House of Commons Hansard #41 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was military.

Topics

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, I am happy to rise to speak to Bill C-13, which is a very important for our military. I am excited to support the bill and help our military.

I want to congratulate our critic, the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, for his analysis and support of this and many other bills in his area and our critic, the member for Don Valley West, for the tremendous work he does to move forward the situation of veterans. A number of speakers today have mentioned the problems in which veterans find themselves. I also congratulate all other members of the House who have spoken to the bill and the people who brought it forward. I think everyone is very supportive of it. I know everyone is very supportive of our military. That is why I am so excited about this. These troops often go overseas and into horrendous situations. They get paid about the same as everyone else, yet they put their lives at risk to protect our freedoms and the freedoms of those people around the world who cannot protect themselves.

This is a great role for Canadians. However, our soldiers bear the brunt of that role. They do a great service for all Canadians, and we certainly appreciate that. I think that is why everyone is so enthusiastic about the bill.

I remember the tremendous work Bill Graham did, as minister of defence, supporting the troops and moving ahead on their living conditions. However, much more can be done, and I compliment the House for moving forward in this area.

I have always been a great supporter of the military. I have tried, in the decade I have been in Parliament, to get more of these tremendous troops in the north and have been somewhat successful. One regiment moved to our riding, the cadet management, and the number of troops has dramatically increased by over 100%, which is very exciting. That is why I enjoy the times I have been on defence committee, trying to once again support the military.

I am also a very active member of our local legion. I compliment the Legionnaires for the tremendous work they do to honour our troops, to ensure that no one ever forgets what they have done for our country. They have organized many celebrations and have raised funds through the poppy campaign to help those who are still in need.

I know it is easy to talk about this from the comfort of the House of Commons, but it is really brought home when we go into the area where the troops are serving. I remember my trip to Kabul, which is one of the safest parts of Afghanistan. Even then I saw the jeopardy in which our troops were. It was very tricky simply landing at the airport and getting away from it safely. The lives of our troops are in jeopardy just to get there. In fact, as we arrived at the base, they had just discovered rockets at the old palace, which were aimed at the base. We were in jeopardy and were shut down for several hours. As we know, the troops sleep in tents, and that is not much protection from nearby rocket attacks. We know from the news reports about the other deadly attacks they face when they leave the base.

For all these reasons, I know all members of Parliament and all Canadians are very appreciative and supportive of our troops. If there is a minor adjustment to an act that could help them out, we are definitely in favour of that.

Of course there is much more to be done. As we speak, veterans are going to food banks. We certainly need to address situations like that and move forward on the provisions so this never happens to the men and women who have so nobly served our country.

I know how difficult it is to be away from our families. As people know, my riding is the farthest from Ottawa. It is located in the fartherest northwestern corner of the country. I get home from work on Saturdays. It is a pretty hard to be away six days every week from my wife and our 18-month old baby.

People have said to me that it must terribly hard and painful to be away, but I tell them it could be a lot worse. I could be in the military and I would be unable to get home every weekend. I would be unable to see my baby and my wife. That must be excruciatingly painful for family life. The last thing we want to do is make it difficult by an aberration in the law that is not flexible enough to accommodate the families of military people.

Another thing that is very important is the formative years of a child. Professors and experts in child development say that probably the most important part of a child's life, or the formative years, which will determine what type of citizen, what type of benefits he or she will bring to society, or the cost to society if it does not work out, are the very first few years of life. It is totally unnecessary for parents, be it the mother or father, to be deprived of being with their children during those early years. A minor amendment to the act, like we are doing on Bill C-13, would be of great benefit for children, for family cohesiveness and ultimately for society.

There are a couple of ideas that hopefully the committee will discuss. Speakers before me have mentioned some good ideas to be discussed as possible amendments. The member for Acadie—Bathurst mentioned looking at other people who may be in the same situation. That is discussing in the committee discussion and listening to witnesses. He suggested, for instance, police officers. Canada often sends police officers to help other countries in dire situations. It is not only the military that needs training to be democratic and professional, but often the police forces, RCMP or other police are sent to help people in need overseas and they may be in the same situation as the military.

Perhaps even in certain cases, maybe not often, aid and emergency workers. Today being the World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day is a perfect time to mention this. In emergencies those individuals get extracted from their families. Usually it is not for that long, but it is something to look into when the committee discusses this.

Remember we are talking about roughly 60 people a year who this would affect. The bill would take effect the first Sunday after it receives royal assent. To remind people what the bill would do, if people have parental leave for a baby, they normally get 35 weeks. Military members also get 35 weeks of benefits and can be at home with their baby. That 35 weeks have to be used any time within the first 52 weeks.

The bill would extend that another year, depending how long people are called away for military duties. If they are called away in the middle of this leave or before it is about to start, like the example we heard when the baby was four days old, they would not lose their benefits because they are away for a year. They can claim those benefits in the following year. This would allow parents to spend the time with each other and with the baby, which is tremendously important for people when they do not even know whether their wife or husband will come back from military duties. They would be under tremendous stress. Anyone who has had children knows how much stress it is to raise a child, let alone raise a child when the other parent is overseas.

The point I was getting to is the fact that the bill comes into effect on the first Sunday after it receives royal assent.

We are in a minority Parliament. There have been a lot of disruptions. Bills that seem to make common sense get delayed, the House prorogues or we have elections. We are only talking about 60 people. Instead of waiting until the bill gets royal assent, why not make it retroactive for people right now who are away, are having babies, and could lose those benefits? It would only add a few more people to the bill.

The member for Chambly—Borduas suggested it before I did. I did not realize he was thinking about. It looks like there could be consensus with others who agree with this idea. It certainly should be looked into, especially at this time when our biggest mission in Afghanistan is on the verge of ending. There would be even less need than perhaps 60 people a year, for a while at least. Why not try to help a few other people in this unfortunate situation by making the bill retroactive for them?

The member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour also made a good point in which I am also interested. We are talking about such a minor modification, less than $1 million for 60 people. Why does it have to go through the legislative process? It is unfortunate that this item is not in the regulations so smaller amendments like this could be implemented, which would prevent us from having to go through this type of process.

I want to use this point to pay tribute to a constituent of mine named Tony Fekete. Unfortunately he passed away last week. His memorial is this Friday at three o'clock in the Catholic Church in Whitehorse. He was a great person and common man who was very interested in politics. He was always bringing up his ideas. He came from Europe.

I want to commend him for his effort to improve Parliament. He suggested that we did too much in Canada by regulation, that cabinet made decisions and ran the country without any democratic input from the people because it could change things by regulation. He was a champion of democracy and put forward his strong ideas. I pass on my sorrow and condolences to his family.

It seems to me this case is an example of the purpose of regulations so things that require minor changes do not have to go through the lengthy process, including three readings in each House, committee debate and witnesses, et cetera in each House. If some things can be done by regulation, it can give us more time to focus on larger issues, which are very important. The obvious things could be done very quickly. I will mention some of the other types of things we could.

In summary, we certainly have unqualified support. I imagine this bill to improve the lives of military families will pass unanimously in Parliament. We are all very excited about that. I am sure young military families that are planning to have children and that will benefit from the improvements will be very excited to hear it as will other military families. It means 60 people in need every year will have a wonderful benefit.

However, this is a country of 33 million people and millions of them have other needs. As parliamentarians, we need to deal with those. As well, Parliament needs to deal with many other gaps. I look forward to the government moving forward in the same spirit it has with this bill to quickly deal some of the many other needs in our country.

Thousands of children are living in poverty at the moment. Thousands of people attend food banks. In the time we have taken to discuss this bill to help 60 families, thousands of people have gone to food banks so they can survive.

There are thousands of people in pain on waiting lists for operations. There are high levels of youth suicide, especially in the Arctic areas. There are many people incarcerated in this country for reasons of addiction and mental health who deserve more appropriate treatment by their government. There are many women being abused in this country and many aboriginal women are disappearing.

Thousands have lost their jobs and cannot support their families, which must be the most horrific feeling for anyone. There are seniors who must choose between food and heat. I hope the government moves forward quickly in the same spirit it has on this bill to help deal with all those Canadians who we in Parliament should be doing our best to help.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the member for Winnipeg Centre informed me that this particular piece of legislation could have been affected by an order in council regulation. I know the member was asking that question.

I would also like to ask him if he is aware of the member for Acadie—Bathurst's amendment to include members of a police force who were deployed on any part of a mission outside Canada. They too would be considered as claimants under this bill. We are talking about very few people.

I wonder whether the member for Yukon would indicate his support for that amendment from the member for Acadie—Bathurst and whether he has any other comments about the idea that somehow this did not have to be a bill but could have been done through order in council.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, I am aware of the technical procedures that this bill could have gone through. The point I was making was that I would hope that things like this could be done through order in council, through regulations or some other amendments, and we would not have to go through this process. That would have been fine with me, had it gone through such a process.

I mentioned in my speech that I supported the member for Acadie—Bathurst's idea for the committee to look at other groups that this type of change in the provisions of EI for maternal and paternal benefits could cover, such as police officers. I also mentioned looking at aid workers. There may be some other groups that the committee will suggest.

The member for Elmwood—Transcona makes many good points. As he said, it would affect very few people. We have police officers in Afghanistan and Haiti. We often send RCMP officers to missions along with our peacekeepers. They have a very important role. They could be similar difficult situations and there may be others. I certainly hope that the committee will explore those situations in depth.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today, somewhat unexpectedly, I might add, to speak to Bill C-13.

This is an important piece of legislation. Although we have discussed the matter of this particular legislation that actually could have been done through an order in council process in this Parliament, the government has chosen to turn it into a bill.

Having said that, all the parties seem to be agreeable to the bill. I would think that it will probably make its way, very quickly, to the committee stage. At that point, we will be looking at different amendments.

It seems that no matter how much care is taken in presenting legislation, whether it is government legislation or opposition legislation, and no matter how much consulting we do, we always manage to leave something or somebody out of the process. That is why it is very important that we look to the committee process and look at amendments.

Our member for Acadie—Bathurst has come up with such an amendment, which I would hope will receive favour by the members of the committee. His amendment was very simple. It was to add members of police forces. Members of police forces are being deployed. They are part of missions outside Canada.

The member for Yukon spoke previously and indicated that police officers are part of the missions in Afghanistan and Haiti. They, too, should be included in this bill. The member for Acadie—Bathurst is very committed to that idea and will present an amendment at committee.

We hope the government, in an open fashion, will look kindly on that and will support that amendment so we can better flesh out this bill. In terms of the initial costing of the bill, the government indicates that it is looking at perhaps 60 soldiers per year at a cost of $600,000.

It is rather interesting that the government does not seem to be able to provide costing figures for other bills. We just completed a multi-day series of speeches on the bill dealing with conditional sentencing. The government is not able to provide a projection of what that bill will cost.

Last week on the two for one credit issue crime bill, the government was suggesting that the cost was going to be a matter of several million dollars. The next day it was contradicted by a better, I would think, authority who said it was going to be $2 billion.

We can see that this costing issue is something that has to be projected, but the government is in a better position to do the job. It has the facilities and the ability to assess the number of people who will be affected and the cost of each program.

I think it is incumbent upon the government to be proactive in providing this costing analysis in the beginning and to not simply hit the road with a press release for the early hits and then come to Parliament to have us try to pull these figures out. In most cases, we are unable to get the figures.

In this case, I give the government credit. The minister was asked this morning, how many people would be involved in this bill, what was the scope of the exposure, and what costs would be associated with the bill? She was able to say 60 people a year at a cost of $600,000.

We appreciate the government doing that. I maintain that this is something that we should be able to have on a consistent and ongoing basis with all government bills that come before the House.

As the government has pointed out, this is not a huge or controversial bill. The government proposes to improve access to employment insurance parental benefits for military families. The new measure would extend the EI parental benefit window for Canadian Forces members who are ordered to return to duty while on parental leave, or whose parental leave is deferred as a result of a military requirement. The measure would extend the period for which they are eligible by another 52 weeks. This is something that our party would certainly support.

As the member for Yukon pointed out, a large number of people have been affected over the years in the military.

Members of the military have a difficult job at the best of times. Imagine, as a child, being uprooted every three years and moving to another area of the country. That was the old practice. Military members can recount growing up, as children, and their family being stationed for three years in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, as an example. After those three years, the family would be sent to Germany and somewhere else after that. Whole families were uprooted. Children had to form new friendships. As someone who never went through something like that, I would think it would be very unsettling for children.

Then we hear stories about soldiers being mistreated after serving in the military. A report came out just two or three weeks ago about the Prime Minister being at a food bank for veterans in Calgary.

There are many examples of mistreatment not only in the Canadian and American military but in all militaries in general. People are wanted while they are healthy and eager, and willing to work, but as soon as they come back with post-traumatic stress disorders or another disability as a result of their time in service, they are basically ignored and thrown on the scrap heap.

We need to ensure that we provide first-class treatment to our veterans in this country and to our existing military forces. We cannot leave them in a second-class position.

I listened to the member for Yukon talk about the dangers of military service. He was on a trip to Afghanistan and he said it was a dangerous experience just getting from the airport. I have never been to Afghanistan. Since the current plan indicates that our forces will be leaving there next year, I do not plan to be over there. The member indicated that our soldiers have to sleep in tents over there because they are always subject to rocket attacks, not to mention the explosive devices on the roadside that have killed so many of them. I have to wonder why anybody would want to take up a duty such as this and put their lives in danger.

In most cases, our soldiers leave young spouses and children at home. They go on six month rotations and do not see their children during that time.

The member for Yukon summed it up very well when he said, “I have a tough job here. I only get home for one or two days a week. I have to fly all the way to Yukon and that is a long trip”. He himself said that was nothing compared to the sacrifice that our soldiers face when they go into a danger zone. For six months they are away from their children and their spouses.

I do not think it should be a surprise to anyone that social problems develop out of a situation like that. I do not know for sure but I assume that the divorce rate would have to be fairly high in situations like that. It makes civilian life seem a much easier life when one only has to show up for work at 9 a.m., work all day and work a 40-hour week and then have a weekend off. It seems like a big different.

One would wonder why people would want to do that. We do not have conscription in this country. It is a volunteer force. People obviously do it because they believe in the greater good and the cause of peace in the world. That is why we are there. We are there to make a better life for the Afghan people and improve the lot of women in Afghanistan. There is a great deal of evidence that some of efforts are in vain because the lot of women does not appear to be improving substantially in Afghanistan when we see that the government there has a very shaky commitment to that cause.

This is a mission that I believe we have spent perhaps $13 billion on so far. I am trying to do this from memory right now because I do not have notes on the subject in front of me.

I have been getting petitions from people demanding that we end the mission now. They do not want to wait even until the middle of 2011 to get out of the Afghanistan situation. The biggest argument they have is that their philosophy is that the military should be taking a peacekeeping role.

Lester B. Pearson, who was a Nobel Peace Prize winner, actually shaped Canada's foreign policy in those days and, for a great period thereafter, was Canada's peacekeeper. I can recall years ago, when Canada was involved in Cyprus where the Greek and Turkish Cypriots were in conflict with one another, Canada's role was to keep the peace. There was a peace to be kept and our Canadian soldiers did an admirable job in those circumstances.

That was the mindset of the Canadian people. They were quite willing to support their military to fulfill that role. Outside of the two wars, World War I and World War II, where there was overwhelming support for Canada's efforts, when it came to the issue of peacekeeping, that was a new role for the military. Everything proceeded along those same lines for all those years until this current situation involving the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan.

Even though our forces had been in Afghanistan for a period of time, some of my constituents thought they were there on a peacekeeping basis. They, in their own minds, were not conceiving of us being involved in taking an active and fighting role in the conflict.

It has only been over time and with the 150 young soldiers who have been killed over there that they have gradually begun to realize, and some of them accept, that we are actively engaged, that this is a very dangerous mission and that we will be looking at more deaths. As a result, people are starting to change their minds.

Polling done last year indicated that well over 50% of the Canadian population were opposed to our mission in Afghanistan. Many people believe we are there under false pretense. They thought our forces were involved in a peacekeeping mission but, of course, there is no peace over there to keep.

Afghanistan, as we know, has a long history of foreign countries involving themselves in its affairs. Everyone remembers the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in March or April of 1979. Once again people thought it would be a clean-cut affair and that the mission would be over in short order. Were they ever wrong. The Russians got stuck in Afghanistan for years. It cost them tremendous amounts of money. As a matter of fact, it could be argued that it was perhaps one of the contributing factors that actually dragged down and led to the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the day in 1989.

We found ourselves essentially being dragged into a situation that was basically very similar to where the Russians left off, and we were involved in assuming that role.

The next issue is how we get out of there. We need to remember that it was the Liberal Party that got us in there in the first place. It was given two choices: go along with the Americans in Iraq or take Afghanistan. At the time, I guess the prime minister thought that Afghanistan was the lesser of two evils in terms of choices, and I think most people in the country would have agreed with him at that time, so he opted for the Afghanistan decision.

However, it is clear that the Canadian people want to see us revisit that. They do not want to see a commitment.

If the Conservative government had formed a majority government at any time in 2006 or 2008, I believe that commitment to Afghanistan would have been signed, sealed and delivered for an almost unlimited amount of time. The fact that the Conservatives have been stuck with a minority government has caused them to come to their senses and be more sensitive to the public, and that is one of the things I like about minority governments. A minority government is more sensitive to the public and recognizes that while there is a large group of people out there within its support base who are eager for longer term commitments in this mission and others perhaps, it has to recognize that well over 50% of the people out there are not in favour of extending the mission. In fact, people signing petitions and sending them to me, not only do not want it to go beyond 2011, they do not even want it to go to 2011.

I realize that the second last rotation has now left for Afghanistan and there is a final rotation coming up in October. Assuming that we do not have an election and the Conservative win a majority and they sign for an even greater extension of the Afghanistan mission, which is possible, let us assume for a moment that we withdraw from Afghanistan as planned. Let us hope that we as a Parliament have the good sense to keep our troops out of further missions for at least a year or two and give it a bit of a break.

We are already hearing discussions about the Congo. We have not even solved the first problem. We have not even extracted ourselves from the first mission that has cost us $13 billion and lasted for years and years. We are already planning to look at the Congo. Who knows how many years that will involve and how much that will cost?

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Saint-Lambert, QC

): Madam Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague just how good Bill C-13 is, which amends the employment insurance program to provide parental benefits to military personnel. If the Conservatives had a longer view of things, could they not introduce bills allowing other people as well to receive various kinds of benefits?

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I think the government is doing the right thing here. I would say that it is doing the right thing because it is a minority government and it is not exactly peaking in the polls at the moment. If it had a majority government, I would not expect any great ideas coming from it. I would expect the basic right-wing programs that we see right-wing governments following around the world. I think that would be its approach to things and we would not be seeing legislation like this.

To the government's credit, this is a good bill and I believe we are all supporting it going to committee. If I had not stood up it would have been in committee already.

In answer to the member's question, we are looking at the cost of this bill to be in the neighbourhood of $600,000 a year. It would affect about 60 people per year, give or take, if we were to add the amendment by the member for Acadie—Bathurst to include police members. The government has said that it is willing to look at other amendments, too. Perhaps we will be looking at a bigger number, but it is not a huge number overall.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Saint-Lambert, QC

Madam Speaker, Bill C-13 before us today proposes a necessary change to the employment insurance system, and for that reason, we will support it.

It fixes one of the countless injustices in the employment insurance system, which stopped long ago providing real insurance in case of job loss. With this bill, military personnel will be able to get the parental leave to which they would otherwise have been entitled if they had not been summoned to leave on a mission.

The work our military personnel do takes great bravery and they should be congratulated on their spirit of sacrifice, their courage and all that they accomplish for their fellow citizens.

Their work requires them to constantly put their lives on the line. For this, they deserve our respect of course, but most of all, they deserve to be treated fairly and equitably. Justice cannot be blind. Different or exceptional cases cannot be treated in the same way as all the rest. Canadian Forces members inevitably find themselves in an exceptional situation when asked to leave on a mission.

The current Employment Insurance Act provides for a 52-week benefit period, that is, the time that someone who is entitled to benefits has to claim them. There are some exceptions to this rule, for example when a child is hospitalized or in the case of extended benefits for long-tenured workers. However, Canadian Forces members were not included.

We have excellent news for them, therefore, because once the bill passes, they will know that serving in the Canadian Forces will not, paradoxically, cause them undue harm and they will get the benefits to which they are entitled and for which they pay employment insurance premiums, like virtually all workers. They deserve these benefits.

In regard to all the various bills proposing improvements to employment insurance, we basically feel that we say the same thing over and over. We repeat the same old refrain because we are always confronted with the same old problem: the inability to access benefits.

The same problem is tackled, for example, in Bill C-395, introduced by my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé, which proposes that the qualifying period, that is the period taken into account to determine the number of insurable hours, is considered to be the 52 weeks preceding the outbreak of a labour dispute. In other words, the period during which a labour dispute is underway and the workers are therefore not accumulating very many insurable hours would not be included. This means that if they lose their jobs at the end of the dispute—something that is not very frequent but does happen sometimes—they are not left without any resources.

The same logic prevails here as in the government bill. Benefits would be provided to workers who, through no individual fault of their own, find themselves cut off from employment insurance. There are always two parties to a labour dispute, the employers and the employees. Employees do not just decide to have a labour dispute. There is usually a period of negotiations during which they hope to arrive at a settlement and the dialogue with their employer is maintained. Most of all, though, they hope that the 25 years they spent working for the company and contributing to the employment insurance system will count for something and they will receive benefits, if and when needed.

In this case, if the business shuts down just before the labour dispute, the workers would be entitled to benefits. We want the weeks preceding a labour dispute to be taken into account. But according to the Employment Insurance Act, if a business shuts down after a labour dispute that lasts more than one year, these workers are left with nothing. They are financially destitute because they would have had to make do on meagre strike pay, which usually covers the bare minimum needed to survive.

That is another example of the injustices currently found within the system, and it is very similar to the cases of soldiers who did not have access to the parental benefits they should have been entitled to.

In both cases, the legislative solution is quite simple, and does not involve massive amounts of money from EI. On the contrary, the amounts required are quite insignificant. Of course, they are not insignificant to the claimants involved, for whom this represents a lot of money. For some, it means the difference between bankruptcy and financial survival, between the anxiety of losing everything and the hope of having a chance to start over.

That is why there has been so much criticism of the employment insurance system for several years now: this system no longer does what it was designed to do.

I would like to quote Michel Ducharme, the president of the Montreal branch of the FTQ, who recently testified before the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities regarding Bill C-395.

We are all paying into that system, both workers and employers, and these contributions are intended to protect us in cases of plant or company closures. That is part of what makes them legitimate. When a labour dispute arises when a collective agreement is to be renewed, the idea is to save jobs. Some unions provide strike pay, but the whole idea is not to be off the job, but rather to save that job, preserve working conditions and reach an agreement. If that turns out not to work, that is something the worker has no control over [which is what I was saying earlier]. The workers pay into the system for 25 or 30 years, and are working for a company that has always operated and has never had layoffs. Then, from one day to the next, the company shuts down. It is illogical for people not to be eligible for employment insurance benefits in those cases. That is precisely the whole purpose of these benefits.

Like the employment insurance system, the veterans charter seems to have also lost its original function, and today, it is also the subject of fierce criticism, notably from the veterans ombudsman. Passing the New Veterans Charter means that, from now on, veterans with psychological problems or physical disabilities resulting from their service in the armed forces will no longer receive an annuity, which guaranteed them some financial security. Instead, they will receive a single lump sum payment.

It was soon noticed that this amount was clearly inadequate and that, in the end, it was much less than the sum they would have received if the compensation had been paid out monthly. That is one more example of the Conservative government's lack of compassion for people in need and who, on the contrary, can use the help.

The numbers speak for themselves. Upon their return from Kandahar, 4% of soldiers have suicidal thoughts, 4.6% of them have symptoms of major depression and 15% suffer from mental health issues. Those numbers are huge.

That is why it does not make sense to give a single large sum of money to people who are, by definition, unstable and likely to squander the money in no time. Veterans with PTSD often have alcohol or drug problems.

I want to point out that the member for Québec very recently presented a petition urging the government to end this practice, which can cause major problems for some injured soldiers. All we can do now is hope that the government will heed the soldiers' call for more humane treatment. This government seems to have a tendency to take a clear-cut business approach to all services provided to the people.

For example, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development recently compared the employment insurance waiting period to the deductible associated with, say, car or home insurance. That kind of cynicism conflicts with the role of the state.

When the Veterans Ombudsman, Colonel Patrick Stogran, appeared before the Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs on April 22, he had this to say about the administrative culture that prevails in the Department of Veterans Affairs: “It's very much an insurance company approach to doing business.”

He went on to say that:

I feel very strongly that the culture has to change. I feel very strongly that to do that it has to go towards a needs-based approach. I also feel very strongly that in order to satisfy that needs-based approach, case managers on the front lines have to be empowered to offer veterans what they really need. I think that's the principle upon which this program is based.

He could have said the same thing about the employment insurance system as it is currently managed. His comments would have been just as relevant. In both cases, a major overhaul is critical to restoring and respecting the intent behind the creation of both programs: meeting people's needs so that they can maintain a sense of dignity in hard times. Right now, they are forced to fight to get anything over and above the often ridiculously low lump sum the army gives them.

In the January 9 edition of Le Soleil, Francine Matteau, the Quebec woman who started the petition presented by the member for Québec, said this about the compensation her son received, and I quote:

“The first offer the army made him was ridiculous, so he appealed and they offered him just over $100,000. He has to appeal again now, because that is not enough,” she complained, pointing out that her son, who has learned to walk again but struggles to get around, no longer meets the army's standards and cannot easily hold another job. “Medals and commendations are great, but they don't pay the mortgage or buy groceries!”...

The article goes on:

Mrs. Matteau says that the UK is much more generous to veterans and in December 2008 increased the maximum benefit for British soldiers wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan from $470,000 to $940,000.

“In addition to this benefit, wounded British soldiers receive a monthly pension that can increase the total lifetime benefits to more than $1.5 million,” states Mrs. Matteau, who now hopes to make the public aware of the fate of Canadian soldiers wounded in action.

Knowing that the maximum benefit in Canada is $276,000, we have a better understanding of why our soldiers are frustrated. To continue the comparison with employment insurance, the government runs these two programs with the same twisted logic, forcing potential benefit recipients to fight the government machine for their rights.

Is this how the Conservative government thinks we should thank workers and members of the military, who work extremely hard for their families, their fellow citizens and their society?

In another article that appeared in La Presse, the veterans ombudsman did not mince words:

“Soldiers should not have to worry about their standard of living. They should be confident that, regardless of their injuries, they will be able to support their families and themselves...They should not have to worry about the rest of their lives when they are trying to recover from physical and psychological injuries.”

I do not want to downplay the importance of the legislative amendment the Conservative government is proposing with Bill C-13, but I believe that we can safely say that there may be more important issues to deal with when it comes to the treatment of Canadian soldiers.

Reforming the Veterans Charter is something the government could do that would really prove that it supports our troops—as it claims to do. It is not enough to say it in the House. Once again, they need to follow through on their fine words and listen to the veterans who are speaking out by the thousands against a program that treats them like beggars, when on the contrary, that program should evince some sign of the gratitude we own them for the sacrifices they have made.

As legislators, we cannot be insensitive to the difficulties facing our veterans, who are often affected by their war injuries, whether physical or psychological, for the rest of their lives. These are people who face difficulties right away, from the very fact of joining the armed forces, because they are separated from their families and loved ones. Injured or not, they deserve recognition for the extraordinary work that they do.

In closing, I would like to reiterate the Bloc's support for the bill currently before the House, that is, Bill C-13. As I was saying, it will redress the injustices committed against CF members, and we should feel good about that. However, in that context, I cannot help but see and draw some parallels between the situation facing other workers who are also being deprived of the EI benefits they are entitled to, and the situation facing our wounded veterans.

Since justice requires that everyone get what they deserve, we cannot remain silent when the issue is before us. We must speak out against all injustices.

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1:45 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Madam Speaker, the member's speech was very thoughtful and well presented. She covered a lot of ground, particularly where the shortcomings of the employment insurance system are concerned. She indicated her support for this small initiative, for which we thank the government, but obviously, all of us think we should be doing more.

My concern is that we are not getting the time necessary to really dig into this bill and give it its due process. Does the member have any thoughts around how the government might find a way, as it has in so many other instances, to claw this back from these people?

She was on the committee when we introduced the employment insurance benefits for the self-employed. In talking to some of the self-employed in my area, I am finding that if the self-employed own their own business, if they pay into and collect from the fund and their business continues to make some profit while they are off on benefit, at the end of the year they could lose that money. It could be clawed back.

The government has a way of doing that. It is like a Trojan horse. It does this with many of our military who go off to foreign countries to defend freedom and democracy. They come back to find, in big part, that the pension they have paid into and thought they would get when they turn 65 is clawed back well.

The member for Sackville—Eastern Shore who champions the causes of veterans over and over again, has indicated very clearly how that happens. In fact, he has brought bills to the House and they have been opposed by the government. Even if a bill passes, the government will not enact it to protect soldiers. Soldiers come to the time in their lives when they expect to get their pension only to find that a big chunk of it is clawed back.

Are there any guarantees the member knows of that this piece of public business will not end up in the same pile as the others, where folks thinking that when they come home they will get this benefit only to have it clawed back?

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1:45 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Saint-Lambert, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his question. I hope I understood it properly because it was about self-employment. The bill essentially proposes—because soldiers are considered workers who pay employment insurance premiums and who therefore are entitled to parental benefits when they have a child—that all these soldiers have access to their 35 weeks of parental insurance, and I do hope they will have access to those benefits.

I also want us to be able to discuss the bill in more detail in the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. I am also aware that when it comes to soldiers, the Conservative government is supposed to be doing a complete overhaul of the new Veterans Charter to ensure that these soldiers have access to all their rights and all their benefits.

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1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Madam Speaker, I am proud to rise today and talk about a bill that is very important to our military families.

I am proud to be part of a government that continues to stand up for our military men and women. We have looked after our veterans as well with the expansion of the VIP program and the implementation of the new veterans charter. Indeed, as my hon. colleague mentioned, the committee is undergoing a study of the veterans charter to ensure that this is a living document and that we continue to improve it. We are looking at several recommendations that have come forward from witnesses in their testimony.

I do have to take one second, though, to say that I hope the Bloc and the NDP are sincere on this. It is very troubling, as a member who comes from a military community and a military riding, to have them day after day call into question our men and women in the Canadian Forces, and the intentions of our men and women in the Canadian Forces, and then stand here pretending they are championing their causes afterwards.

My question for the member is in regard to the operational imperative of Canadian Forces members who have to deploy. They have no choice. There has been talk by both the NDP and the Bloc about trying to move an amendment to this bill in regard to the RCMP who are also deployed. There is a difference when it comes to the deployment options of the RCMP. Members of the RCMP are not forced to deploy for six months at a time, whereas it is imperative for our men and women in the military.

Does the member recognize this difference? How would that be addressed in the amendment?

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1:50 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Saint-Lambert, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague mentioned an amendment.

For now, I do not believe the Bloc is proposing an amendment. If we have the opportunity to discuss this bill in committee, we could look at all the options that this bill could include. However, what concerns me the most is that the bill is called the Fairness for Military Families Act. I look at the word “fairness” and I hope the Conservative government will say that fairness applies to all workers and soldiers alike. This could apply to all the other bills on employment insurance and then we could talk about fairness and equality for all workers.

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1:50 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Saint-Lambert for putting this bill into such clear perspective.

We support this bill in principle, but it is important to realize that it is not much of anything. If we really want to use a law to help our veterans, we will obviously have to do a great deal more than that. But, it is at least a small step.

The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development used the same logic and the same arguments that were used for a bill that the Conservatives opposed.

Does my colleague believe that this bill could be detrimental to reservists, who are often sent on short missions. They may not necessarily have the required 35 weeks. It might be a good idea to protect them as well by automatically deeming them to have the required number of weeks when they participate in a mission.

I would like to know what my colleague thinks about this proposal.

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1:50 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Saint-Lambert, QC

Madam Speaker, yes, this bill could be detrimental to reservists. That is why I want to be able to discuss this bill in committee. There, we could look at all the possibilities and consider all the soldiers who would be entitled to parental benefits through employment insurance.

We must also take into account the reservists who are entitled to these benefits. I would like to talk about this in committee, because we have not had the chance to do so yet. I hope we will be able to examine the bill more closely and ensure that all workers will have access to parental benefits.

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1:55 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her passionate defence of what we need to do for veterans. If we had had a comprehensive review of the entire employment insurance system instead of this ad hoc, piecemeal, fix this little piece or that little piece, could we not have had a comprehensive system that would have taken care of this need a long time ago?

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1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Saint-Lambert, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his question. I think he is correct. This is another example of the Conservative government's short-sightedness. It is true that, from time to time, it would be good to have a long-term vision and to do a comprehensive review of the programs that affect everyone.