House of Commons Hansard #127 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.

Topics

Income Tax Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Income Tax Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those against will please say nay.

Income Tax Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Income Tax Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion, the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Income Tax Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Call in the members.

The recorded division stands deferred until Monday at the end of government orders.

Income Tax Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Jacques Saada Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like the division to be deferred until Tuesday at the end of government orders.

Income Tax Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the House give its consent to defer the division until Tuesday, instead of Monday, at the end of government orders?

Income Tax Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act
Government Orders

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

Winnipeg North—St. Paul
Manitoba

Liberal

Rey D. Pagtakhan Minister of Veterans Affairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Winnipeg North—St. Paul
Manitoba

Liberal

Rey D. Pagtakhan Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I thought the member would pose a question to the minister but since he proceeded to debate I will make my comments and perhaps respond to some of the questions he included in his debate.

First, I want to thank him for acknowledging the importance of the education assistance program for children of deceased veterans killed in the line of duty.

Second, on the question of whether the time prisoners of war spend eluding capture after an escape is included in the calculation of the benefits given to them, I assure the member that has been the interpretation since 1988. If the member should come across any case where it could have been interpreted otherwise, I would ask him to please let me know and my department will look into it.

Lastly, I would reiterate that on the extension of benefits to the surviving spouses, I in fact raised that issue myself when we were discussing it with the leaders of the national veterans organizations. It was not an easy task when we could not include those whose benefits had ended.

We were in a dilemma. Should we delay proceeding with a package of initiatives, knowing the twilight years of our veterans, while we continued to search for sources of funding for the additional funding that we would need? Or, should we proceed since time was of the essence? With much difficulty and in our collective unanimity we decided to proceed.

I just wanted to convey to the House that it was not for lack of heart or lack of will. It was only the reality of the time.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I concur with the minister but I have to repeat that day after day Canadians see huge sums of money, into the millions, spent here and there. The government would not get one complaint from Canadians living anywhere were it to do the honourable thing and include all those veterans' widows. That is the honourable thing to do and that is what Canada should do and must do.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to extend my appreciation and my compliments to the hon. member for Souris—Moose Mountain. He has very passionately spoken on behalf of all veterans, widows and POWs. I commend him for his comments.

He made some interesting points. I was happy to see the minister taking notes during the debate. It does not happen often. Many times when we debate something ministers are not present in the House on that particular topic when someone is speaking from the opposition.

I have two points to make. First, in my riding in the area of Cloverdale the cenotaph where we go for Remembrance Day is in bad shape. I have asked the minister and the government many times to fix it but nothing has been done. Why is the government ignoring the demands from veterans, even the small things which will appease them and at least restore the honour in the men and women who gather to remember that particular day in honour of our veterans as well as those who sacrificed their lives for the country?

I had a constituent in my office who was crying because her veteran's widow cheque, which was $981 per month until the government cut it to $91 a month, was, shamefully, cut further. She now receives a cheque for only $9 per month. She asked me what she could do or buy with $9. It is painful to remember every month when she gets that cheque for $9.

Something is wrong here. Does the member think the government is ignoring the realities and the needs and demands of those who sacrificed their lives for this country and who made all of us proud and honoured?

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, with regard to the first point and the cenotaphs, I happen to live in an area where the number of legion branches every year are closing very rapidly as depopulation takes place. However I must commend the legions outside of that for moving in and sometimes doing the proper work to restore and preserve that monument which is revered throughout the year but particularly on November 11.

This topic has been discussed in committee. It has come before us many times and there is no set program that I know of that would do that. Perhaps that is a good thing for the committee to take a look at. It would be a humongous task. We may even go so far as to say that some support may be necessary. However I find it amazing how easy it is to raise some money for something like this.

In the latter case my colleague mentioned, I receive hundreds of letters, as does the minister, from across Canada in regard to Veterans Affairs but unless we know each individual case and the contents therein, it is very difficult to pass judgment on any one case. It sounds unreasonable in this particular case that that is exactly what happened but I do know there are widows living on $1,100 a month. I also know that even under our standards that is well below the poverty line. That is where we should be concentrating.

I thank my colleague for his support. We have an obligation in Canada to preserve our past. It is not only part of Veterans Affairs but I suggest it is part of our heritage. Maybe being a little bit older than some, but not everyone, I remember grown up during those years. I as an educator have been very disappointed with what I hear and see now in regard to our military. I am very disappointed with that.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Rey D. Pagtakhan Winnipeg North—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a brief point of order to correct what I said. I said that 1988 was the beginning of the reference interpretation of the meaning of incarceration. I meant 1978. 1988 refers to the time scale itself.