Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) Act

An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

Sponsor

Diane Finley  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Employment Insurance Act to extend the benefit period and the period during which parental benefits may be paid for Canadian Forces members whose period of parental leave is deferred or who are directed to return to duty from parental leave.

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.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) Act
Routine Proceedings

June 16th, 2010 / 3:30 p.m.
See context

Prince George—Peace River
B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, there have been the usual consultations among all political parties and if you were to seek it, you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act, be deemed to have been amended at the report stage as proposed in the report stage motion in the name of the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development on today's Notice Paper; be deemed concurred in as amended; and that the House be authorized to consider the Bill at third reading later today; and when the House begins debate on the third reading motion of Bill C-13, a Member from each recognized party may speak for not more than 10 minutes on the motion, after which the Bill shall be deemed to have been read a third time and passed.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) Act
Routine Proceedings

June 16th, 2010 / 3:30 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, I move that, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, Bill C-23 be deemed read a second time and referred to a committee of the whole, deemed considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage, and deemed read a third time and passed.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) Act
Government Orders

June 16th, 2010 / 3:45 p.m.
See context

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, it is always valuable, when we are discussing any legislation before the House of Commons, to inquire as to its origins. If I am permitted, I will expound upon the origins of the fairness for military families act.

Some time ago, I was knocking on doors in the south Ottawa village community of Osgoode. I ended up on the doorstep of a Canadian soldier, Mr. Duquette, who, along with his wife, was just heading out on a date, only to be interrupted by a visiting member of Parliament. He told me the story of his service to the Canadian Forces in the Golan Heights. He served there for roughly a year. When he went into service, he left behind a four-day-old child to whom his wife had just given birth. Only one day after they were able to bring their young boy home, he was sent by order into the field on our behalf.

One of the things that helped him get through this time away from his family was the notion that he would take advantage of his rightful benefits under employment insurance for parental benefits. He, like all members of the Canadian Forces, pay into the employment insurance system and, thus, have every expectation that they should be able to draw parental leave just like the rest of us.

When he returned, he was startled and deeply disappointed to learn that he would not be able to spend time with his son because the eligibility period, during which people can collect their parental benefits, had expired. It lasts only for the year immediately following the birth or adoption of the child. Given that this soldier had been serving us overseas for over a year, that entire period of eligibility had gone by and, sadly, he would not be afforded the benefit for which he had been paying for many years.

He opened up the act to find out if it could really be true and, not only did he learn that it was as bad as it sounded, he also learned that it was even worse. He found that criminals who are serving prison sentences are able to defer their benefits until after they get out of jail, but soldiers who are serving our country on order from their government cannot.

I told him that I would work hard with the Prime Minister and the Minister of Human Resources to fix the injustice and I have been doing that for some time now. I am very thankful that the Prime Minister and the Minister of Human Resources agreed with me and with the Duquette family and introduced in this House the fairness for military families act in order to redress this injustice and allow soldiers to defer their parental benefits until after they get home from service.

This bill would have an impact on countless soldiers who serve us and put themselves in harm's way even though they have small children waiting for them back at home. It is a sacrifice that not only the soldier makes, but a sacrifice made by the entire family. The fairness for military families act recognizes that sacrifice and would help soldiers to acquire the benefits for which they paid.

When the bill first came through the House of Commons it was passed rather quickly and then went to the human resources committee to be studied further. We invited the Duquette family to testify.

The one logistical problem that all members in the committee will recall vividly was that Mr. Duquette was and is still serving us in Kabul, Afghanistan, so he could not be at the committee in person. His wife, who is still here in Osgoode, came downtown and testified in person and he by teleconference from around the world. It was the first time they had seen each other in months and it was a real delight to see their faces light up when, via teleconference in a parliamentary committee room, they were able to connect.

I was also heartened, as a parliamentarian, to see members of all parties come together in a spirit of non-partisanship to do the right thing and support the Duquette family and the thousands of military families just like them. Not only did we have a great session hearing from the family, understanding their concerns and the trials and tribulations of families that sacrifice so much and do so much good, but we, as a parliamentary committee, unanimously passed the bill and sent it back to the House of Commons in just one meeting. That illustrates the power of all parliamentarians to work together and get things done for our citizens, our families and our soldiers.

On behalf of my constituents, I commend members of all parties who participated in making this happen. It has been a real honour to work on behalf of this family and to partner with parliamentarians of every colour in order to get the job done.

I understand that we are getting close to the day when this bill will pass through the House of Commons. I would encourage all members to keep up the very effective work they have been doing to move it forward. I will be encouraging our friends in the other place, the Senate, to move with equal haste so that this bill can become law and families can begin to benefit from the fairness that they deserve and for which they have paid.

We have a duty to all of our citizens but perhaps a special duty to ensure that the soldiers who are protecting all of us get the benefits that they deserve. It has been my honour to play a small role in making that happen.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) Act
Government Orders

June 16th, 2010 / 3:55 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak to Bill C-13 on the last part of its voyage through Parliament, the so-called fairness for military families act.

The proposed act will amend part I of the Employment Insurance Act to extend the period during which employment insurance parental benefits may be paid for Canadian Forces members whose start date of parental leave is deferred or who are directed to return to duty from parental leave.

This act will help relatively few Canadians. We are told by the department that it would be about 50 to 60 people a year at a cost of about $600,000. Nonetheless it is important for those who it will assist, and it assists Canadians that we all agree are entirely worthy of that assistance.

As my colleague, the parliamentary secretary referred to, at committee we heard from Lieutenant-Colonel James Duquette, who was posted to the Golan Heights just four days after the birth of his first child. As such, he missed his opportunity to take parental leave. It was very nice to hear from him, from Kabul, and his wife, Anne, who testified as well. They made very compelling witnesses in support of the bill.

There is a curious factor, though, which is the timeline of the bill. On April 5, the government had a press release about Bill C-13, indicating it would introduce it. On April 12, the legislation was introduced and then it was almost a month before it was debated in the House. It was very quickly passed by the House and went to committee. It was not until May 26 when the human resources committee had this testimony, went through clause-by-clause and everything passed. It is now another month since it came back to the House. I do not know if it would have even come to the House this week if the Liberal Party had not inquired about its status.

As the parliamentary secretary suggested, all parties support it. Therefore, it makes sense to get this through. It has been kind of a case of hurry up and wait and hurry up and wait on the bill. It is important.

I can talk from a personal point of view. I come from a military area, Dartmouth—Cole Harbour. It is home to many serving members of the Canadian Forces and many more veterans. I think we have one of the highest populations of veterans in Canada.

It was not very long ago that I attended the funeral for Petty Officer Second Class Craig Blake, who was the 143rd Canadian killed in Afghanistan. He was killed in the Panjwai District in Afghanistan. He was a member of the Fleet Diving Unit Atlantic. He was diffusing IEDs when he lost his life. He has a wife and two sons. He was a hockey coach. He was remembered at his funeral for the wonderful community work he took part in and the great loss it was to his family.

I remember having a connection to one of the earliest deaths in Afghanistan, and that was Corporal Paul Davis who died in March 2006. I have spoken in the House before about flying home from Parliament on a Friday with a number of other parliamentarians. When we arrived in Halifax and turned on our Blackberrys, we heard the awful news that Corporal Paul Davis had been killed in Afghanistan. His father, Jim Davis, is a dear friend of mine and has been an eloquent and passionate spokesperson on behalf of military families who have lost loved ones.

I have many constituents who have served in Afghanistan and have come home. Even if they have come home relatively unscathed from their service in Afghanistan, their families have paid a very significant price. They make great sacrifices. To go months without seeing their family is a very difficult thing, even if they return home safely.

Most of us who sit in this place travel from somewhere else in Canada and we find it difficult, especially with young families as in my case. It is difficult to be away for chunks of life. It is very difficult for military families to be away for months at a time, as in the case with Lieutenant-Colonel Duquette and others, especially around the time of the birth of a child or shortly after. It makes no sense that we should compound the sacrifice of that family by not allowing those families to have parental leave.

The bill will make a difference for those families. I think it could have been stronger. We appreciate the amendment that the government promised us. I spoke to this when it first came to the House and indicated that we should ensure we covered as many military families as possible. The government, through the parliamentary secretary, indicated that the government would do that and it would ensure that amendment would be in place.

Others serving abroad could have been included in the bill. With the cost of the bill being only about half a million dollars a year, it would not have been very much to add others, for example, those in police forces who serve overseas.

When Lieutenant-Colonel Duquette appeared from Kabul via video conference at committee, he was asked a question by an opposition member about police and RCMP. The question was “Should we be amending this bill, in your view, to include those people as well?” In his answer, Lieutenant-Colonel Duquette said, “Yes, I definitely think that applying it to police serving internationally would be very important”.

Even departmental officials indicated at that same committee that this would not have been such a terrible hardship. I asked Mr. Louis Beauséjour, a fine bureaucrat in the Department of HRSDC, “How much of a problem would it be to have this bill apply to other personnel beyond serving members of the Canadian Forces?” His answer was, “There was no reason other than to determine what the underlying reason for the amendment was”.

We could have amended the bill. It could have been a much stronger bill, but nonetheless it is what it is. It will assist a certain number of military families. I want to indicate my appreciation to the parliamentary secretary and to the government for providing the amendment that is part of the bill today.

When we look at employment insurance, we need to look at the big picture. This has been a topic of much debate in the House and across Canada in the last couple of years.

Our social infrastructure is not suitably designed for the kind of recession that Canada has undergone in the last couple of years. After the economic update of 2008, there was an outcry from people across the country saying that we needed to provide support to people who needed help the most. Among the most vulnerable people were those who had lost their jobs and those who would lose their job. At that point in time, the recession was just taking hold and the government was very slow to act.

Then the issue of stimulus came up over Christmas and January 2009, and the new budget came in January 2009. Everybody assumed that the government would seriously address the issue of employment insurance, that it would look at, particularly, the issue of access to EI and the fact that many people simply did not have access depending on where they lived across the country. Access could be denied in a lot of cases. Quite often it is denied to women who have lost their job because they tend to work part-time hours and may not have enough hours to qualify.

When the government brought in its plans for employment insurance in the budget of early 2009, it did not address that issue at all. That brought cries of protest not only from who we might expect would be opposed to its inaction, such as labour unions and public policy people, but from people in just about every province, including provinces that were led by spokespeople like Premier Brad Wall, Premier Gordon Campbell and Premier Dalton McGuinty. All of them said that one of the gaps in the employment insurance system was the issue of access. Still we had no action from the government.

At one point in time, 1.6 million people were unemployed and almost half of those people had no access to employment insurance.

Changes have been made to the EI system over the years and some of those changes have been made by varying governments, but they have always reflected the fact that employment insurance should be there for those who most need it. A lot could have been done.

Bill C-13 to me is a very worthy improvement to EI. All parties have indicated their support for the bill. We need to do all we can to support military families, to recognize they have a particular burden, that those who serve and the families that serve those who serve make a special and significant sacrifice on a regular basis. The bill will do something to alleviate that. It is a limited bill and it could have been made better. It has been made a bit better but more could have been done. Nonetheless, I want to assure the Liberal Party's support for the bill. It is a worthy initiative and a recognition for those who serve our country valiantly.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) Act
Government Orders

June 16th, 2010 / 4:05 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to support Bill C-13, to create fairness for families with respect to parental leave. As my colleagues have already stated, this bill will extend the eligibility period for parental leave for members of the Canadian Forces who are called back to duty while on parental leave. They will be able to complete this leave when they return from duty.

The bill indicates that the period during which the member may benefit from this right shall be 50 weeks. We suggested that these 50 weeks be retroactive for members who have already been called back to duty while on parental leave. The government agreed to make this amendment to the bill. I note that it was done today and that is a very good thing.

I also share the opinion of the member who just spoke that this is another example of a piecemeal bill. It targets one set of improvements to be made to the employment insurance system, which should really be overhauled.

We will support Bill C-13. It is a question of fairness, especially since we are asking our Canadian Forces to risk their lives in situations that are not only difficult but dangerous. The Bloc has the greatest respect for members of the military and as parliamentarians, we have the responsibility to not impose additional risks on them.

Furthermore, we must provide the best possible accommodation between their career and their family life, and we must ensure that their return to the country is facilitated by measures that help with their integration in civil society.

I make this distinction because we believe this bill should have been more comprehensive in terms of the reality of the military. Although this measure is necessary, the Conservatives are continuing their bad habit of making piecemeal changes rather than undertaking genuine reform of employment insurance and real reform to support the military. A good number of members return home traumatized and suffering from post-traumatic stress, elements that have not been addressed by this bill.

I would also remind the House that members of the Canadian Forces pay employment insurance premiums just like any other worker. They are therefore insurable.

It is only fair that they be entitled since they already pay for this coverage. However, they did not have full access to it because of their job. That said, I think the point needs to be made that there is a whole other dimension of the reality faced by our military that is not covered.

The current government makes much of the contribution of Canadian armed forces to various military interventions, but what about its responsibilities when some members return damaged by their experiences, suffering from physical injuries and trauma?

They are less inclined to talk about the increased suicide rate among armed forces members who return to civilian life and the incredible lack of the psychological and financial support they need.

I would like to remind the House that the armed forces should provide adequate follow-up of its members who return from a mission such as that in Afghanistan, especially since we know that 4% of soldiers returning from Kandahar develop suicidal tendencies, 4.6% have symptoms of major depression, and more than 15% experience mental health problems.

In the course of its parliamentary work, the Bloc Québécois has always been concerned with support for veterans, all those who have proudly donned the uniform.

We circulated a petition that will be presented to the House of Commons. It is asking the House to change, among other things, the way military personnel are treated financially after leaving the armed forces.

In 2005, the House of Commons passed a Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act, commonly called the Veterans' Charter, which came into force on April 6, 2006.

Since then, National Defence no longer provides lifetime monthly pensions for its soldiers. Instead, it introduced a lump sum payment in 2006. For every injury, there is a corresponding indemnity, up to a maximum. The amount is paid once, and the armed forces member is left to figure out on his own how to handle the money.

In January 2010, the Canadian Forces veterans ombudsman was very critical of this new system for compensating soldiers injured in service. Since stopping lifetime pensions, the forces have been providing veterans with a lot less money and failing to meet their needs.

The ombudsman said that he was not a proponent of the lump sum payment because someone with psychological issues could spend it unwisely and not have a single cent to put towards their financial security. The ombudsman, a veteran of Bosnia and Afghanistan himself, added that veterans can quite easily become homeless, and this sometimes happens. Many of them lose their way because of mental health problems. He says the only way to force them to maintain a residence is to send their compensation in monthly installments by mail, as used to be the case.

We cannot remain indifferent to these observations of the Canadian Forces ombudsman.

This new way of compensating our soldiers causes them, and often their family, to quickly become financially disadvantaged for the reasons outlined by the ombudsman.

In closing, I want to reiterate that the Bloc is voting in favour of Bill C-13 with the amendment. We truly hope that when we return in the fall we can present legislative measures to help soldiers who return from combat with injuries by giving them better financial support.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) Act
Government Orders

June 16th, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-13 on behalf of my party.

I want to say at the outset that the military looks for young people as recruits. It is not looking for older people my age. The military attracts and advertises to a younger group of people who are not really joining for the benefits and who do not necessarily understand what they are getting into, at the end of the day. They may think, perhaps wrongly, that they are going to be taken care of if they fulfill their mission and something befalls them in the process.

Therefore, I think it is a positive sign, unlike in World War I and World War II, when we had cases of post traumatic stress and suicide and these issues tended to be ignored, covered up, and downplayed as signs of weakness on the part of individuals.

In today's environment, certainly since the end of the gulf war, we are seeing more interest in post-traumatic stress disorder issues. It is definitely something we have to look at. The military personnel have to be made aware that we are prepared to look after them a little more than we have in the past.

I have a 23-year-old son in the reserves. As a matter of fact, he moved to Kingston on June 1, and he will be going to Afghanistan in November. He is not concerned about these issues, even though he is aware of the statistics and so on. People in his position are not necessarily preoccupied with what could possibly happen.

However, those of us who have been around for a while know historically that there is a certain percentage of people who will develop problems in a war environment. Therefore, we have to prepare ourselves to take care of those instances.

I know that the Bloc member who just spoke gave some statistics. About 4% of soldiers have suicidal tendencies when they come back from Kandahar, and 15% have mental health issues. The member wants us to look at perhaps a more comprehensive approach to the EI program.

Since the employment insurance system was set up in the 1940s, we have seen a positive progression of the system to the point where, in the 1970s, the system was very open, and many people were able to take advantage of it. However, it was curtailed and cut back somewhat in the last number of years. We saw for the first time, I believe it was the first time, a sitting government take money, take the surpluses from the EI system and use them to pay down the deficit. We saw that to the tune of $57 billion.

One might ask what is wrong with that. The answer is that the money does not belong to the government. It is money that is raised from the workers themselves and that is matched by the companies that employ them. Therefore, it is not right for the government to be using that money essentially as a source of revenue to pay down the debt of the country. It is essentially robbing the workers and the employers of these contributions.

Now that we have gone through a very large recession over the last year, it has become clear that there are some problems with employment insurance that need to be fixed. We have seen some measures on the part of the government. Last year, $1 billion, which was agreed to by the government and the NDP, funded measures for self-employed people under Bill C-56.

We have had several bills introduced in the House. The question is why we are doing this in a piecemeal fashion. It is not dissimilar to the crime agenda of the government. Rather than introducing those bills on a one-off basis, in a boutique sort of fashion, we asked why the government did not, as it did for the budget implementation bill, which by the way we did not agree with, simply put all these changes in an omnibus bill, bring it to Parliament, and make up for 100 years of inaction on much-needed reforms in the Criminal Code. The same approach should happen here.

We should deal with all these issues in one big bill. The bill is, of course, being supported unanimously in the House. However, my friend, the member for Winnipeg Centre, pointed out initially, when the bill was introduced, that this was something that probably could have been done simply through an administrative measure, perhaps through an order in council.

It affects perhaps 50 to 60 soldiers a year. The cost of the program is around $500,000 to $600,000 a year. Basically, it amends the Employment Insurance Act to extend the benefit period, the period of duration of parental benefits, for Canadian Forces members whose period of parental leave is deferred or who are directed to return to duty from parental leave. That was an oversight in our system in the past. The Conservative member who introduced the bill was certainly attentive to that missing part, so he introduced this bill. It is very positive from his point of view.

Our critic, the member for Acadie—Bathurst, brought in an amendment. We thought it was a good suggestion, and we still do, that would allow the bill to apply to the RCMP and police forces, because there are several members from the police forces and the RCMP who travel with our regular forces and our reserves when they go into theatre. There are also some who are in Haiti at the moment. We feel that they should be covered under the bill as well. The Liberal members also seem to be agreeable to that. For whatever reason, at committee, that particular amendment was not adopted. I am really not sure why that would have been a problem. Nevertheless, it was not adopted.

The fact of the matter is that it is time for us to sit back. We have to proceed, obviously, and pass the bill today, but we have to have the government, or a new government, at some point in time, do a comprehensive study. It should not be one that takes a decade, but at least do a comprehensive study of the EI program. Get input from all of the interested parties. Bring in a comprehensive approach to EI so that we can get away from this piecemeal approach to EI reform, which is basically predicated on the basis of what sort of press conference or press coverage we can get on a limited measure on a certain day. That is not what the public of the country sent us here to do. That is not the way they want us to approach the legislative agenda of the country. They want to see a comprehensive plan for EI. They want to see a comprehensive plan for other sectors of our country as well.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) Act
Government Orders

May 7th, 2010 / 10 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to continue my speech on Bill C-13, which would amend the employment insurance act. This bill would enable soldiers to receive their full parental benefits and their full parental leave if they are sent on a mission while on parental leave. The soldiers would have the right to take their leave when they return from the mission. If they were on a mission when they were entitled to leave, they could use it when they return.

As I was explaining, the government should have adopted this measure, along with others, a long time ago. The young men and women, Quebeckers and Canadians, who enrol in the armed forces are doing a job. I have had the chance to speak to some of them. This is far from fighting for the Queen. These young people are ready for adventure. That is what the armed forces advertises. That is what they are trying to sell.

They consider it to be a job, and more and more, they are expecting to be treated like workers. Parental leave is part of the new rights. Family rights. It is part of what we refer to as the work-life balance. The government must take a closer look at this situation, otherwise it will have a hard time recruiting.

Out of personal interest, I took training in workplace sociology. We need to understand that the new generations, generations X and Y, unlike the baby boomers and the veterans before us, work to live. The baby boomers and veterans before us lived to work. It is completely different. The armed forces must pay more attention to labour rights issues. Young men and women choose a job when they enrol. They see opportunities and we must be able to continue to offer them opportunities. We also need to be very respectful of their rights.

As I said, they work to live. Their goal in life is to work so that they can afford recreational activities and have fun once they retire. We should be improving their work conditions. That is what the government must do. We need to stop thinking that they will be excited and want to enrol if we give them nicer equipment and new toys. Enrolling, to them, is like starting a job. We have to keep passing legislation that will improve their work conditions. If we apply this outlook on life to amendments to the Employment Insurance Act, it would allow them to take the parental leave that they missed out on because they were on a mission or that was cut short because they had to go on a mission.

That is one angle, but there are others as well. Because of the work they are doing, they have psychological and physical needs that must be taken care of. They are putting their lives in danger. This is not just any kind of work. It is dangerous. They chose to do it because they love adventure and that is what the advertisements promise them. They very quickly realize that it is very dangerous. They are risking their lives and that, inevitably, can cause emotional shock. This type of work can also cause physical problems.

This service has to be provided. We are not getting from the government the feeling of any firm desire to invest in physical rehabilitation and psychological support. Yet, that is how we can attract young men and women into the military.

In addition, there is a petition being circulated which calls for the compensation scheme for injured military personnel under the Veterans Charter to be amended so that they receive a lifetime pension. Again, this is about working conditions.

The Conservatives have to stop thinking that the young men and women, the young Quebeckers who enrol do so for the country or for the Queen. That is completely out of date. This is the age of Internet and video games. Many young people really enjoy playing war.

In their ads, the Canadian Forces offer young people a taste of adventure. Inevitably, some join the army, but they look at it like a job. The course I took on the sociology of work made me realize that the young men and women who join the army are no different from those who choose other types of jobs.

As I said, generation X and the new generation Y work to live. Working is something they have to do to pay for their leisure time. We live in an age of leisure. The new generations are not like us; we learned to live to work. Work was important to us and even more important to our parents and grandparents. That is what they lived for, but the new generations are the complete opposite. The psychology of the young men and women who enlist in the army is no different from that of their peers. We have to be able to offer them attractive working conditions, because serving in the army is a job for them. The army is their employer, and they consider military service a job. I know what I am talking about. Studies have been done that show this is true.

The generations that come after us, the baby boomers, will have more job opportunities, which stands to reason. In Quebec alone, 150,000 jobs will be available around 2018. Young people know this, and they are well aware that if they do not like a job, they can always look for another one, because they will have no trouble finding work.

We can try to convince them otherwise, but they will let us know that that has not been their experience. We are going to have to adapt, which is why I took this course on the sociology of work. It is clear that employers who cannot adapt will go out of business. Quite simply, they will have no more employees. That means that if the army does not adapt, people will stop enlisting. The Conservatives may think they can still impose mandatory enlistment, but that would surprise me. It would not go over very well, and they could forget about it in Quebec.

We must be very respectful of the work our young men and women, our sons and daughters, Quebeckers and Canadians, do for the armed forces.

This bill must be improved. It changes employment insurance so that soldiers who would have been entitled to parental benefits or parental leave would still be entitled if they are on mission, but these benefits must be made retroactive for soldiers who have just lost their entitlement because they were on mission in Afghanistan, for example.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) Act
Government Orders

May 7th, 2010 / 10:10 a.m.
See context

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia
Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Minister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member's comments and I am a bit disappointed that he minimized the role that people play in our military as just a job. Lots of people join the military for Queen and country, for protecting our freedoms, human rights and all the benefits we enjoy as Canadians.

The member sort of brushed off the history of the armed forces. Generation after generation of families and individuals joined the military because their parents and their grandparents did. They fought for our freedom. People know full well that when they volunteer for the army, the air force or the navy, they may be called upon to fight for our great country. That is not just a job, that is a calling. The people who do this surely need to be properly compensated, and this government has done more than any other government to ensure they are compensated and that they have the tools they need to do their job.

Could the hon. member maybe moderate the rhetoric and at least recognize that people in the military are doing what they believe in and are fighting and representing Canada abroad to make our country better for Queen and country.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) Act
Government Orders

May 7th, 2010 / 10:10 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, once again, I am not surprised by the minister's comments. He truly is a Reform Conservative. He can believe what he wants, but the problem is that even if the children of CF members were willing to take their fathers' places, the numbers would still be lower because baby boomers had fewer children. More and more of the young men and women who will enlist do not come from military families. If he thinks there will be enough children from military families to take over for their fathers, he is mistaken. The armed forces are going to face personnel shortages.

My colleague said these people enlist to fight for their country. That is not how the armed forces are advertised in the media. Instead, the ads ask young people if they like adventure. The armed forces are selling adventure and that is fine. I have a great deal of respect for military work.

The problem is that for young men and women of generation X and generation Y, it is a job like any other. Those generations work to live and have a completely different outlook from that of their parents and grandparents.

We can continue with the status quo, but if we do not address the working conditions, the armed forces are going to face personnel shortages.

At least I had the chance to share my thoughts here today, to wake up the Conservatives, the Liberals and the NDP. They are wrong to believe that all young men and women who enlist do so for the Queen.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) Act
Government Orders

May 7th, 2010 / 10:10 a.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I assure the hon. member that he does not need to wake up the NDP. We are very attuned to this issue. We are in favour of sending the bill to committee and I believe we are in support of the Bloc's amendment to backdate the coverage for people who are already in the process, because the bill says that the measure will not start until it receives royal assent.

However, is he planning to support the NDP amendment brought forward by the member for Acadie—Bathurst, which would expand the coverage of these 50 to 60 people who would be covered under the bill to include members of the police forces who are deployed as part of missions outside of Canada, along with the military?

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) Act
Government Orders

May 7th, 2010 / 10:15 a.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I commend my colleague from the NDP. He and his colleagues are on the right track with the realization that better working conditions should be provided to our young men and women who enlist in the forces. With respect to the amendment, I do not sit on the committee that will deal with the bill but, given that it involves parental leave among other things, I personally have no problem with this being extended to police forces and to the RCMP.

I have no problem with that, especially since, if we look at the trends with the new generations, those of our children and grandchildren, we can see that, without better working conditions, they will shy away from hazardous occupations because they will have many other opportunities. The fact is that those generations will get many job offers and they will take those with the best working conditions.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) Act
Government Orders

May 7th, 2010 / 10:15 a.m.
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Bloc

Roger Pomerleau Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I agree with my colleague's observation that young people today are not always driven by the same motivation that their fathers and grandfathers were. Many members of my family were in the armed forces 30 or 40 years ago and a number of other family members are in the army today. They each have completely different reasons that motivate them. Young people today realize that it is above all a job and they flat out say that they go oversees to help people in impossible situations and not out of a sense of national pride.

My question for my colleague is the following. We know that soldiers who return from combat with physical or psychological injuries receive lump sums for those injuries. This has even been criticized by the Canadian Forces ombudsman, who said that he did not see why people who have been psychologically injured should have a large sum of money put at their disposal when they are often under the influence of alcohol or drugs. That is what he said. We have the example of General Roméo Dallaire, which does not go all that far back.

Does my colleague not think that implementing appropriate measures to give soldiers the same rights as other workers is a much better way to help those who are defending us abroad, defending the government's positions ?

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) Act
Government Orders

May 7th, 2010 / 10:15 a.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Drummond for sharing his perspective on this issue. As he said, members of his own family were or are in the Canadian Forces. He understands that if we want to renew our armed forces, if we want the qualified personnel we need, we have to offer better working conditions and support for mental health needs. We need to prioritize support for problems caused by accidents or physical problems because that is part of the working conditions.

We have to be able to tell our young men and women that we know they are risking their lives, and that if anything bad ever happens to them, they will get help. We need to stop buying them war toys and make sure that these young men and women get the same working conditions as other workers. All other workers, whether they are in the construction industry or some other industry, are covered by workplace accident laws. Those workers get support. We have to do at least that much for our military personnel or nobody will want to join the armed forces.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) Act
Government Orders

May 7th, 2010 / 10:20 a.m.
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Bloc

Monique Guay Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill that deeply affects us all because there are important changes to be made. Wars are not what they once were. The situation has changed since the last world war, in 1945.

The soldiers we sent to Afghanistan at the very beginning were supposed to be peacemakers and rebuild the country. Their mission changed along the way. These soldiers were trained to rebuild the country, but now they are engaged in a war without having received any training before leaving. They received another type of training and have had to change their work and adjust to a war in which they did not necessarily decide to participate at the beginning. They have remained in Afghanistan. I would say that these men—and women, as there are now many women in the army—are courageous. We have lost many soldiers since the beginning and that is a sad reality. However, we accepted our responsibilities and will stay there until 2011.

When young people join the army, they tell themselves that it is a job. It is not just a job, it is a commitment. They do not sign up for a 9 to 5 job. They go out into the field and do not know what they will be dealing with. The land is littered with mines and IEDs explode everywhere. They build a school and it is destroyed the next day. There are situations that our soldiers were not necessarily prepared to deal with.

Having said that, we do not oppose the bill, but we would like to make some improvements. When we change a law, let us get it right in the first place so that it respects the rights of military workers who choose to enter the army and risk their lives while doing their work, which is difficult work. It is not a 9 to 5 job. It is a hard job that takes them away from their family for months, sometimes years. They should receive all the help available when they return, in order to lead as normal a life as possible.

What I am really concerned about are soldiers' many physical and psychological needs. I would like to share some statistics. If I were in the government's position, I would be really worried about the way I was treating the men and women who decide to join the army. The armed forced should provide adequate follow-up for soldiers because 4% of the Kandahar veterans develop suicidal tendencies. That is a huge number. They do not just develop suicidal tendencies; several young people have committed suicide.

This is a serious problem. Parents whose children come back after four or five months are not equipped to deal with this kind of situation. They do not know how to react. I am talking about young people who still live with their parents, but there are also young fathers who come back completely transformed. Families have no resources to deal with this situation.

Anyone returning from Kandahar or any other war-torn country experiences shock. Right now, no resources at all are made available to help them. About 4.6% of them have symptoms of severe depression and over 15% have mental health issues. That number is huge. That adds up to 20%.

That is why I believe that the government and society are failing the soldiers who come back from the front, from a war, and it is a war. They need to get help, but they may not have the means to pay for that help.

I believe that should be an integral part of each mission. As soon as soldiers, male or female, return from Kandahar or anywhere else, they should be placed under observation to ensure that they are capable of normal social reintegration. If they are not, we have to make sure that we give them the resources they need to get better. I believe that is critical.

I would like to tell hon. members about a young man who served two tours in Kandahar. Before going on his first mission, this young man really believed that this was a job and that he would go and work over there for six months and see what happened. He was also looking for some discipline, which he got with training when he went on mission. When he returned from his first tour, he did not feel at home anymore. He did not feel he could readjust to society, so he went back for another six months, but when he came home again, he was completely unable to reintegrate and lived on the fringes of society.

His parents, who did not know what to do or how to deal with him anymore, tried to get help. But people need specialized help in such cases. You cannot just ask a psychologist who looks after people with psychological problems caused by a separation or something else to treat this sort of problem. This young man was returning from the war. He had seen his friends die in battle or lose legs or arms. These people need specialized help when they come home. But there is a serious lack of help, and we must find solutions very, very quickly.

In my opinion, when this bill goes to committee, the committee members will have to look closely at this issue, because if we do not act right away, we are going to lose countless people. We are going to lose more people when they come back from the war than we lose in battle. This is disturbing, and it is not very reassuring. It means that we are not doing our jobs in this House and that the government is not doing its job. It means that the government does not care about our soldiers. That should not be the perception, but it is right now.

There are people who are losing children because they commit suicide. There have been a number of cases where men have killed themselves on returning home from the war, and the women with young children they leave behind feel ignored.

In addition, we must take all kinds of things into account in this bill, such as the pension. If a soldier is killed on the battle field, the widow or widower receives only 50% of the pension. Have they not considered that this person gave his life and perhaps spent several years defending a country, protecting it and trying to restore order? It is unacceptable that the soldier's parents, or a mother who is left alone to raise three children, are left with nothing.

I think that we must absolutely ensure that families receive more than half of the pension. They should receive at least three quarters to ensure that they can survive. The family will be going through an extremely difficult time. It will have to rebuild. The mother will have to start her life over to enable her kids to go to school and to provide all of the basic necessities.

I do not think that is too much to ask. When a soldier has spent years at war, in Afghanistan or elsewhere, it is not too much to ask that a spouse would receive more money to get through this mourning period and to start over, which is not easy.

Furthermore, we must ensure that these men and women receive psychological help. Help not only for the soldiers, but also for the families, because they will be scarred for life. Losing a loved one in war is tragic and traumatic. Often, these men and women fall into a depression and are not even able to care for their children. I think it is important to provide immediate support and to offer them assistance. They must have access to specialists, which is not the case right now. They need specialists.

Roméo Dallaire himself has talked about how unbearable life was when he returned and how people are left to fend for themselves when they come home. This measure must be a priority. We have to think about the money we should be giving these families, and also about the emotional support that people need. It is very important. We have to think not only about the families, but also about the parents and other people who are affected, including brothers and sisters. It is important.

When a tragedy occurs at a school for example, psychological support is always provided within 24 hours. Within 24 hours, psychologists, psychiatrists, specialists and social workers arrive at the school to provide support and to comfort the young people who have had a shock, and provide them with the necessary care to get through the crisis.

Why could we not do the same thing for our soldiers? I think it is the least we could do.

I think it is a shame that nothing is being done. I hope that with this bill we will truly focus on this because it is necessary. Mark my words, over the coming months and years, there will be more soldiers committing suicide and being ill after their return than dying on the battlefield, and that is completely unacceptable. In any event, even one person lost in a war is one too many.

These soldiers come home with psychological, psychiatric and physical wounds. It is not easy to go on with life after losing an arm or a leg. It is not easy to find a job after being a soldier for many years either. It is difficult even if it has not been so many years, even if the soldier has only been in the army for five years. It is almost impossible for soldiers to go to work in a 9 to 5 job. They do not work from 9 to 5. They work in the field, always on alert, always on their guard and always protecting the public and protecting their own lives. And yet, after all that, we expect them to fit into any old job.

And that is why employment insurance is such an important issue. We have been saying this forever—we need to increase benefits from 55% to 60% and the number of weeks needs to be increased for military personnel so that when they return home they really have the time to resume a normal life and ensure that they find a job that really suits them.

I doubt that when they come home they wake up the next morning knowing what they want to go into. They have other work to do. They have to exorcize some of the war demons, forget everything they saw and deal with all of the psychological wounds. They have to take some time to get reoriented and they need help with that. They need intervenors—people who will meet with them, who can guide them and tell them what they would be good at. Perhaps soldiers would be excellent intervenors. Or maybe they could work with children. We do not know.

The important thing is that they receive guidance. That is a necessity and it will take time. They must also be able to provide for their families and meet their own needs. That takes money. And that is where employment insurance is very important. They need to have the financial ability and the necessary tools to resume a normal life.

Those who lose a limb—an arm or a leg—or suffer other physical trauma should be compensated. We should not give them a lump sum if they lose an arm. We do not give them a lump sum if they lose a leg. The person loses much more when that happens. First, there is terrible a psychological shock and, second, where will these people work afterwards? What will they do for work?

What does a young person of 25 do after losing an arm or a leg? Small miracles can be done, but we must make sure these people are well compensated and well taken care of, so they can also go on with their lives in another field.

I think a great deal needs to be done and very little has been done so far. I would say that we here in Parliament have done a less than stellar job supporting the troops we send overseas. We are all proud of them. We have Canadian Forces members representing us in Kandahar, but we need to take care of these people when they come home.

Some come home and are very tough, very strong. They will do fine and thank goodness. I am very happy for them, very happy indeed. Perhaps they will pursue a career in the military for the rest of their lives. However, other people come home and have a completely different experience. We must help those people.

We also need to think about parental leave. I will close on this thought, because I think I am almost out of time. Parental leave is important. If they cannot take it while they are overseas—which is understandable, since they may have to stay over there if there is a crisis—they must be able to defer that leave. If they come home to take their parental leave but are called back to duty because of an emergency, that leave must not be lost; instead, it must be deferred. I do not think this is too much to ask. It is the same amount of money, except that, if we send that person back overseas, the parental leave must be granted at a later date. I think this would only be fair, because these people have families, too.

We cannot treat Canadian Forces members like objects. They are human beings like us. The hours these people work are appalling, and they see things that we here in the House might not be able to endure.

Accordingly, I think we must show them some respect and give them all the help they need so that when they come home, they continue making us proud, they continue to feel proud of themselves, and they can continue living balanced, normal, healthy lives.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) Act
Government Orders

May 7th, 2010 / 10:40 a.m.
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Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia
Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Minister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, I find it very ironic that the Bloc members are saying those things. In fact, they voted against the Veterans Charter. They voted against providing the equipment that the men and women in uniform need. They have voted against every initiative this government, and really any other government, has put forward to support the military members and their families.

First the Bloc members degrade the motivation of our men and women for their service to our great country. Then they say the thing they are now saying. Then when it comes time to stand and be counted, to provide the supports for our military, they vote no every time.

Will the Bloc members apologize for all the times they have said no to our military and for their refusal to support the military?