House of Commons Hansard #30 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was public.

Topics

Speaker's Ruling
Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

There are 11 motions and amendments standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-201.

Motions Nos. 1 to 11 will be grouped for debate and voted upon according to the voting pattern available at the table.

I wish to inform the House that the motions propose to restore the title and the original clauses of the bill which were deleted in committee.

I draw members' attention to the fact that according to our practice, the majority of these motions would ordinarily be inadmissible if not accompanied by a royal recommendation. However, they were selected since they propose to restore all of the bill's clauses which were deleted in committee.

That being said, members will recall my ruling of May 12, 2009, in the Debates at page 3426, identifying Bill C-201 as requiring a royal recommendation. This ruling would remain in effect should the motions be adopted to amend this bill and restore it to its original form.

I will now put Motions Nos. 1 to 11 to the House.

Motions in Amendment
Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

moved:

Motion No. 1

That Bill C-201 be amended by restoring the title as follows:

“An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act (deletion of deduction from annuity)”

Motion No. 2

That Bill C-201 be amended by restoring Clause 1 as follows:

“1. Subsection 2(1) of the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act is amended by adding the following in alphabetical order:

“Year’s Maximum Pensionable Earnings” has the same meaning as in the Canada Pension Plan.”

Motion No. 3

That Bill C-201 be amended by restoring Clause 2 as follows:

“2. Paragraph 5(1)(a) of the Act is replaced by the following:

(a) four per cent of the portion of his or her salary that is less than or equal to the Year’s Maximum Pensionable Earnings; and”

Motion No. 4

That Bill C-201 be amended by restoring Clause 3 as follows:

“3. (1) Subsections 15(2), (2.1) and (3) of the Act are repealed.

(2) Subsection 15(7) of the Act is repealed.”

Motion No. 5

That Bill C-201 be amended by restoring Clause 4 as follows:

“4. The portion of section 40 of the Act before paragraph (a) is replaced by the following:

40. (1) If, on the death of a contributor who, on ceasing to be a member of the Canadian Forces, was entitled to an immediate annuity or an annual allowance, there is no person to whom an allowance provided in this Part may be paid, or where the persons to whom such allowance may be paid die or cease to be entitled to it and no other amount may be paid to them under this Part, any amount by which the calculated amount, within the meaning of subsection (2), exceeds the aggregate of all amounts paid to those persons and to the contributor under this Part or Part V of the former Act shall be paid”

Motion No. 6

That Bill C-201 be amended by restoring Clause 5 as follows:

“5. Subparagraph 42(1.1)(a)(i) of the Act is replaced by the following

(i) four per cent of the portion of his or her salary that is less than or equal to the Year’s Maximum Pensionable Earnings, and”

Motion No. 7

That Bill C-201 be amended by restoring Clause 6 as follows:

“6. Paragraph 50(1)(k) of the Act is repealed.”

Motion No. 8

That Bill C-201 be amended by restoring Clause 7 as follows:

“7. Subsection 3(1) of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act is amended by adding the following in alphabetical order:

“Year’s Maximum Pensionable Earnings” has the same meaning as in the Canada Pension Plan.”

Motion No. 9

That Bill C-201 be amended by restoring Clause 8 as follows:

“8. Paragraph 5(1)(a) of the Act is replaced by the following:

(a) four per cent of the portion of his or her pay that is less than or equal to the Year’s Maximum Pensionable Earnings; and”

Motion No. 10

That Bill C-201 be amended by restoring Clause 9 as follows:

“9. (1) Subsections 10(2), (2.1) and (3) of the Act are repealed.

(2) Subsection 10(7) of the Act is repealed.”

Motion No. 11

That Bill C-201 be amended by restoring Clause 10 as follows:

“10. Paragraph 26(g) of the Act is repealed.”

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak again to Bill C-201. For those who are listening and for those in the House, I will give a little history on Bill C-201.

About five years ago, three ex-service personnel came to my office and discussed with me the concerns of what they called the clawback of their military pensions at age 65, as well as the Canada pension deductions, or clawbacks when members were disabled and collected Canada pension disability, as related to their superannuation. Those three men were John Labelle, Roger Boutin and Mel Pittman, all of Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia.

These fine gentlemen have petitioned people across the country, to the point where close to 125,000 individuals have written and talked about this issue. The territorial legislature of Yukon is fully supportive of it. The provincial government of Nova Scotia and the other two provincial parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives, have all agreed to it in their debates as well.

We are trying to ensure that the men and women who serve our country, the RCMP and the Canadian military, have financial dignity when they require it.

The premise began in 1966. When the Canada pension plan came into being, the government split the contributions of deductions to superannuation and to the Canada pension plan. The problem was nobody in the military was advised that this would happen to them. This was a decision made without their knowledge and without their consent. It was done on their behalf, not knowing that years later, when they retired, what they would receive was a CPP, Canada pension plan, or QPP, Quebec pension plan, deduction from their superannuation.

We have said very clearly that nobody, when they become disabled or when they turn 65, should lose money.

It fundamentally works like this in the disabled aspect. I know a gentleman who is an RCMP officer. After 30 years of service, he became disabled and had to leave the RCMP. He received 64% of his superannuation and then Great West Life topped it up to 75% by adding an additional 11%. After two years, Great West Life shut it off and then he had to apply for Canada pension disability.

He applied for Canada pension disability and received a lump sum of over $16,000. The first call he received was from the RCMP annuity branch, which said he owed it over $11,000. That would have been the deduction if he had received CPP from the beginning. Therefore, he had to pay all that money back. Then Great West Life told him he owed it close to $7,000 or $8,000.

Therefore, he received $16,000 and had to pay back over $19,000 because Great West Life clawed back all the money it had paid him. When he turns 65, his Canada pension disability will shut off and he will get a reduced CPP, which is deducted from his superannuation. Therefore, he loses money once again. We should not have to tell our heroes, the RCMP and our military, that this will happen to them.

I have spoken to many veterans, their families and RCMP officers across the country. Bill C-201 affects only 96,000 of them. There are 84,000 veterans of the military and 12,000 of the RCMP. We have close to 700,000 military and RCMP individuals who are retired, but this bill only applies to those who have received their superannuation, and they would have had to have served over 20 years to get that. As members know, a few years ago changes were made to the eligibility of an early pension plan and now these members have to serve 25 years to get an earlier pension plan.

Who am I talking about? The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence is a tremendous individual in the House of Commons. He served 30 years in the Air Force and I believe he flew fighter jets as well. The former minister of defence, who I believe now is the whip of the Conservative Party, also was a general. These men have served their country. They are just two in the House, but there are many across the country who have gallantly put their lives on the line so we could all have a good night's sleep.

I remind everybody that when the men and women of the armed forces and the RCMP sign on the bottom line, they have unlimited liability. We in Parliament, whether in government or in opposition, have the ultimate responsibility of looking after their needs.

I have spoken to so many individuals who in their career have moved, in some cases 17 times, across the country and internationally. In many cases their spouses were not able to hold down jobs. If potential employers found out that the husband, for example, was in the service, they probably would not hire the wife because the family was constantly moving. The spouse lost the opportunity to contribute to his or her own pension plan.

Again, these men and women are the heroes of our country. These are the men and women who allow us to have a good night's sleep. With this bill, I am trying to ensure that their financial needs are met when they turn 65.

Is the government doing anything legally wrong? No, it is not. It is following the rules according to what happened in 1966. That is a fact. If the government were to follow what we have suggested, the average person of the 96,000 I am talking about would receive about $200 extra a month in total allotment.

What the government has refused to say is that they would receive less in old age security payments and in some cases less in GIS, and that would be a saving for the government. In some cases some of these individuals may end up in a higher tax bracket and would be taxed on that.

Most important, what would the average disabled veterans or RCMP officers or those who retired at age 65 do with these additional funds? They would pump that money right back into the economy.

What we are talking about in many cases is fairness and respect and financial dignity for these individuals when they retire.

Let us go over a few things that have happened this week alone when it comes to our veterans.

There is a long-term care facility in Cape Breton that has been refused money to get a proper kitchen area to feed hot meals to veterans.

We have found out that today one of the hospitals in London, Ontario, will shut down 72 beds over the next year. That is 72 hospital beds for veterans that will no longer be eligible for those we call the modern-day veteran. We also found out that Allied veterans cannot have access to hospital beds in this country.

We also found out that the government is still refusing to have a public inquiry into agent orange, even though it promised that when in opposition.

We also found out that the current Prime Minister, when he was in opposition, promised that all widows and widowers of VIP would receive it, immediately, not some of them and not under strict criteria.

These are some of the problems veterans and their families are having.

I was asked by these three gentlemen, Roger, Mel and John, if there was any way this could be fixed and if legislation could be brought forward to assist them. That is exactly what we have done.

I do not want members to get me wrong. There are certain things the government has done, with the previous government, to improve the lot of veterans and their families. The new veterans charter is an example of moving the yardsticks forward. Is it perfect? No. That is why committees are examining the veterans charter right now. There is so much more the government could be doing.

What I found quite despicable the other day was the Prime Minister of Canada on Easter Saturday standing at a Calgary food bank and filling up a hamper, a food bank designed specifically for veterans. Under no circumstances should any veteran or family member ever have to go to a food bank. That is despicable, and the Conservatives should hang their heads in shame for that.

The reality is that Bill C-201 is affordable. Even the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence said it would cost about $100 million, and he is absolutely correct. However, if we take in all the savings the government could have, this is an investment in our veterans and in our RCMP members and their families.

My party and I firmly believe that the men and women who serve our country deserve our greatest gratitude. They deserve to have this bill passed through the House of Commons.

Motions in Amendment
Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Edmonton Centre
Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore proposes restoring Bill C-201 to its original form, introduced last year after debate here in the House and lengthy consideration by the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. Nothing has changed since the standing committee agreed to remove the proposed clauses. There are some issues that do deserve discussion, and the disability issue is one. However, as for the rest of it, I am sorry. I cannot support the hon. member's motions for the same reasons as before.

This does not take away from the deep respect and immense admiration we have for the Canadian Forces and the RCMP. I am proud of my own service and my comrades, and I am just as proud of the men and women in uniform today. These military personnel and their families make many sacrifices and, in return, the Government of Canada must take care of them. The Canadian Forces pension plan is there to look after our veterans. The system is flexible and generous, which is exactly what the Canadian Forces members deserve.

In 1966, members of the Canadian Forces were paying 6% of their salaries into their pension plan or CFSA. When the Canada pension plan was integrated with the CFSA, as were all other public service pension plans, CF members continued to pay 6% of their salaries into pension benefits. The only change was that 1.8% now went to CPP and 4.2% went to CFSA.

Upon retirement, a member receives 2% of his or her best five-year average salary per year or partial year of service. The member pays 25% of the cost of that pension and the public pays the other 75%.

Members of the CF typically retire well before age 65. When they collect their CFSA upon retirement, it consists of two parts. The larger part, approximately 70%, is the lifetime benefit. That is the amount from CFSA the member will continue to receive until he or she dies. The smaller part, approximately 30%, is termed the bridge benefit and serves to bridge the pensioner's income at the full 2% per year of service until age 65 when most people start collecting CPP.

At age 65, having done its job, the bridge benefit ceases. In most cases, the amount of CPP that commences will be at least equal to the amount of the bridge benefit that ceases, thus giving the pensioner a consistent income flow throughout retirement years. That is the way it is designed. That is the way it works.

This will not be the case, though, under two circumstances. If the member does not earn taxable income between CF retirement age and age 65, he or she will not have contributed to CPP for that period. In that case, the amount of CPP eligibility will be less and it will likely be less than the bridge benefit that ceases at 65. In most cases, working or not working is a decision the member makes.

Canadians can draw CPP as early as age 60, with a reduction of .5% per month before age 65. If someone took it at age 60, his or her total reduction would be 30%. That is the reduced amount, plus indexing, that the pensioner will receive from CPP for the rest of his or her life. A CF pensioner taking CPP at age 60 will, in effect, be receiving both the bridge benefit and CPP for that five-year period. That is a good thing, but he or she must be prepared for a reduction in overall benefit when the bridge benefit ceases at age 65.

I will repeat, those are the only cases where a person is liable to receive less from CPP than he or she is getting from the bridge benefit. The total pension benefit continues to be indexed and the decision to take CPP early rests with the member.

CFSA and CPP are working exactly as set up and paid for, and they provide for a consistent indexed level of retirement income for CF members and RCMP. The essence of the argument in Bill C-201 is that CF and RCMP pensioners should be able to collect both the bridge benefit and CPP beyond age 65. This would amount to stacking the CFSA lifetime and bridge benefits and CPP, amounting to approximately a 30% increase, even though we have not paid for a stacked pension plan. It is as simple as that.

The cost to implement Bill C-201, and my hon. colleague mentioned part of it, would be prohibitive, with a one-time cost, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, of $7 billion and annual costs of $110 million, and increasing. Plan members and Canadian taxpayers would have to bear the burden of the increase in future contributions.

Are plan members prepared for additional deductions in pay? A soldier making $50,000 a year would see an increased annual pay deduction of $1,000. Would it be fair to ask taxpayers to pay the increase? The government has a responsibility to our service members, but we also have a responsibility to Canadian taxpayers to carefully manage the money they entrust to us.

Proponents of Bill C-201 suggest that the annual cost of implementation could be covered by diverting CF members' EI contributions. Annual EI contributions by CF members amount to $54 million per year, which covers less than half the annual cost. In addition, approximately 3,000 CF members use EI benefits every year for maternity leave and parental leave, and those important benefits would be denied. We care too much about our military families to do that.

Our government has acted. With the Budget Implementation Act 2006, the government approved an amendment that changed the calculation of the lifetime benefit in the recipient's favour. Therefore, the dollar amount reduced at age 65 will be less, resulting in an increased long-term pension benefit.

The very well organized advocates of Bill C-201 propose a number of what are essentially red herrings. They point to the lack of consultation and input by CF members in 1966. The CF is not a union and does not get to vote on pay and benefits. The leadership of the CF makes decisions for the members on their behalf, and that is not going to change.

There is no doubt that communication of the changes was sporadic at best, but since then, efforts have been made to inform our veterans and plan members and answer their questions. There is a website, informative publications, a 1-800 number and briefings upon approaching retirement. Ultimately, plan members are responsible for learning about and understanding their respective pay and benefits.

Some suggest that MPs have exempted themselves from what they call a clawback of the bridge benefit. I am glad the member did not bring it up, but it is on all of the websites. MPs come and go at all ages and do not collect their pensions until age 55, unlike CF members who can collect pensions years earlier. MPs do not collect any bridge benefit from or to any age; therefore, there is simply nothing to claw back. Being an easy target is part of the life of an MP, but it is simply intentionally misleading in this case.

Many point to petitions, as my hon. colleague did, signed by 100,000 or 125,000 people in support of Bill C-201. Anybody will sign a petition that holds an implied promise of more money. I do not suggest that anybody signed in bad faith; they have simply been misled. I have spoken to many former CF colleagues who knew the issue was bogus but signed anyway. Why not? While there are many former senior officers who have signed the petition, there are a great many more who have not signed. These include many former chiefs of the defence staff and leaders who are acknowledged as being strong supporters of the troops. They know it is simply not a legitimate issue.

The last time we debated the bill, I received hundreds of angry emails and phone calls, and I expect there will be more to come. Some send me their CFSA statements pointing out that at age 65, their CFSA would be reduced by x dollars per month and that they would lose indexing on that amount. What they do not send me is their CPP statement that says they will receive x dollars per month and that it will be indexed.

Some propose emotional arguments about how members of the CF have served and sacrificed themselves and their families. That is true, and I can attest to that from personal experience. Canadians respect that sacrifice and are grateful for it, but Canadians serve voluntarily. They are well paid, well treated and get excellent trades training and experience for future employment. I can also attest personally to the relevance and the generosity of the Canadian Forces superannuation plan, and retirement benefits are generous by any contemporary standard. The CF and RCMP plans are set up exactly the same way as all other public service pension plans and most other defined benefit pension plans, such as teachers plans. Where would the dominoes stop and at what cost if the bill were to be implemented?

With respect to our pension plan, our benefit is based on our investment. Members are receiving the full benefit from that investment and the pension plan is working the way it was intended.

Our government has taken our obligations to our veterans very seriously. We have implemented a veterans' bill of rights, veterans' charter and veterans' ombudsman, brought in pension income splitting and many other tax benefits for seniors, addressed the agent orange and atomic vets issues and a host of other points. In fact, we have invested about $2.1 billion more on our veterans than the previous Liberal administration did.

While we have done much for veterans and serving members, there will always be more to do and more to be considered. The disability issue is in fact a legitimate issue, and one that should be discussed, but it is lumped in with the majority of folks, the 96,000 that my colleague talked about, that have nothing to do with that issue.

Unfortunately, spending an inordinate amount of time on things like Bill C-201 distracts from examining those issues. It is a difficult issue for many, there is no doubt. I can tell hon. members it is no fun being the poster boy with my face on legion dart boards across the country.

We have all had to make tough decisions in our lives and careers and we all try to make them in the most honest and informed way possible.

As I said at the beginning, nothing has changed. Notwithstanding all of our respect and gratitude for our veterans, the bill is simply unrealistic, not founded on fact and unfortunately we cannot support it.

Motions in Amendment
Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Private Members' Business

7 p.m.

Liberal

Rob Oliphant Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-201 and the reintroduction of its clauses at report stage.

I want to begin by thanking the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore for his hard work in this endeavour, for spearheading it and also for his tenacity. The member is known for three things, at least: his tenacity in keeping issues alive before this House and in the community; his commitment to veterans, which is outstanding; and also his compassionate understanding of the needs of veterans and how they relate to ordinary lives of people.

He may also be known for his constructive approach to his role as critic. I want to thank him for keeping that constructive role and ensuring that we continually look at how to improve benefits and programs for veterans. This is part of that process.

As official opposition critic for veterans affairs, it is always an honour and truly a privilege for me to work with and to learn from so many of Canada's bravest and finest men and women. Their courage and integrity as shown to us through their years of active service is outstanding. They lead by example in showing what Canada truly is as a country.

Canadian Forces members and members of the RCMP make this country proud in their service in this country and around the world. Whether they are traditional veterans who are becoming elderly, those from World War II and Korea, or modern veterans from the cold war, from peacekeeping operations, and from failed state operations, and now from Afghanistan and most recently from Haiti, they have earned our respect. They deserve our care and our commitment to their well-being.

Bill C-201 is an act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and the RCMP Superannuation Act.

As has been explained by previous speakers, these two forces have superannuation plans that are meant to provide for members of the forces in their retirement years. Those who have served Canada in uniform inside and outside our borders receive annuities upon retirement. Like all pension plans, public and private, these annuities represent deferred income. They represent income that was forgone at one stage of life and the members receive it and accrued interest in earnings later in life. They take less income earlier, pay into a plan and receive it later. This is not some sort of a benefit that is being given to them. This is earned income, forgone income, which the government puts aside on their behalf, instead of receiving higher salaries or wages. It allows them to have a good retirement.

As the hon. member has stated very clearly that that is not the existence for many of our retired members. He spoke of the Calgary Poppy Fund. He spoke of homelessness. He spoke of a number of issues that are plaguing some of our veterans. Financial problems are part of it, but they are not the only problems. There are other problems that veterans face, but financial problems are one of them.

When veterans turn 65, some of them are surprised that the annuity they receive actually goes down by about the same amount as their CPP or QPP when it kicks in. Many of them did not know about it beforehand. Once they are able to receive those benefits at age 65, or earlier due to a disability, they realize that they have had a bridging amount they thought would continue. Many of them are surprised to not receive the full amount of CPP or QPP.

This reduction, as they perceive it, has caused a great deal of consternation in the community.

The hon. member who has presented this bill has continually reminded this House of that, and has done so eloquently and elegantly.

Members in the Liberal caucus who were here supported this bill at second reading to ensure that it received a full and fair hearing at committee. It was sent to committee for further study, consultation and deliberation. The committee did its work. At the end of the process, the Conservative members managed to vote to gut the bill completely. Every part of it was negated.

Today the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore is reintroducing each clause of the bill. We were reminded of his tenacity in doing this, and we offer our respect and our thanks for that.

As the Liberal Party critic for veterans affairs, I have recommended to our caucus that we support the reintroduction of these clauses and support the principles of this bill.

This issue is not uncomplicated. These pension plans are contributory plans. They are actuarially based on the integration of the CPP or QPP and the superannuation funds at hand. The member has advanced several reasons for supporting this bill, not the least of which is the recognition of the very special contribution of the members of the Canadian Forces and the RCMP.

There is not a member in the House on either side, frankly, who does not show a sense of gratitude and commitment that we all have to honour the covenant that has been made with members of our Canadian Forces and the RCMP. There is not a member in the House who does not approach this with great respect and due care and concern for our veterans. These men and women, our soldiers, sailors and air crew, as well as our RCMP officers, have served us and protected us and demand that we consider this fully.

We understand that their commitment and sacrifice is part and parcel of their daily work. We understand it is necessary for their families as well to have the same sense of duty and sacrifice. We understand that this concept is in full what all members of our Canadian Forces undergo from the day they enlist until the day they retire. We know of the hazards, the risks to life and limb that they undertake every day on our behalf. We need to keep the promise to ensure that their retirement years are good years.

The committee heard all of that and more. Principally the committee heard that the veterans' knowledge of the superannuation plans was not complete. The committee repeatedly heard that the veterans were surprised when they saw the reduction. Whether they should have been surprised or not is not for me to judge. What I saw as veterans came to us was that the documentation was too complex for them to grasp at times, or it was not available or accessible to them in ways they could comprehend, or it was not part of their life experience. They were often young and not considering their retirement years and did not understand the concept of bridging. For this reason our party will be supporting the bill at this stage.

Compounded with the testimony that we heard from these men and women, non-commissioned and commissioned officers, enlisted people and officers from the RCMP was that the information, preparation and readiness for retirement programs offered in years gone by were not adequate. They did not have the needed information.

We have the responsibility to correct that wrong in two ways. We have to ensure that the documentation of superannuation plans is accessible, available and understandable. We also have to correct a wrong for those who have not received the income they thought they were due. The issue of fairness has to do with accessibility, comprehensibility of materials and making sure that people are prepared for their retirement.

The hon. member who has presented this bill has been very effective in mounting a campaign, to which the parliamentary secretary referred. I want to quote from one of the main activists, Mr. John Labelle. He has written:

It is time to put the politics aside and for all Members of Parliament to demonstrate their recognition and appreciation, in a tangible way, to the men and women who have served and are currently serving our country. Take action to terminate this undemocratic, unfair and unjust treatment of Veterans and terminate this pension benefit reduction that has been imposed on them without fair and open consultation. This misguided policy violates the principle of democracy, fairness and justice as it affects the welfare of Veterans and their Families in their Golden Years.

We are all aware there will be financial implications with this bill. It is somewhat disingenuous of the member who has proposed it to not have clearly signalled that to all who are affected by it. This bill will no doubt require a royal recommendation. We will not be able to fulfill this promise unless the Conservative government comes fully on board and supports it. I hope it does so.

Motions in Amendment
Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Private Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very interested in speaking once again about Bill C-201, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act (deletion of deduction from annuity).

Concerned and sensitive as we always are, we are proud to defend veterans and members of the RCMP. In order to ensure that they will be treated fairly, the Bloc Québécois long ago decided to support the bill at second reading so that it would be studied in detail at the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Unfortunately, much to our disappointment and astonishment, once it went to the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs we quickly realized that not only did the Conservatives and Liberals not want to study the bill in detail at that time, but they wanted it gutted. As the member who spoke before me said, veterans should be treated fairly, and this is not the case with the current pension plan.

As hon. members will recall, at second reading of this bill, the Liberals supported it and decided to vote in favour of this measure, so it could be examined in committee.

Unfortunately, on November 17, 2009, when the Conservatives were throwing out all the articles of this good bill introduced by my colleague, Bill C-201, most Liberals decided to abstain, thereby shirking the responsibility they had taken on previously, and in the end, Bill C-201 was defeated. That is why we are seeing this bill again in the House.

Once again, the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore is showing his tenacity and courage by proposing amendments at the report stage, amendments that restore all the articles of Bill C-201.

Of course we will support those amendments, because we are consistent. We supported the bill because we wanted to examine it more thoroughly in committee. We still believe that this bill deserves the support of all members of this House as well as royal assent.

As parliamentarians, we must ensure that all the services provided are of good quality and adapted to the needs of veterans and their families, as a way to recognize what they did for us. That is what we are doing by examining the new veterans charter and Bill C-201.

Therefore, the Bloc Québécois is concerned about compensation for veterans and RCMP personnel when they reach retirement age.

We believe that Bill C-201 partially addresses that concern, because it is designed to put an end to the reduction of pensions for retired members of the Canadian Forces and the RCMP when they reach age 65.

The reduction can be explained by the fact that since 1966, the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and the RCMP Superannuation Act have been part of the Canada pension plan, as is the case with all federal public pensions.

When the Canada pension plan was introduced in 1966, most Canadian employers, including the federal government, decided to integrate their pension plans with the CPP rather than maintain two parallel plans.

Bill C-201, introduced by the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, would change that by deleting the deduction.

The government is asking why this bill includes only members of the armed forces and the RCMP.

I think all parliamentarians will agree that these individuals have played a unique role compared to other members of the federal public service. They have played a special role. The government and parliamentarians must honour what these people have done for Quebec and the rest of Canada. They deserve special treatment, because they have put and continue to put their lives in danger to protect the values our society holds dear.

We believe that Bill C-201 could facilitate an easier transition between military life and civilian life when a member leaves the armed forces.

That said, as I said earlier in my speech, the Bloc Québécois is concerned about how veterans' compensation is affected when they reach retirement age. I am pleased to see that, once again, the Liberals will support this bill. I hope that they will continue to support it at the committee stage. We ask them to remain consistent in their choices. I urge the Conservatives to do the same and to take a serious and thorough look at this bill, while keeping our veterans in mind. I believe that once they examine it more closely they will make the right choice and will support this bill.

The committee wishes to ensure that, three years after its adoption, this charter adequately meets the unique needs of today's veterans and their families. This was another aspect that we studied in committee. This bill is being introduced together with the new veterans charter, that we are currently studying, in recognition of their service.

We have to wonder whether it is reasonable to expect that a veteran can make the best decisions about the measures put forward in this bill. Committee review will allow us to closely examine the potential financial impact and the difficulties faced by veterans under the current pension system.

In the next few weeks, the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs will be dealing with a number of matters. The new veterans charter is definitely an important element, but other problems have been identified, especially post-traumatic stress syndrome.

We recently heard from witnesses that many soldiers, upon returning from Afghanistan, have been through very traumatic circumstances and that the Department of Veterans Affairs should provide services that are closer to where they live and more suited to their situations.

Not only do we want our veterans to have an adequate income to ensure their security and quality of life, but they should also be provided with a whole range of services to help them and their families. I believe that in the last budget the government once again missed an opportunity to provide additional support to our veterans. They have serious problems and the government has not increased resources enough to provide them with better services.

In closing, this bill will significantly improve the compensation for our veterans and RCMP members so they can have the type of retirement they deserve for the sacrifices they made during their term of service. For these reasons and in the interest of justice, I invite all members to vote for Bill C-201.

Motions in Amendment
Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Private Members' Business

7:20 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-201 this afternoon. I also was pleased to hear the comments of my good friend from the Bloc and certainly the new critic from the Liberal Party.

As the member from the Bloc has explained, Bill C-201 made it through second reading with the support of the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc. However, when it went to committee, the Conservatives brought in motions and the Liberals abstained, therefore allowing the Liberal motions to pass and derailing the bill.

Now the member has brought back the motions at this stage, which, I guess, points to how tenacious the member is. He explained in his presentation that this has been a five-year effort on his part where he has had thousands of signatures on petitions. I must say that the veterans have an exceptional champion in the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore. I do not know of any other member in the House, past or present, who would go to that sort of effort, spending five years on a bill that involves potentially a royal recommendation. He is as energized now on this issue as I am sure he was five years ago.

It was not a big surprise when I heard the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence make his speech tonight. Before I got ready for this speech I reviewed Hansard on all of the other speakers to the bill in the previous stages. I noticed that the parliamentary secretary was as downcast tonight as he was previously. He has experienced a hornet's nest dealing with this bill sponsored by the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore. Tonight he was talking about how fearful he was of the hundreds and hundreds of emails that would be coming his way tomorrow and the hundreds and hundreds of emails that he had to deal with the last time. I know he is certainly not looking forward to that. The fact is that he has every reason to expect that and should know that is what his party deserves for the way it has acted on this bill.

The Prime Minister was recently in Calgary visiting a food bank for our veterans. The Prime Minister made promises when he was the leader of the opposition. It is easy to make promises but how good is he at keeping these promises? He has been in power now over four years. He promised that he would take care of the agent orange situation. He promised a public inquiry into agent orange. Where is it and when will it happen? It is something that has been swept under the rug and probably will never happen. Certainly, as Brian Mulroney used to say, a sacred trust. This is another broken trust of the government.

Also, we are hearing more stories of veterans hospital beds being closed. I believe the member mentioned some examples today. There may be examples in my home city of Winnipeg as well that the government is contemplating. This is not the signal that the veterans want to hear from the government. They want a government that supports veterans. The member for Sackville—Eastern Shore tells us that 96,000 people are affected by the bill, out of a total of about 700,000 retired military and RCMP personnel.

What we are talking about here is roughly, in a gross sense, around $200 a month. This $200 will be spent by these veterans and will flow right back into the economy, which is exactly what we need in the type of fiscal environment that we are in at this stage. Regardless, even if the economy was not in the fragile state it is right now, if we were in a robust part of the economy, the fact of the matter is that this money going to these people will actually be spent. We are not going to see this money squirreled away, it is going to be spent.

This money is owed to and properly due to people who sacrificed themselves in the military. We all know of military families. We all know of children of military members who spent a whole childhood being moved around, three years here, three years there and changing schools. When they do that, the spouses find it very difficult to get jobs because, as the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore mentioned, employers are reluctant to hire somebody who may only be there for a year or two.

These people end up not setting down roots and not establishing long-term careers. When they find themselves at retirement age, they are at a disadvantage. They are not the only segment of society that is disadvantaged. We have a huge section of the seniors population in the country as a whole who are in a disadvantaged situation right now.

It is incumbent on the government to take action, and to take action on pensions. In the last week our leader explained that if we took, I believe, $700 million, we could raise 400,000 people who are living below the poverty line above the poverty line. Once again, this is all money that will just find its way back into the economy because these people will spend the money. They are not going to squirrel it away, sending it to offshore tax havens or spending it on worldwide cruises and palaces in the Bahamas.

I think that is a much more sensible way to spend our money than to be giving more corporate tax breaks to the banks who, as I have indicated many times before, made $15 billion last year and are paying their CEOs up to $10.5 million a year.

Juxtapose that reality to the reality here. We call ourselves a first world country. We should be much more careful when we say things like that, when we treat our seniors, retirees and veterans the way we do.

For some time I have wanted to invite the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore to Winnipeg because we have active legions in Winnipeg. I have three in my home riding. I have Royal Canadian Legion Transcona Branch No. 7 on Regent Avenue, and I have certainly spent a lot of time there. I also have Royal Canadian Legion Elmwood Branch No. 9 at 920 Nairn Avenue, and I have Royal Canadian Legion Prince Edward Branch No. 81 at 300 Trent. While I was an MLA for 23 years, I certainly attended that legion.

All three of those legions would be thrilled to have the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore appear there to speak to them about veterans' issues because he does such a phenomenal job. He is an inspiration to veterans right across the country. There is basically an open invitation on my part for him to come to Manitoba to talk to veterans. I think that would be time well spent for all concerned.

I want to encourage the three opposition parties to stick together on this bill and get the government on side as well.

Motions in Amendment
Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Private Members' Business

7:30 p.m.

West Nova
Nova Scotia

Conservative

Greg Kerr Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, we are certainly all familiar with the contents of the bill. The member recognized in putting this forward that, as he said, it requires a royal recommendation. Of course, we know that will not happen.

I know he is sincere in his efforts behind a lot of this, but he knows full well that he and his party voted against most of the budget implementation measures of this government, including many initiatives that would help veterans out very much. I want to remind him that he has not always supported veterans efforts in spite of what has been said.

My main comments are in regard to the comments made by the Liberal Party critic for veterans affairs suggesting that somehow, when this went through the process and got to committee, all of a sudden it was the Conservatives that defeated the action and killed it on the spot.

I would remind the House, as we often do, that this is a minority Parliament and since we have a minority membership in the committee, we needed another party. It was the Liberal Party that determined that this bill should go no further than it did and that was the end of the road. Tonight we are hearing something different.

I would remind the Liberal critic for veterans affairs that his party did flip once when it came to the long gun registry and this is the flop part where one month it is good to be going in one direction and now it is going in another.

I will agree with one of the comments made by everybody and that is that all members of the House support veterans and what they have done for our country. Obviously, we are all very grateful not only for what they have done in the past, the fact that they helped not only support and defend our country, but in the first world war in particular they gave our country its real independence.

This government has renewed its commitment very strongly to the armed forces. Two years ago under Canada's first defence strategy, it put forward a 20-year strategy and framework that supports the personnel, the men and women, in a very tangible way with new equipment and opportunities to do what they do best. These purchases allow them to conduct business on behalf of all Canadians of which we are very proud.

During today's discussion regarding the pension issue, we want to remind ourselves that pensions are an important part of veterans' lives or anybody's life and that these pensions, like any public pensions, came with bridging that leads into the Canada pension plan. I will get into that in a moment.

Even though we cannot truly repay veterans for all they have done, we must put forward the kinds of initiatives that continue to support them. We are doing that constantly. Each and every year there are new initiatives. As members all know, we brought in the Veterans Bill of Rights, the veterans ombudsman, and the veterans charter. These respect what veterans stand for. These respect what veterans did. It is a constantly moving challenge to ensure we do enough for them.

Do I agree we can never do enough for our veterans? Of course, that is true. We have to constantly be vigilant and aware. As a matter of fact, tomorrow the ombudsman is appearing before the committee and it will hear about many issues where the government and members of the House could do more. His job is not to agree with us but to point out how we can do more for our veterans. That is an important part of the process.

Again, I point out that we are not always going to solve every problem. I know the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore says there is a study on agent orange, but this is the government that actually put in place a payment recognizing the kind of damage and difficulties caused by that whole issue of agent orange that took place so many years ago. If it is enough or not enough, that is an honest, open debate we can continue to have in that regard, but we did act. We did respond appropriately and certainly we try to help where we can.

We also know that there were issues concerning atomic veterans, those who were stuck in testing a long time ago, exercises that were carried out by Great Britain and the United States. We certainly understand that they need to be supported and programs are in place in that regard as well.

I also want to point out that what has been very productive in recent times is that the Department of National Defence and the Department of Veterans Affairs are collaborating and working together, as they should. They are recognizing that it has to be as seamless as possible when our wonderful military people move from active duty into veterans affairs. Joint support units have been set up across the country to ensure as much as we can that we deal with their issues and problems.

Their pensions were set up in a very clear way, although many would agree that the information was not what it should be and we have heard many times before our commitment efforts were made to strengthen the information process.

However, these veterans receive the pension they sign up for, and part of the plan is that when they reach 65, they will take the Canada pension. That is part of the deal. In between the time that they retire and the time they receive the Canada pension, they receive bridging, which tops up the whole process, and with the full understanding that bridging is to carry them to Canada pension, not beyond Canada pension.

Therefore, they are, in effect, receiving exactly what they signed up for. It is a fair process, and at 65 of course, as my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence pointed out, depending upon whether they worked afterwards or whether they took it early at 60, it would have some individual impacts that might vary from one person to another. However overall, it is a process that is fair and many parts of the public service have the same kind of approach as this bridging does.

It is fair in the House to have an active debate. It is fair to raise any recommendations that are worth looking at to help our wonderful veterans out, but it is not reasonable to suggest something that we know is not going to proceed forward because it would be an undue pressure on all the existing military people. Taxpayers all over the country would have to pay a lot more to make up this difference and it sets a trend that indeed goes across other parts of the public service.

Although we certainly support looking at all kinds of initiatives that make the offerings better, and we will continue to debate those, this is certainly not one of those initiatives that our government can support, and therefore, I must say that we will be voting against this particular bill.

Motions in Amendment
Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Private Members' Business

7:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business is now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

7:40 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I raised a question in the House on March 10 concerning First Nations University. Essentially, I was asking the minister to reinstate the funding to the university, or whether he was prepared to let the university die. Of course, we know that since that day in March, the government has partially reinstated funding; however, it will simply allow the university to lurch to the end of August, which will ultimately mean its closure.

Rather than use my own words, I want to put the words of some people who will be affected on the record. The First Nations University of Canada Students' Association issued a press release on April 21, saying:

The Students' Association is now calling on the federal government to direct a minimum of $7.2 million to the institution. “The return of Westerlund [the previous financial officer] is yet another piece of undeniable evidence that the First Nations University has turned the page,” said Adams. “The right people are now in charge of our University, there is no reason to withhold restoration of the full federal dollars”.

The press release goes on to say:

“We are on day 29 of the live-in. We won't leave until we know that the First Nations University will be here for years to come. This University is the key to our future,” Eashappie said.

What this is about is that First Nations University has made tremendous strides to move to full accountability and transparency. This university is the lifeline for many of these young students.

The Canadian Association of University Teachers has written a letter to the Prime Minister. They say:

--your government is forcing the closure of Canada’s only First Nations university -- the sole university in Canada based on First Nations traditions and cultures. By refusing to restore full funding for First Nations University, your government will now make it impossible for First Nations university students to study in an institution based on First Nations traditions and cultures. There is a bitter irony in your government’s action, coming as it does after the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) has addressed all of the concerns that have been expressed about the University’s governance structure and after the FSIN, the First Nations University, the University of Regina and the Government of Saskatchewan have entered into a partnership agreement to ensure proper financial and administrative management of First Nations University. Your government’s refusal to restore full funding, which will cause the University to close after August 31, 2010, is an act of disrespect to First Nations peoples in Canada and a continuation of the very practices for which you apologized in June, 2008. We urge you to back up your 2008 apology by restoring full Federal funding to First Nations University immediately so that it can grow and expand, not have to wind down and close.

As I mentioned, the government was not signatory to the memorandum that was signed by the university, by the FSIN and by the University of Regina, that talks about putting in an administrative process that ensures full transparency and accountability. Therefore, my question is this. Instead of cutting this lifeline to First Nations University and its students, why will the government not agree to become party to that memorandum of understanding and reinstate full funding?

This university contributes to the ability of students to go out and earn a living, and without it, it will contribute to the ongoing marginalization and poverty of first nations in Saskatchewan.

7:40 p.m.

Vancouver Island North
B.C.

Conservative

John Duncan Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments by the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, my colleague on the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

Our government remains committed to ensuring that first nations students continue to enjoy the same opportunities as other Canadians. Good education is the key to finding a good job, personal success and a prosperous future.

We did announce a cancellation of funding for the First Nations University of Canada on February 5 because of long-standing and systemic problems related to governance and financial management. The financial officer, who had been terminated by the previous administration and who had identified many of these problems at a time when it was essential, was restored to his office this week. We do have initiatives going forward.

To say that all the concerns have been addressed is political rhetoric, at this point a business plan is still required but has not been forthcoming. Some of the requests we are hearing are quite inappropriate at this moment.

It is a difficult situation for the students. We continue to work with our partners to provide these students with the support they need to complete this academic year ending in August. We are offering moneys, under the Indian studies support program, to an eligible post-secondary institution. At this point, it looks like the University of Regina, which is a signatory to the MOU.

We are continuing to assist first nations and Inuit students through the post-secondary student support program as well. About two-thirds of the students at the First Nations University receive this funding.

Our government recognizes the importance of education for first nations and for all Canadians. We are working with our partners, including the provinces and first nations, to improve outcomes for our post-secondary students.

7:45 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, what is widely acknowledged is that First Nations University in Saskatchewan provides a unique opportunity for first nations students. What it does is culturally appropriate. This university has expertise in languages in a linguistic program. It has some expertise in health programs. These students are then able to return to their home communities.

I acknowledge there may be some outstanding issues, but we have a memorandum of understanding signed by the University of Regina, the province and First Nations University.

I would encourage the Conservative government to come back to the table to ensure the university does not have to close its doors. What steps will it take immediately to ensure the university can stay open for the school term in September?

7:45 p.m.

Conservative

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I fully comprehend the member's question. As I stated in my first response, the government is primarily concerned with current events, with current students in place, to ensure they get their academic year in. We have yet to receive a business plan going forward. It is difficult to make comments without a business plan.

We look at the recent events very positively, including the reinstatement of Mr. Westerlund.

7:45 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want to talk about rural regions. Members will recall that I asked a question a few weeks ago about Service Canada job losses in my riding, Madawaska—Restigouche. These job losses were in the regional offices in Edmundston and Campbellton.

I had very clear reasons for raising the issue in the House. We know that every job counts in the country's rural areas. The minister responded that the government had made many investments in New Brunswick. I was not talking about investments. I was talking about job losses.

Federal jobs are just as important as any other job. However, during periods of economic recovery, every job in a rural region is important. Federal government jobs contribute significantly to a region's recovery.

Let us not even talk about creating more federal jobs until we have protected the existing jobs. The Conservatives have a tendency to eliminate jobs in the regions, which hurts rural communities. All I asked the government to do was take two steps to stop the bleeding.

First, when a person retires, that vacancy should be filled in the same region, not elsewhere. Second, employment insurance office employees were told that they would have to move to Moncton to keep their jobs. Those positions will be moved.

The minister said that he did not cut any jobs in New Brunswick. That may be true, but he is moving jobs out of rural regions. When people retired, he took those jobs and filled them elsewhere.

I am talking about 28 well-paid federal jobs that would allow some young people in rural regions to find a job when one becomes available. Young people who move away to go to university or college would have the opportunity to move back to their home region. The Conservatives want to take both kinds of jobs and fill them elsewhere.

Before moving on to something else, the Conservatives should take a look in the mirror and admit that they do not respect the rural regions. They do not believe in the rural regions. Their lack of investment proves it. What is more, they eliminate positions in the regions and transfer them elsewhere. It is great that Moncton has jobs. However, I do not want my region to lose jobs.

The sun shines down on everyone and I hope the parliamentary secretary will give us good news today and tell us that the government is reversing the announced cuts and centralization of jobs in employment insurance offices. I hope that federal jobs in Madawaska—Restigouche will stay in the region.