for comment. Nevertheless, he stated that he was surprised to see comments in the National Post by the Minister of Veterans Affairs.
Mr. Chadderton had written to the minister on at least three occasions about the matter and never received a reply and now he knows why. He said that he would be bringing up the matter at the annual meeting of the NCVA but there was no indication that the government would be doing anything. At the last meeting they had specifically asked that the top brackets of widows be covered even though the funds were scarce. He said that other veterans organizations made comments to the effect that they would like to see all types of widows covered.
As far as Mr. Chadderton and his researchers are concerned, they stand by the comments in the letter to the minister of October 23, 2003 and the release of that date. He feels that it is up to the minister to give him specific replies. He certainly was not satisfied to hear the minister say that he was disappointed that Mr. Chadderton should ask for his resignation, bearing in mind that the minister has given no indication that anything will be done despite a promise from the Prime Minister.
We were hoping to be able to speak of a victory today. Our critic for veterans affairs would have been so pleased to share the happiness with the thousands of military widows who have been patiently waiting for the changes that are part of this legislation. Year after year the member for Souris—Moose Mountain has pursued the goal of equality. That is what it is about, equality. It is about equality for military widows.
This year my caucus colleague set November 11 as the special target date for achieving this goal. The Speaker knows there is a great likelihood that the House will rise on November 7, prior to November 11. This causes great concern for all of us in the House that any changes will be made to ensure that the benefits go to all of the widows.
I have to wonder whether the command from the prime minister in waiting that no more funds be allocated is a stall until he rises to the throne. Could it be that his new caucus is trying to create the illusion that he will be the great saviour of these widows, or is it just simply that they are waiting for more widows to pass away and never be able to receive the benefits that are rightly theirs?
We on this side of the House feel that these widows and dependants of deceased veterans have waited long enough for equality of treatment.
For these individuals, Remembrance Day will take on a new meaning. They will not have a grateful nation recognizing their sacrifice and that of their families in the service of their country.
The official opposition will continue to press for the changes outlined in respect of benefits for veterans and the children of deceased veterans.
Actions to be taken or that have been taken since the minister's May 12 announcement include the extension of health programs for veterans on a disability pension. This will provide veteran independence program recipients the health care benefits to overseas service veterans at home when they are waiting for a priority access bed in a long term care facility. However it provides nothing for the widows whose husbands passed away prior to May 12.
The legislation would provide long term care and health care benefits to allied veterans with 10 years post-war residence in Canada but it provides nothing for the widows whose spouses died prior to May of this year.
The bill would extend, from one year to a lifetime, the period of VIP benefits that cover the costs of housekeeping and ground maintenance, and would be given to widows after the death of their spouses or partners who were veterans and receiving such benefits. However it provides nothing for the other widows whose spouses died prior to May.
It is with hesitation, particularly because of who the bill was intended to help, but it is with a sense of urgency that I would like to be acting on these matters. The aging population of our veterans, their widows and dependants means that they will not benefit from the changes being announced in Bill C-50. Remembrance Day this year will be a yearly reminder that not only have they lost a loved one but their government was not prepared to act in a timely fashion. They will remember that the government turned its back on them this November 11.
I know our critic, the member for Souris—Moose Mountain, received over 1,000 letters from widows, including letters from constituents in my riding, who wanted to be able to thank the minister for going forward with those benefits. Why has the federal government not had a change of heart in all these years?
After years of lobbying for the changes outlined in Bill C-50, what gave the final push on this? I have no hesitation whatsoever saying that it was the hard work of the official opposition critic for Veterans Affairs, who brought this issue to the forefront in the first place.
I have never been one to believe in coincidences. Canadians cannot help but wonder about the timing. It just happens that passage of the bill would coincide with the deaths of Sergeant Short and Corporal Beerenfenger in an Iltis jeep in Afghanistan. If some good could have come from this tragic loss of life, it would have been to honour veterans' widows and make the announcement today that all widows will receive the lifetime benefits. Corporal Beerenfenger and Sergeant Short would have been heroes a hundred times over, more than they already are.
If the minister had announced that all widows would receive these benefits, perhaps I would have tempered my cynicism and that of many Canadians who have come to expect a government that can never be counted on to do the right thing unless someone else, either the media or the official opposition, pushes it in the right direction.
When the government does act it is by some half measure, as we have heard today, that is more designed to silence its critics than to actually solve a problem. This brings me to the issue of the thousands of widows who are excluded from the VIP benefits.
As recently as yesterday, the chairman of the National Council of Veterans Associations called for the resignation of the Minister of Veterans Affairs for not responding to their specific concern about the shortcomings in the legislation. Today I too must call for the minister's resignation. This is betrayal of the worst kind.
It is our desire that the issues raised by the National Council of Veterans Associations in Canada, in a letter to the minister dated October 23, 2003, will be dealt with in a timely fashion and that in the future there will be no confusion on behalf of the 23,000, more or less, widows whose spouses died prior to the May date. I hope these points will be clarified in writing, not this wishy-washy doublespeak that we are getting here in the House today.
As the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, it is my pleasure to represent the women and men in the Canadian Forces who are based at CFB Petawawa.
Many individuals who experience the lifestyle in the upper Ottawa valley, choose to retire here. As a consequence, a significant number of retired military personnel now call Renfrew county home. Many military widows and their dependants in my riding follow this issue of equality of treatment with individual interest. Today I dearly would have liked to have shared in the joy that should have been forthcoming. Sons, daughters, brothers and sisters all write and phone in on behalf of the widows.
I know the opposition is united across the benches on this side of the House and will continue to force the issue on behalf of the widows until we all share in the joy and stand up and congratulate whoever the minister is at that time.
Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act
October 24th, 2003 / 10:05 a.m.
Rey D. Pagtakhan Winnipeg North—St. Paul, MB
moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise once again on behalf of the Government of Canada to speak to Bill C-50.
The fact that we are debating final reading of the bill so soon after second reading and deliberations by the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs speaks volumes about the concern all members have for Canada's veterans.
I thank the standing committee for its thoughtful study and unanimous approval of the bill. Indeed, I thank all members for sharing my passion and determination to get the urgently needed measures contained in the bill passed in the House as quickly as possible.
Since the bill is reported back to the House without amendments, I need not debate further the details of its three basic components, except that I would like to give some added, but brief, overview comments on them.
The provision that re-establishes the education assistance program for the dependent children of Canadian Forces members killed in the line of duty, or whose injuries would later lead to death, cannot be more timely.
It is clear that as Canada continues her peacekeeping and peacemaking role in the world, where there remain countries that cry out for peace, it is only right and just that we offer peace of mind to the servicemen and servicewomen who go into harm's way to achieve peace for others. Their children's access to post-secondary education is assured through the assistance of this program. The deaths in Afghanistan, earlier this month and before, of some of our finest in uniform as a direct consequence of duty to country bring to our consciousness the importance of re-establishing this program.
The other components of the urgent needs package, which I had announced earlier, and the other components of the bill will provide further assistance: to wartime veterans with a pension disability of 48% or greater, without regard to whether their needs are related to the pension disability or not; to overseas veterans while they are on a wait list for a priority access bed; to allied veterans with 10 years post-war residence in Canada; and to former prisoners of war with shorter or longer periods of incarceration than now provided for in the regulations and in law. Bill C-50 also clarifies in law the definition of “member of the forces” for the purposes of the War Veterans Allowance Act.
Indeed, the provisions in this bill will help us address some of the key urgent needs of veterans and their families.
The one other urgent need, which has caught the most public attention, relates to the veterans independence program, more popularly known as VIP. I am pleased, as are all members of the House, that we have been able to already put in place soon after my announcement last May of the package of initiatives, a change in the regulations which now allows eligible spouses of deceased veterans a lifetime extension of certain VIP services, that is, those presently in receipt of the one year extension of benefits following the death of their veteran spouse, as was then the provision in the regulations prior to the change, would henceforth continue to receive the benefit for lifetime as needed, as well as for those whose spouses die after the change in regulation.
Let me reiterate a couple of points about this specific matter for greater clarity and precision. First, the net effect of this particular change to the regulations is not to remove anyone, and I underscore “not”, from the VIP rolls. Unwittingly but regrettably, it has come to be portrayed in some quarters that some have been cut off. That simply is not true at all.
Let us be very clear. What we have done with this particular change is allow more than 10,000 eligible survivors, at a cost of some $65 million over five years, entry onto the VIP roll of veterans on the program, in addition to those still on the one year extension when the change in regulation occurred.
It must also be made very clear that there remains an unanswered challenge, namely, making the new regulation applicable to all surviving spouses whose one year extension of VIP benefits had already ended before the commencement of the new regulation.
This has been acknowledged by all. As I have said on a number of occasions, both in the House and outside, this unanswered challenge remains in the heart of this minister, and I am sure in the hearts of all, and in the hearts of veterans and their families.
That is why this was a matter that this minister and veterans groups alike struggled with before we decided that I would announce, as I subsequently did announce last May, the package of initiatives that also addresses the other urgent needs of veterans.
That is why I raised this very issue with the leadership of the Royal Canadian Legion, the RCL, the largest organization for veterans in the country, and with the leadership of the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada, Anavets, the oldest association of them all, as well as with the National Council of Veteran Associations, NCVA, during our meeting last May.
We were all in a dilemma. Should we wait until we had all the financial resources we needed or should we proceed with what we had? We all understood--RCL, Anavets and NCVA--that we did not have the resources to include the surviving spouses, those for whom the VIP extension had earlier been ended.
On balance, we unanimously agreed, without any dissent, that the best course of action was to target existing resources immediately to help surviving spouses who were currently in receipt of VIP or who would be at some future date and pledge to continue to work for the others. Thus, we have been able to immediately provide, following my announcement, not only VIP benefits to some 10,000 eligible surviving spouses, but as well, we have been able to help advance in the House the other forthcoming benefits contained in the bill before us.
That is why I also respectfully and gratefully acknowledge in the House the special motion moved at the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs, by the member for Nipissing, to the effect that, and I quote:
...the Government should take all possible means to provide lifetime VIP benefits to all qualified surviving spouses, of Veterans receiving such benefits at the time of their death, not just to those now eligible for such benefits following the amendments made in June 2003 to the Veterans Health Care Regulations.
That is why I share and take most seriously the more recently expressed sentiments of Jennifer Kish from London, Ontario, and Patricia White of Charlottetown, among many, many others who have to date reflected the same sentiments on this issue, not to mention the universal sentiments of those in the House. This is a non-partisan issue.
Mr. Speaker, we enter public service from whatever career we had before in the hopes of serving the broader public good. As a former pediatrician and lung specialist in practice, I had the privilege of caring for our youngest and, by definition, some of our neediest citizens, and now, as Minister of Veterans Affairs, I say that our very senior veterans are also among the neediest from a health care perspective.
It is in part in this context that I stand before the House to ask that we once more summon our resolve and give swift passage to Bill C-50. In addition, there is another context in which to frame our resolve and that is from the perspective of the veterans themselves, from their own lips. I have come to know from veterans I personally have met one to one or in groups that health needs are one of their pressing priorities.
At this juncture, I once more convey my many thanks to the leadership of the Royal Canadian Legion, the association of Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada, and the National Council of Veteran Associations, for sharing with me and my departmental officials the insights of their fellow veterans.
As hon. members know, my department has a long-standing collaborative relationship with Canada's veterans groups. Since I came on board nearly two years ago, I have been determined to make sure that this tradition of consultation and cooperation continues. From my very first meeting with the leadership of the veterans associations to today, it has been very clear what their priorities are.
I would like to conclude with the comments that have come from the largest and the oldest veterans organizations. Said Dominion President Allan Parks of the Royal Canadian Legion, the largest group:
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.
Said Dominion President Robert Cassels of the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada, the oldest group:
I am very pleased with the Minister of Veterans Affairs' announcement that he will be introducing proposed program changes to meet today's most urgent needs of Canada's war veterans...We were fully consulted at every step of the process.
I indulge in these commentaries to indicate the excellent working partnership we have had with them as we pursue our common goal, namely, to advance the well-being of veterans and their families, and as well, to convey to all three major veterans organizations our appreciation for their continuing input and insights, that we may have a better understanding of the needs of our veterans, and particularly to the RCL and Anavets for publicly conveying their unfailing support in our common search for a solution to our pressing challenges.
Lest we forget, let us also convey our gratitude to the staff of Veterans Affairs Canada, whose dedication and service continue to make a positive difference in the lives of our veterans and their families.
Colleagues, let us get Bill C-50 into the law books as quickly as possible so that the intended recipients, our heroes of war and peace, can benefit from its provisions as soon as possible.
Business of the House
Oral Question Period
October 23rd, 2003 / 3 p.m.
Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, insofar as the last part of the question, in fact such a motion would not change a law in any case. Let me first of all start by saying that this afternoon we will continue with debate on the opposition day non-confidence motion.
Tomorrow we shall consider Bill C-50, respecting veterans benefits, followed by the Senate amendments to Bill C-6, concerning first nations. Then, if we have time, we will consider Bill S-13, an act to amend the Statistics Act.
On Monday, we will consider bills left over from this week, as well as Bill C-32, the Criminal Code amendments, Bill C-13, the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, and Bill C-45, the corporate governance bill.
Tuesday shall be the last allotted day in this budget cycle.
On Wednesday and on subsequent days, we shall return to any unfinished business, adding to the list any bills that may be reported from committee. We will also start debate on Bill C-19, the First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act, and Bill C-43, an act to amend the Fisheries Act.
This is the part of the session when it would be normal for bills that have been in committee for some time to be reported back to the House. I am hopeful that committees, such as the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration and the Standing Committee on Transport, will soon complete their legislative work, so that the House may dispose of them in an orderly fashion.
Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
October 20th, 2003 / 1:15 p.m.
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
October 10th, 2003 / 12:05 p.m.
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
September 25th, 2003 / 4:55 p.m.
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
September 25th, 2003 / 4:40 p.m.
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
September 25th, 2003 / 3:40 p.m.
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.